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Different Methods of Biblical Interpretation Lead To Different Results

Some of us like to follow directions and some of us don’t. When you buy a toy set for your kids or piece of furniture that requires assembly, do you read the directions? Or do you prefer to jump right in and figure it out on your own? Maybe you start on your own and only look at the directions if you get stuck! If you’re mechanically inclined you might be able to get by without following the directions. Most of us aren’t that fortunate!

biblical interpretation is like assembly instructions

The same is true with doing Bible study. There are directions we have to follow if we want to get it right. In a previous post I talked about some of the difficulties we face in making sense of the Bible. Biblical interpretation is the process one uses to understand what the author of scripture meant by what he wrote.

There is a huge problem with biblical interpretation in the church today. We don’t all use the same method of interpretation. To put it another way, we don’t all follow the same directions when we do biblical interpretation. This issue is the root of many of the doctrinal differences that exist in churches today. This isn’t the only reason but a major reason why there are so many different denominations today.

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Here are five major methods of biblical interpretation churches follow in studying the Bible.

5 Primary Methods of Biblical Interpretation

  1. Allegorical – this approaches the Bible as a spiritual book full of allegories and spiritual meaning.
  2. Rationalistic – this view is that the Bible can only be understood by human reason and the scientific method, followed in many liberal churches.
  3. Traditional – this view emphasizes how the church has interpreted it, particularly (but not only) the Roman Catholic Church.
  4. Subjective – this view focuses on what the Bible means to the person reading it.
  5. Historical-grammatical – this views the Bible as normal literature taking into account figures of speech, history and various genres.

There are other methods of biblical interpretation used by scholars but these are the primary ones we find in the church today. I follow the historical-grammatical approach. I have noticed that people tend to follow the view of the church they were raised in or where they came to know the Lord. In general, the prevalent approach in the evangelical church is the historical-grammatical approach. I say in general because there are some evangelicals who switch to the allegorical approach with parts of scripture, such as the book of the Revelation. Also there are many evangelicals who take a subjective approach when it pleases them.

The purpose of this post is not to start a debate on which approach is right. It is so that you will understand the basic differences in the main approaches. It is to help you to grow in your understanding of biblical interpretation so that you confidently know what approach you take.

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Do you have a question or comment? Please leave it below.

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Ward Cushman

My journey of faith started when I was nine years old when I realized that Jesus died and rose again to pay for my sins. At the age of thirteen I felt the call of God on my life for ministry.

I have been fortunate to work in the marketplace for over ten years and in full-time Christian ministry for over thirty years.

My passion is to teach God's Word in such a way that it is easy to understand and so that God uses it to bring about life change in those who hear it.

It is my greatest joy to see God work through me to produce fruit for His glory!