Monday, July 23, 2012


Any serious bible study involves several steps that result in good Biblical interpretation. These are not steps intended just for scholars but are essential for anyone who wishes to know what the bible truly says and means. For the next couple of posts I want to present some basic steps that will show how to interpret the text of the bible in a fashion that involves some integrity.

For the record, I'm using the word "integrity" here in its meaning of "soundness" or "completeness." I'll state what those steps are, define them, and then illustrate them. I'm writing this for the many of you who are not Pastors, and yet, for some reason, read this blog. I hope they help you in your study of the scriptures.

The first step or principle I'll mention is what I call grammatical integrity. [Soundness] This is having an involvement with the grammar, language, and syntax of a passage. It refers to a procedure called doing an "exegesis" of the text. Don't be afraid of that word. Exegesis simply means going to the text and "exiting" or "extracting" from the text what is being said in it with as little of your own bias or preconceived ideas as possible. It's just learning to let the text do the talking.

What is done all too often, by many, is what's technically called eisegesis. [Reading INTO the text rather than drawing OUT of the text.] Eisegesis is, I believe, a very dangerous thing and at best ends up with a shallow kind of understanding especially when someone is responsible for teaching the scriptures to others.

Eisegesis happens like this, you get an idea of what you want to convey to people and you go find some verses to support your idea. You have no clue what those verses are really saying but they sound like what you're wanting to talk about and you just use those verses as if they are addressing your already predetermined idea. Do you see this? That is shallow at best but very dangerous at worst. This is especially so when teaching. It's assuming what a text means instead of letting a text say what it means.

Now some of you are thinking you're left in the dust right now since you don't know Greek or Hebrew. This does take some involvement at some level in the original languages I'll admit, BUT, the fact is, I don't think you need to know Greek or Hebrew to do this step at all. There are a couple of tools that will help.

One tool is what's called an Interlinear bible. You will find an on-line edition here. This enables you to see the Greek words to each verse of every book in the New Testament. With this tool you can find the Greek words identified with the English word and begin your work of interpreting a passage.

A good Bible dictionary will also help. One that I would recommend is called the Collin Brown Bible Dictionary. It's a big thick book but has just about any word that is needed as you study the scriptures. You will be able to find a real solid entomology of any word including the history of the word, where it comes from, and even its uses in classical Greek, New Testament uses and things of that nature. You can also find it here online here..

A Biblical dictionary can be extremely helpful to any serious student of the Word. It will give the true meaning intended by any word used in the original language and that is really essential. Everyone needs a good Bible dictionary.

A prime example of what I'm talking about is in James where this is said, "For anyone who is a hearer of the Word and not a doer is like a natural man, as a man who looks at his natural face in the mirror once he has looked away and gone away, has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was." The word for "looks" in verses 23 and 24 [KJV Beholdeth] and the word "look" in verse 25 that says "But one who looks into the perfect law and continues therein..." are two entirely different words translated into English as "looks."

They appear in English to basically be the same word meaning the same thing. They don't. The Greek language shows them as different and an Interlinear bible with a dictionary would reveal this. The first one means "to glance." The second one means "to gaze." You wouldn't notice the difference without the original being seen and checking a Bible dictionary.

Knowing this, I could then, with integity, say,"We forget what we see in the mirror [The bible] about what God tells us because we tend to GLANCE at it. But when we GAZE at the bible our lives are different. It is too often the opposite. Grammatical integrity in textual study would have shown that.

Then there is the second step which I'll define as historic integrity or understanding the historic and cultural realities that surround the text. This helps to explain not just what is being said but why certain things are being said. Understanding the historic and cultural realities of an apostolic letter for example will help explain why certain things are being taught or exhorted in that particular letter at that particular time. Failing in this can result in wrong and inaccurate application.

I will give you an example that isn't earth shaking but is one of working in the history area when studying passages like First Corinthians 5, 12 and 14. Those are the chapters about not getting drunk at the communion table and the women being silent that Paul stated to the Corinthians if you recall.

When you get into the history of the Corinthian people and what was part of their history before they were redeemed you find they were part of what is now commonly called the "mystery religions." One of the teachings of the mystery religions was that ecstasy equalled spirituality.

So, one of the ways they believed helped them connect with their gods or goddesses, which they believed filled the universe, was to go into a divine frenzy and one of the things that helped them kick into their divine frenzy (that's what Plato actually called it) was drunkenness and sexuality. Lots of wine and lots of sex.

I never understood how on earth the Corinthians could get drunk at communion without being totally nuts. But they weren't really nuts at all. They just carried over into their new found faith the idea that drunkenness might help them experience Jesus like it had helped in their old religion. Getting drunk wasn't that much of a stretch for them at all because that was exactly what they had come out of. I am just giving you an example which, in this case doesn't change your life perhaps, but it might help you see why they were so willing to get drunk in Corinth. So now you understand why Paul was saying what was being said in that One Corinthian five passage.

This is particularly important when you begin to study what Paul said about "women being silent" and why that was so important to the Corinthians. I will speak to that as I address another point or two of good biblical interpretation next time.

Four total principles of interpretation will be presented that are very important as they will help us know the meaning of a passage of scripture. This time grammatical integrity and historical integrity and next time contextual integrity and timeless truth integrity which is knowing the difference between a timeless truth and a regulation for a certain people at a certain time.

Simply things but major errors can be avoided with a little knowledge of principles for correct interpretation. Don't worry. My final point will be that the Holy Spirit is the only One who can really enable us to understand Truth and to study the bible isn't accomplished by personal discipline.

More next time.

  • Paul B.


Aussie John said...


Excellent for those who would be
"more noble than those in Thessalonica"!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

It's amazing to me that so often forgotten is that any Berean style believer would have to be careful about following any teacher of the Word that DISCOURAGES questions and DEMANDS blind obedience.

Thanks for reminding us of their kind of nobility.

Steve Miller said...

Thanks Paul. So many today on tv and radio apply an eisegesis approach t interpretation as if they believe they have to have "one up" their contemporaries in new interpretation. Instead, leaning on the Holy Spirit through an exegesis approach allows them rightly divide the word and they get out of the way

Paul Burleson said...


A very astute observation and succinct way of saying it. Thanks for the comment.