I got this list decades ago at Cornell University when I attended a 6 week Institute for Biblical Studies, or IBS, a summer program sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. These are from Dr. Phil Koch, a Dallas Seminary professor at that time. These 5 points are surprisingly simple and logical, but it is amazing how often we don’t follow these classic guidelines for interpreting the Bible.
One of the key purposes of the Bible is the transforming of our minds. (Rom. 12:1) So, first of all, the most important key is to have the right attitude. We don’t explain the Bible as much at it explains us. That being said, adhere to the following rules and that which transforms your mind will perhaps be a little more accurately comprehended.
- Give preference to the New Testament over the Old. The NT interprets the OT and the OT helps interpret the New, but the New Testament is the fuller revelation toward which the Old Testament points. That being said, always take into account the full witness of the entire Bible. This rule is similar to the next one–
- The whole must interpret the parts, as in the whole Bible interprets a testament, the testament interprets a book, a book interprets a chapter and so forth like this:
Whole Bible > testament > book > chapter > verse > phrase > word
- Longer, fuller passages on a particular topic should interpret briefer passages on the same subject.
- Topic-specific passages should interpret side comments elsewhere. You should give more weight to a passage that specifically addresses the subject you are investigating, as opposed to a side comment stuck in the middle of a discussion on a different topic. In fact, the comment might be such that the author himself would not consider it as accurately representing his opinion on the specific topic of your research.
- Get your doctrine from doctrinal passages not from stories, parables, and events. You can get ideas, inspiration, enlightenment, clarification, and illustrations of doctrinal truths from anywhere in scripture, but get doctrine from the passages geared toward doctrine.