Hermeneutics – The Interpretation of Scriptures

By Wilbur Lim

Recently I had a Bible discussion with a believer from one of the denominations of Christendom. I was happy to note that the faith he believed in was not in a vacuum, but could be backed by historical and scientific means. With that, I proceeded to probe further into his understanding of the requirements of salvation. Soon, I found that there were some differences noted on the way we understood Scriptures on the subject matter– it was a matter of the interpretation of Scriptures.

Before attempting to “right the wrong” in others, we ought to start the discussion from the point of agreement between both parties. At the very beginning, we must agree in the establishment of the authority of the Bible. If this agreement is not in place, the efforts in discussing other matters that arise without the foundation of the understanding being firmed up, would not be beneficial.

No matter where we are – whichever country, at work or in school, there is authority. The same goes for Bible authority and the absolute truth. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 mentions, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” From verse 25 of the passage found in Matthew 21:23-27, we find that certain authority comes from heaven while others come from men. God was the one who gave Jesus the authority (John 12:48-50), and with that, Jesus was given full authority in heaven and on earth, calling all Christians to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). These are but a few selected passages of Scriptures to prove the authority of the Bible.

Once Bible authority has been established, there must also be an acceptance of the one absolute truth, which is found in the Bible (i.e. God’s Word IS truth – John 17:17). There is a trend nowadays whereby more people are in danger of subscribing to a “postmodernist” kind of truth. Though it is thought-provoking, they challenge the authenticity of any statement being true and untrue simultaneously. This causes all discussions to be open to multiple interpretations, which doesn’t conclude a decision to
correctly interpret the bible at the end. As such, it may twist the meaning of God’s Word if applied in the wrong context or situation. God will never give a contradicting command for us to follow as He is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).

God gives authority for us to do things through three ways shown in the Bible:

A command (explicitly stated) – e.g. John 13:34 (general command to love one another); Genesis 6:14 (specific command on using gopher wood for Noah’s ark mentioned)

Approved examples (specifically exemplified) – e.g. we meet on the first day of the week to partake of communion because of the example set by the early church with the apostles’ approval (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Necessary implications (logical reasoning) – e.g. we do not find a specific command that says “You shall not punch your wife”, but by extension we do not do so, as it is part of loving one’s wife as his own body, recorded in Ephesians 5:28-29.

Sometimes, even in the face of clarity, we will be challenged to consider the items which are not mentioned in the Bible. This where the silence of the Scriptures should be observed (e.g. in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul addresses the problem of attaching oneself to a church leader and forming a sect around that individual, and then saying that they ought not “think beyond what is written” – 1 Corinthians 4:6).

We know that there could only be one way of understanding Scriptures – knowing that the Bible is clear to all; the Word of God records for us what God intended for us to read, and means what He said. Though there are other methods of interpretation suggested to us, we ought to remember the seemingly dull way have been proven to be the simplest way of correctly applying God’s Word to our lives consistently and logically.

Note: Readers are encouraged to further look into the study of these topics in a more in-depth manner as they are but only mentioned in an overall approach in this article.