7 Principles of Biblical Interpretation - Lifeway Research (2023)

7 Principles of Biblical Interpretation - Lifeway Research (1)

By Wayne McDill

The word interpretcan be used to mean “to understand,” “to translate,” or “to explain.” These three functions of the interpretive process are also appropriate for preaching.

First, we seek to understand what the text is saying. Then we translate that information into the intended theological message. Finally, we explain that message to the congregation.

The interpreter needs to have a working knowledge of basic principles of interpretation. These hermeneutical principles are like the tricks of the trade for an interpreter.

They guide us in our examination of the text so that our work is kept within the bounds of legitimate hermeneutics. The assumption behind these principles is that, properly handled, the text will disclose its meaning to the interpreter.
Interpreting the Bible—hermeneutics—is the science and art of understanding, translating, and explaining the meaning of the Scripture text.

To guide this process the preacher can follow basic principles that help the interpreter discern the intended meaning of the text writer rather than imposing his own ideas on the text. Here are seven principles I would recommend.

1. Identify the kind of literature your text is for insight into its meaning.

Bible scholars call this the genre of the text. That means the general form the text takes—narrative, prophecy, poetry, history, gospel, epistle.

The various kinds of literature present their message in differing styles and with different structure. Narrative texts do not operate the same way epistles do in getting their message across to the reader.

(Video) HOW TO INTERPRET SCRIPTURE | Hermeneutics, Exegesis, and Eisegesis | Understanding The Bible EP 01

The variety in literary forms can become a complicated study. Bible scholars go beyond the basic forms I mentioned here to subforms with subtle differences the ordinary reader might not notice.

Often they disagree with one another about these subtleties. In spite of these technical distinctions, the preacher can still recognize the text’s form and how it affects the meaning.

2. Consider the context of the passage for a better understanding of its meaning.

This is often considered the first and most important principle for accurate interpretation. Bible scholars use the term context to discuss various aspects of the original writing of the text—historical, social, political, religious, literary.

It is this literary concern I have in mind as the context of the passage.
The writer follows a logical line of thought in what he writes. What he said in the previous verses or chapters and what he said in the ones that follow will help make the text in question clear.

Taking the text out of that context risks misinterpreting it. Often clues in the surrounding verses will open aspects of the meaning in your text you would have otherwise missed.

3. Read the text for its plain and obvious meaning.

A common and persistent myth about the Bible is that its real meaning is hidden behind the surface message.

Even though the Bible uses symbolic or figurative language, most of it is clear to the reader. Even when you do not know about the people, places, and events in question, you can grasp the point of the text.

The use of figurative language in Scripture only enhances the plain meaning of the text. “Why do you complain about the splinter in your brother’s eye when you have a plank in your own eye?” Jesus said (Matt. 7:3 NIV).

Even though this is figurative language, we have no trouble understanding what he meant. His use of the metaphors makes it even clearer.

(Video) Priscilla Shirer Discusses the 5 Ps of Bible Study

4. Try to discern the writer’s intentions when he wrote the text.

This principle of intentionality is critical for the expository preacher. You study the text not to find a sermon in it but to discover the writer’s intended message.

Unless you can learn the intended meaning of the text writer, you will not be able to preach the message of the text in your sermon.

See also Why We Need Children in Church

Remember, “The text cannot mean what it never meant.” Discovering the writer’s original meaning is your first task as you prepare to preach to your own generation.

The intended meaning of the text writer will also be the intended meaning of the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write. As you read his words, you are dealing with a revelation from God.

Remember, “All scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16 NIV). The same Holy Spirit who inspired these words in the first place wants this message to be preached again through your sermon.

And you want to preach in a way that is in line with the Spirit’s purposes.

5. Look carefully at the language of the text for what it reveals about its meaning.

Words carry thoughts. The words of the text are all we have of the writer’s thoughts. If he hadn’t written it down, we wouldn’t know what he was thinking.

So we can look closely at his words, examining each one carefully for the part it plays in his message. Also look at how the words and phrases connect with one another and how the sentences are constructed.

(Video) R.C. Sproul: How to Study the Bible

If you can study the text in the original language, you can gain greater insight into the meaning. Many preachers study Greek and Hebrew for that reason.
But even if you cannot read your texts in those languages, you can still use lexicons and word study books to guide you.

Though your congregation is probably not interested in the Hebrew and Greek, your study will open insights that will make the message clearer to them. You can do this without going into detail about tenses and forms in the original languages.

6. Notice the various theological themes in the text.

Though a text has one intended meaning, it can have a number of significant theological themes. It can also have a number of different applications.

When you do the structural diagram and your observations, you will list these themes and what the text says about them.

Identifying these themes and understanding how they relate to one another in your text is a most helpful key to grasping its meaning.

These same theological themes will show up in different combinations in various texts throughout the Bible. In your preaching text you will try to discover the best wording for the writer’s subject and the modifier that limits and focuses it.

You will also look through the text for the predicates, the various things the writer is saying about his subject. The theological themes in the text will give you what you need for these tasks.

7. Always take a God-centered perspective for interpreting your text.

This means looking at the text in terms of what it reveals about God and his dealings with his creation, particularly man. This is theological interpretation.

It arises from the assumption that the Bible is really God’s means of making himself known to us. What it says about him will always be central to every text.

(Video) 7 Biblical Fasting Principles You MUST Apply Next Time You Fast

The Bible was not given by God to tell us about ancient religious people and how we should all try to be like them. It was given to tell us about the faithful God whom they either served or denied.

Their response is not the central message; God’s will and his involvement with his creation are. Even texts that give instructions as to how we should behave reveal something about God.

Adapted from12 Essential Skills for Great Preachingby Wayne McDill (B&H Publishing Group, 2018)

Dig Deeper at Lifeway.com

12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching

Wayne McDill

(Video) 4 Basic Principles of Giving | Art Rainer

Related posts:

What Do Pastors Believe About the Book of Revelation?


What are the key principles of biblical interpretation? ›

In the history of biblical interpretation, four major types of hermeneutics have emerged: the literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical. Literal interpretation asserts that a biblical text is to be interpreted according to the “plain meaning” conveyed by its grammatical construction and historical context.

What are the 7 principles of the Bible? ›

Principles: As we seek to develop Christlike character, our actions will reflect Christian virtues, such as humility, faith, charity, courage, self-government, virtue, industry, and wisdom. Applications: I will come unto Christ and receive His grace to develop Christlike character.

What are the 3 ways in which the Bible can be interpreted? ›

What are the different types of biblical hermeneutics?
  • Literal Interpretation. This approach seeks out the “plain meaning” of a biblical text. ...
  • Moral Interpretation. ...
  • Allegorical Interpretation. ...
  • Anagogical Interpretation.
Jan 4, 2022

What are the basic principles and concepts of hermeneutics? ›

Since interpretation is a means to understanding, general hermeneutics has two leading concepts, understanding and interpretation, and should, accordingly, consist of two main parts: (1) a theory, or at least a conception, of understanding and (2) a methodology of interpretation.

What are the steps of Bible interpretation? ›

We consider a three-step approach to studying the Bible. The three steps are observation, elucidation, and application. Observation answers the question, “What does the text say?” Elucidation answers the question, “What does it mean?” Application answers the question, “What does it mean to me?”

What are the steps of interpretation? ›

There are four steps to data interpretation: 1) assemble the information you'll need, 2) develop findings, 3) develop conclusions, and 4) develop recommendations. The following sections describe each step. The sections on findings, conclusions, and recommendations suggest questions you should answer at each step.

Who made the 7 principles? ›

The 7 Principles of Universal Design were developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace in the North Carolina State University.

Are 7 key principles? ›

The Seven Principles
  • Lawfulness, fairness and transparency.
  • Purpose limitation.
  • Data minimisation.
  • Accuracy.
  • Storage limitation.
  • Integrity and confidentiality (security)
  • Accountability.

What does the Bible say about interpreting Scripture? ›

(Matthew 28:18). We are therefore obligated to let the Bible interpret itself. The faith has been one time, for all time, delivered to the saints and we must accept and obey it to become "united" followers of Christ. (Jude 3).

What is the rule of faith and biblical interpretation? ›

The rule of faith is the name given to the ultimate authority or standard in religious belief, such as the Word of God (Dei verbum) as contained in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, as among Catholics; theoria, as among the Eastern Orthodox; the Sola scriptura (Bible alone doctrine), as among some Protestants; the ...

Why do Christians interpret the Bible differently? ›

The Bible has been translated into several languages over the years. Some books in the Bible have never been completed or parts of it were never found. These discrepancies and translation nuances have paved the way for the different interpretations of the Bible.

What is the difference between exegesis and hermeneutics? ›

Biblical exegesis is the actual interpretation of the sacred book, the bringing out of its meaning; hermeneutics is the study and establishment of the principles by which it is to be interpreted.

Who is the father of hermeneutics? ›

Schleiermacher was a hermeneutics figure who introduced the concept of intuition [6]. Schleiermacher, considered to be the father of hermeneutics, attempted to understand life by constructing imaginatively the situation of an era, the psychological condition of the author, and providing self-empathy.

What is the theory of interpretation? ›

Paul Ricoeur's theory of interpretation provides one approach through which researchers using hermeneutics can achieve congruence between philosophy, methodology and method. Ricoeur's theory of interpretation acknowledges the interrelationship between epistemology (interpretation) and ontology (interpreter).

What are the tools for interpreting the Bible? ›

5 Essential Tools for Personal Bible Study
  • Bible. All right, this one is obvious, right? ...
  • Bible Dictionary. Using a Bible Dictionary (Vine's is popular), or even a regular English dictionary is crucial to making sure you understand what you are reading. ...
  • Concordance. ...
  • Bible Atlas. ...
  • Commentary.
May 5, 2020

What are the 7 steps of Christianity? ›

Those are the 7 basics that every Christian should know.
The 7 Basics of Christianity:
  • God. You need to understand that God consists of three equal persons: ...
  • Jesus. ...
  • The Holy Spirit. ...
  • The Bible. ...
  • Prayer. ...
  • Grace. ...
  • Community.

What is the 7th step of interpretation? ›

Always take a God-centered perspective for interpreting your text.

What are the seven steps of interpretation? ›

Steps to Bible Interpretation
  • Step #1 – General Context.
  • Step #2 – Literary Context.
  • Step #3 – Lexical-grammatical Context.
  • Step #4 – The Cultural Context.
  • Step #5 – Biblical Context.
  • Step #6 – Theological Context.
  • Step #7 – Application.

What are the 5 types of interpretation? ›

Here are the five major types of interpreting that businesses should be aware of.
  • Consecutive Interpreting. ...
  • Simultaneous Interpreting. ...
  • Whisper Interpreting. ...
  • Escort/Travel Interpreting. ...
  • Over-the-phone interpreting.
Mar 23, 2022

What is the main purpose of the 7 fundamental principles? ›

The seven Fundamental Principles provide an ethical, operational and institutional framework for the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the world. They are at the core of the Movement's approach to helping people in need during armed conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies.

Why were the 7 principles created? ›

The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that the three different branches of government, the legislative, executive and judicial, would be able to limit each other's powers. In this way they control certain powers as well as share other powers with them.

What is the spiritual principle of tradition 7? ›

The Purpose of Tradition Seven

Alcoholics Anonymous' refusal of large gifts and grants is more than simply preventing outside interference within group operations. It instills the principle of independence at the highest level so that it may serve as an example for its members.

Why are the the 7 principles of communication is important to everyone? ›

The seven C's of communication is a list of principles that you should ensure all of your communications adhere to. Their purpose is to help ensure that the person you're communicating with hears what you're trying to say. The seven C's are: clear, correct, complete, concrete, concise, considered and courteous.

What are the seven principles of good practice? ›

The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education
  • Encourage contact between students and faculty.
  • Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students.
  • Encourage active learning.
  • Give prompt feedback.
  • Emphasize time on task.
  • Communicate high expectations.
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

How do you remember the 7 principles of the Constitution? ›

  1. People=Popular Sovereignty.
  2. Like=Limited Government.
  3. Rootbeer=Republicanism.
  4. Floats=Federalism.
  5. Skittles=Separation of Powers.
  6. Chocolate=Checks and Balances.
  7. Ice Cream=Individual Rights.

What is the interpretation of the Bible called? ›

Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. It is part of the broader field of hermeneutics, which involves the study of principles of interpretation, both theory and methodology, for all forms of communication, nonverbal and verbal.

What is the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical interpretation? ›

It nurtures the believer's appreciation and hunger for the truth communicated by the text; and. It motivates the believer to apply what he has come to understand, and in turn serves as the means of sanctification—the transformation of the believing reader into the image of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

What are the four principles of interpretation? ›

Four principles should guide us as we interpret the Bible: literal, historical, grammatical, and synthesis.

What are 5 biblical principles? ›

5 Principles for Biblical Decision Making
  • Your Best Decisions Reflect Your Values.
  • Your Best Decisions Are Birthed in an Atmosphere of Prayer.
  • Your Best Decisions Heed Wisdom From Others.
  • Your Best Decisions Take Time.
  • Your Best Decisions Are Committed to God.

What are the three components of interpretation? ›

The three basic interpretation modes are simultaneous interpretation (SI), consecutive interpretation, and whispered interpretation. However, modern linguists suggest that there are more than simultaneous interpretation, consecutive interpretation, and whispered interpretation to interpretation modes.

What are the 5 principles of determining the theological principles? ›

Step Five: Determine the Theological Principle(s) in the Text
  • The principle should be reflected in the text.
  • The principle should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation.
  • The principle should not be tied to a specific culture.
  • The principle should correspond to the teaching of the rest of Scripture.
Jul 18, 2022

What is the first main principle of interpretation? ›

The first and foremost step in the course of interpretation is to examine the language and the literal meaning of the statute. The words in an enactment have their own natural effect and the construction of an act depends on its wording.

What are the seven basic life principles? ›

What are the seven basic life principles?
  • Design. God has a precise purpose for each person, object, and relationship that He creates. ...
  • Authority. God assigns various responsibilities to parents, church leaders, government officials, and other authorities. ...
  • Responsibility. ...
  • Suffering. ...
  • Ownership. ...
  • Freedom. ...
  • Success.

What are the 3 biblical principles of ethics? ›

Ethicist John Barton says there are three basic models, patterns or paradigms that form the basis of all ethics in the Bible: (1) obedience to God's will; (2) natural law; and (3) the imitation of God.

What is the core principles of Christianity? ›

Christianity Beliefs

Christians are monotheistic, i.e., they believe there's only one God, and he created the heavens and the earth. This divine Godhead consists of three parts: the father (God himself), the son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.

What are the levels of interpretation? ›

There, he reflected the traditional medieval understanding that interpretation can take place on four levels: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical. The literal represents the most obvious reading.

What is the difference between a doctrine and a principle? ›

Doctrine consists of fundamental, unchanging truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A principle is an enduring truth or rule that individuals can adopt to guide them in making decisions. Some doctrine and principles are stated clearly and overtly in the scripture text, while others are only implied.


1. How Should We Interpret the Bible? (Selected Scriptures)
(Grace to You)
2. Experiencing God Bible Study: unit 1/day 1
(Saved by GRACE 365)
3. Teacher’s overview: Lifeway’s Explore the Bible Micah 7:1-10, 18-20 “Hope Found” for Nov. 27, 2022
(Shawn Thomas)
4. Business Secrets from the Bible
(The 700 Club)
5. Lecture: Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God
(Jordan B Peterson)
6. That Time Geocentrists Tricked A Bunch of Physicists
(Folding Ideas)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Sen. Ignacio Ratke

Last Updated: 12/23/2022

Views: 6275

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (56 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Sen. Ignacio Ratke

Birthday: 1999-05-27

Address: Apt. 171 8116 Bailey Via, Roberthaven, GA 58289

Phone: +2585395768220

Job: Lead Liaison

Hobby: Lockpicking, LARPing, Lego building, Lapidary, Macrame, Book restoration, Bodybuilding

Introduction: My name is Sen. Ignacio Ratke, I am a adventurous, zealous, outstanding, agreeable, precious, excited, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.