of Right Division
When dealing with "words"
and "language", certain rules or concepts must be applied
for those "words" or that "language" to be
intelligible. If there were no methodical approach to the formulation
and utilization of that language, it would be impossible for anyone to
use it, let alone understand it for its intended purpose and
communication. Language and its composite "words" are
designed for one thing and that is communication. Communication can be
"The exchange of
thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals,
writing, or behavior."*
*The American Heritage Dictionary
of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright © 1992
by Houghton Mifflin Company
It is an
"exchange"; something presented from one individual to
another. The Bible is GOD’s communication to us. It is the
expression of HIS thoughts and the presentation of HIS information. In
having this expression recorded by the written word, HE enabled others
to view the expression of HIS thoughts. Returning to the concept of
"language", this can be defined as;
The use by human beings of voice sounds, and often written
symbols representing these sounds, in organized combinations
and patterns in order to express and communicate thoughts and
feelings. b. A system of words formed from such
combinations and patterns, used by the people of a particular
country or by a group of people with a shared history or set
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition
Copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company
"written symbols representing sounds…. organized combinations
and patterns…. a system of words formed from such combinations and
patterns…. used by people…. with a shared history…"
Language possesses structure, order, grammar and style. In order to
understand the language, you must not only understand the individual
words, but you must also understand the grammatical rules of sentence
structure or syntax. In other words, you must understand how to fit
the words together in an intelligible sequence in order to make sense
of or comprehend it. There must be a methodical approach to the
examination of the language in order to learn it. In other words,
there must be keys or guidelines to help you utilize the appropriate
tools to fashion the words into logical sequences or patterns. Now,
this may be relatively easy when you are the one doing the
communicating or writing. You know what you want to say and how you
want to say it. However, when you are reading or hearing what someone
else has said or written, then these concepts take on a whole new
dimension. I must ask myself, "Do I understand what I am hearing
or reading?" "Are the conclusions I am drawing from what is
being said true to form (i.e., are they what the speaker wants me to
conclude and understand)?" How do we know?
The problems that arise
from miscommunication and misunderstandings are vast and have existed
for eons. We can’t avoid all miscommunication or misunderstanding.
That is one of the limitations to language; every speaker has a frame
of reference and unless you can be in that person’s mind to see
their frame of reference, there are going to be misunderstandings.
Nevertheless, we should deal with these limitations the best we can
when they arise.
What about the Bible?
Can we understand what GOD has to say in HIS inspired Word? The Bible
is quite a unique book. It asserts that it is the Word of GOD and as
such, the words contained therein are "spiritual" (1 Cor.
2:12-14). They are "words pertaining to the earth" (Psa.
12:6) but they are "refined" like silver, to the point that
all the impurities are removed. Although they are words printed with
ink on a piece of paper, they are still spiritual. Because these
"words" are "spiritual", there is an element of
spiritual insight that must be given by GOD (Psa. 119:18). In other
words, you could read the Bible till you could quote every word but
still not arrive at a TRUE understanding or the meaning of it. It is
no different than walking through a food court and coming out on the
other side still hungry; just because you went through the court
doesn’t necessarily mean you were able to eat. The spiritual insight
could be to you or to the one who is teaching you (Luke 24:27,32; Neh.
8:8; Acts 8:30ff) but, nevertheless, it must still be there.
Now, is that all that
is required – spiritual insight? Well, that is a loaded question.
While it is true in principle, it is not solely true without
examination. In other words, you must examine that for which you
desire the spiritual insight before the insight will come. Much like
Jesus Christ’s statement, "Seek and ye shall find". If you
don’t seek, you will never find. Christ was also found on many
occasions to say to the Pharisees, "Have ye not read…" Job
acknowledged the greatness of GOD’s Word when he said that he
"esteemed the words of his [GOD’s] mouth more than my necessary
food". Paul states in 2 Tim 2:15 that we are to
"study to shew ourselves approved unto God…" What are we
to seek? What did the Pharisees not read? What was the substance of
Job’s confession? What was Paul telling us to study? The answer to
all of these is one – GOD’s Word! GOD expects us to read and study
HIS Word. It is only by reading and studying HIS book that you can
ever hope to achieve an understanding of it. Paul told Timothy,
"Consider what I say and the Lord give thee understanding in all
things". It was Timothy’s responsibility to do the
"considering". Paul revealed the Word of God to Timothy;
that is "what I say". But it is the "Lord" that
gives the understanding. Does the Lord give understanding when you
don’t consider? I would conclude that HE does not. Hence, we have to
do our part and GOD will do HIS.
It is the "our
part" that we want to deal with here. In examining the Bible, we
need an acceptable approach. We need an approach that is methodical,
logical, sensible, and one the does not ignore or transgress the rules
of language and grammar. Ideally, this approach should be relatively
simple and basic without all the contrivances and complexities that
mankind endeavors to put on anything it touches. These contrivances
and complexities are oftentimes outside the laws of language and
violate the rules of grammar and syntax. These alternative approaches
are frequently invented to deal with apparent contradictions within
scripture or are designed with the intent to support an existing
theology. They do nothing more than mar the truth and turn diamonds
into dust. They engender confusion and strife. We want to avoid all of
that in this presentation. We desire to present keys or guidelines
that are simple in themselves and support the interpretation that
scripture gives of itself. Another consideration in studying scripture
is the realization that they were not written in our English tongue.
They were originally written in biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek
(excepting the Septuagint – Greek version of the Old Testament). The
translation of words from one language to another can pose
difficulties in attempting to provide accurate representations of word
meanings and nuances. In addition, there are also Eastern customs,
mannerisms and idiomatic expressions (figures of speech) to consider
in the overall examination of the Bible as it was written in an
Eastern and antiquated culture. All of these points must be taken into
account when you read and study the Bible.
presented in this section do nothing more than follow the normal
sequence and progression of language. When applied to understanding
the Bible, it becomes evident that they’re value is incalculable.
They do not violate laws of grammar or syntax of language. When they
are applied without bias, they do not hinder or alter the message;
they only unfold it. We use the term "bias" as that is where
we all find ourselves. We are all biased to some degree (Prov. 21:2).
To the extent that we can neutralize our biases and receive from
rather than project into what is written, we will TRULY see and TRULY
understand. The systematic approach we have found to be the most
logical, easily applied, least biased and most true to form was that
presented by Dr. E.W. Bullinger. It supports the literality and
genuine posture of the Bible and appears to be the most sensible and
methodical approach. We have used this method of biblical examination
in our own personal study for years and through trial have found it to
be trustworthy. It truly allows the Bible to speak for and interpret
itself to us. The "Keys to Biblical Interpretation" is an
Appendix that appears in a book on Christian sexual ethics entitled,
"Sexual Ethics…A Biblical Perspective" written by K. Kent
Miller, Roxana L. Miller and Mark A. Van Doren. The book is
copyrighted but is yet at this time unpublished. It will be reproduced
on this web site (hence, other Appendices may be referred to not
appearing on this page). The material in this Appendix was taken from
Dr. E.W. Bullinger’s book, "How to Enjoy the Bible". We
have simply condensed much of the information, with some minor
GOD is a perfect GOD
and a GOD of Truth (Deut 32:4; Isa 65:16). HIS Word is perfect and
true (Ps 12:6, 33:4, 119:140; John 17:17). For the Word of GOD to be
true and perfect, the words and order of the words must be perfect.
The Word of GOD attests to its own divine inspiration, as stated in II
Tim 3:16, and we know from II Peter 1:20 that "no prophecy of the
scripture is of any private interpretation . . . "
E.W. Bullinger wrote:
great and essential principle which must be ever present with
us, when we study the Word of God, as a whole, is not to treat
it as something which we have to interpret, but as being that
which God has given in order to interpret Himself and His will
to us." [emphasis ours]
It is our
responsibility as workmen to rightly-divide the word of Truth
(II Tim 2:15). The true word of GOD cannot contradict itself, so we
must compare scripture with scripture(s) and word with word(s). When
we follow the principle and rightly-divide the Word of Truth,
we then have the true Word.
TO BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
Bullinger (How to Enjoy the Bible)
OF HOW THE WORD OF GOD INTERPRETS ITSELF:
I. As pertains to the
A. The meaning of a
word or words is to be gathered from the scope (subject) of the
verse, and not the scope (subject) from the individual meaning of
the word or words.
1) The meaning of
a word(s) must be attained from the subject of the verse
(passage) in which it is found.
2) Scope †:
what the one subject being handled is all about; this always
furnishes a key to understanding the meaning of the word(s)
† Note: Not the same as context (context has to do with
the interpretation and sense of a passage as distinct from the
actual meaning of its separate words). Also, you may see that
a verse forms part of a larger context that has a particular scope
or subject. (E.g., II Pet 1:20).
subject of a verse is to be gathered from its structure.*
1) "It will
be found, like all the works of GOD, to be perfect in form and
also in truth. All GOD's works are perfect: and, as His Word is
the greatest of His works, we must look for and expect to find
perfection here. There is no portion of the whole Bible that is
not constructed according to a perfect plan. The literary
portion is as perfect as its truth. And here, we must explain
what is meant by Structure; so that the whole subject may
be more clearly understood. There is a Law of Correspondence,
running throughout the literary form of sacred Scripture, by
which the same words are repeated in various ways, and the same
thoughts repeated in other words. Correspondence [parallelism]
is of three kinds: Alternation, Introversion, and Complex (a
combination of Alternation and Introversion)." In addition,
we read in The Companion Bible, Preface:
Structures constitute a remarkable phenomenon peculiar to
Divine Revelation; and are not found outside in any other form
of known literature. This distinguishing feature is caused by
the repetition of subjects which reappear (known by
some as 'Railways'), either in alternation or introversion, or
a combination of both in diverse manners. This repetition is
called 'Correspondence,' which may be by way of similarity or
contrast; synthetic or antithetic."
* Note: This is a
very detailed principle. For more information on structure, consult How
to Enjoy the Bible by
E.W. Bullinger, pp. 199-226.
C. A word or words
must be interpreted and understood according to Biblical usage.
1) This is
distinct from meanings or definitions placed upon them by
lexicons, commentaries and dictionaries.
are often merely based on etymology, tradition or usage at
another period of time than the time in which they were spoken
Compare sources and observe changes of usage that can be
traced through different spans of time.
2. This subject
of Biblical word usage can be considered as follows:
English words and expressions that have come to be out of use
with" à tolerate (Isa 1:13).
to" à come now (Jas 4:13).
à to suppose; imagine (Luke 17:9).
of English words has changed, e.g.,
à originally meant "to precede," "go
before." It now means "to hinder."
à originally meant a tax-gatherer. It now means an
word usage has become changed either by GOD or man:
à in Greek, any messenger. GOD uses
it as a messenger from GOD, and "the Angel of
à used in Greek only of a town's
meeting; of its residents (Acts 19:39). GOD uses it
concerning the assemblies of GOD's elect.
à in Classical Greek, meant to produce
live offspring, but in New Testament Greek, to
make alive again in spiritual or resurrection life
à in Classical Greek, meant neighbor,
but in New Testament Greek, sojourner (Acts
7:6,29); foreigner (Eph 2:19); strangers (I
Different, yet concurrent, usage of a Greek word should be
observed in English, e.g.,
à used of the presence of individuals (I Cor 6:17, Cor
Christ's presence in the air (I Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15).
Christ's presence on earth (Matt 24:3,27,37,39).
used of the
presence of the "lawless one" (II Thess 2:19).
Note--each usage represents a separate topic.
e) A consistent
usage of Greek words should not be deviated from in the
Greek words do not always have different usages.
Many Greek words have one consistent usage and should
therefore not be departed from in the English.
"withhold" (katecho) in II Thess 2:6,7 in
the A.V. is "let" & "withhold"; in
the R.V., "restrain." See Matt 21:38; Luke 4:42,
8:15, 19:9; John 5:4; Acts 27:40; Rom 1:18, 7:6; I Cor
7:30, 11:2, 15:2; II Cor 6:10; I Thess 5:21; II Thess
2:6,7; Philem 13; and Heb 3:6,14, 10:23. By reviewing
these scriptures of the Greek word katecho, we see
that "hold fast" is the correct rendering vs.
"withhold" and "let" of II Thess
D. The words must
be in harmony with the verse as well as with all the scripture
relating to the scope.
buildup; narrative development.
II. As pertains
to the context:
be disregarded, then a word, a sentence, or a verse, may be
taken out from its context and interpreted of something quite
foreign to its original intent."
A) The Nearer
--This is what
may be found on the same page, or opening; or to the greatest
extent either on the pages or within the chapters close by.
B) The Remote
--This is in
reference to the Word of GOD as a whole, within its own context,
for each separate verse. Each verse must be read and understood
concerning the whole book.
-- Each verse
stands in its own immediate context as well as the context of
the Bible as a whole, thereby being interpreted in the light of
the rest of Scripture.
III. As pertains to
-- In order for
Scripture to interpret itself, it is essential that words,
expressions, and utterances be interpreted regarding their first
occurrence. (This is an important key to a word's resulting
usage and meaning, or at least a director leading us toward the
essential point linked to it. However, remember that every word
has its relationships and contexts – never forget the context)
IV. The place or
location of a verse can be indispensable to its complete
--Some verses of
scripture illustrate their main importance from the revelation
contained within them, while others from certain words
used within the revelation. Still others obtain their main
importance from the place where they are found written.
-- i.e., Why is
this verse here? Why is it in this particular section of the
V. You must
rightly-divide the Word of GOD regarding subject matter and dispensations
Word of God is written for all persons, and for all times, yet
it is as true that not every part of it is addressed TO all
persons or ABOUT all persons IN all time." [emphasis ours]
I Cor 10:32--the
Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church of GOD (three distinct
the act of administering. E.W. Bullinger writes:
It is either the
ACT of administering or of the TIME during which such act of
administration is carried out." [emphasis ours]
See Appendix A--Dispensation/Administration
more information, consult E.W. Bullinger's How to Enjoy The
Bible, pp. 83-99.
VI. The Difficult verse
must be understood in light of the many clear verses on the subject.
-- Meaning that
no one verse is to be interpreted or understood in a sense
contrary to the others that are clear.
A) E.W. Bullinger
passage appears to be repugnant to others, then there is something
amiss either in the translation of it, or in our understanding of
it. In either case it behooves us to examine it and see where the
fault lies. The one, apparently more difficult passage, must be
understood, explained, and interpreted by the others which are
quite plain and clear."
VII. The Interpretation
and the application are always with respect to whom the
verse or passage is addressed.
-- The interpretation
of a verse is not necessarily the same as the application
of that verse.
A) E.W. Bullinger
Interpretation of a passage belongs to the occasion when, and
the persons to whom, or of whom, the words were originally
intended. When that has been settled, then it is open to us to
make an application of those words to ourselves or others, so
far as we can do so without coming into conflict with any other
passages." That which we apply to ourselves cannot
contradict that which is already addressed to us.
Anyone desiring a
deeper and fuller understanding of the principles illustrated here is
encouraged to consult E.W. Bullinger's book How to Enjoy the Bible,
published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. ISBN
183. Bullinger, How
to Enjoy the Bible, p. 7.
184. E. W. Bullinger, The
Vision of Isaiah: Its Structure and Scope (North Haledon, NJ:
Reprinted by Pastor J.S. Bowman, 1984), p. 11,12.
185. Bullinger, The
Companion Bible, Preface, p. viii.
186. Bullinger, How
to Enjoy the Bible, p. 264.
187. Bullinger, How
to Enjoy the Bible, p. 65.
188. Bullinger. How
to Enjoy the Bible, p. 327.