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Principles 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 defined as,

"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;

"1. a. 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 of traditions."*

*The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company

Language is "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.

The principles 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 additions.

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:

"The first 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.




E.W. Bullinger (How to Enjoy the Bible)



I. As pertains to the verse:

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) used.

† 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).


B. The 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:

"... these 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.

    a)  They are often merely based on etymology, tradition or usage at another period of time than the time in which they were spoken or written.

    b)  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:

    a)  English words and expressions that have come to be out of use (extinct), e.g.,

    "Away with" à tolerate (Isa 1:13).

    "Go to" à come now (Jas 4:13).

    "Trow" à to suppose; imagine (Luke 17:9).

    b)  Usage of English words has changed, e.g.,

    "Prevent" à originally meant "to precede," "go before."  It now means "to hinder."

    "Publican" à originally meant a tax-gatherer. It now means an innkeeper.

    c)  Greek word usage has become changed either by GOD or man:

    1)  By GOD, e.g.,

    angelos à in Greek, any messenger. GOD uses it as a messenger from GOD, and "the Angel of the Lord."

    ecclesia 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.

    2)  By Man, e.g.,

zoopoieo à in Classical Greek, meant to produce live offspring, but in New Testament Greek, to make alive again in spiritual or resurrection life (John 5:21,65,63).

paroikos à in Classical Greek, meant neighbor, but in New Testament Greek, sojourner (Acts 7:6,29); foreigner (Eph 2:19); strangers (I Pet 2:11).

    d)  Different, yet concurrent, usage of a Greek word should be observed in English, e.g.,

parousia à used of the presence of individuals (I Cor 6:17, Cor 7:6,7).

used of Christ's presence in the air (I Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15).

used of 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 English.

    1)  Greek words do not always have different usages.

    2)  Many Greek words have one consistent usage and should therefore not be departed from in the English.

--e.g., "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 2:6,7.

D. The words must be in harmony with the verse as well as with all the scripture relating to the scope.

E.  Scripture buildup; narrative development.


II. As pertains to the context:

E.W. Bullinger wrote:

"If this 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 Context

      --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 Context

--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 previous usage:

-- 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 interpretation.

--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 Bible?

V. You must rightly-divide the Word of GOD regarding subject matter and dispensations (administrations).

A)  E.W. Bullinger writes:

"While the 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 classes).

B) Dispensations (administrations)§

-- oikonomia: 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

For 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 writes:

"If one 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 writes:

"The 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 0-8254-2213-2.


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.