Rules of Interpretations – continued

The continuation of a discussion on the rules for Biblical interpretation. This should be of interest to younger believers who would like help on how to study the Bible.

The Dispensational Rule of Interpretation

We could avoid a number of problems if we remember that there are different dispensations within the Bible. A dispensation does not so much emphasize a particular period of time as it does a different mode of Divine dealing with man at specific times.

For example, the Lord Jesus on the cross prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34). How can a young believer reconcile this with the words in the Messianic Psalm 69, where in verses 1-21 we have the Sorrows of the Savior, and in 22-28 the Sentencing of Sinners? Can these last express the sentiments of the Lord? It is important to see what is meant by the “imprecatory Psalms” and to compare them, for example, with the charge to believers, in this dispensation, not to take vengeance on their foes (Romans 12:19-21), and yet there is a prayer for judgment from the lips of believers in a future dispensation (Rev 6:10).

We see a changing dispensation in Matthew’s Gospel from 10:6, where the apostles are directed to “go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and in 15:24, where the Lord says, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” However, after the nation rejects their Messiah in the verse that represents an official turning point in this Gospel (16:20), He commands the disciples to “tell no man that He is Jesus the Christ.” In 18:11, we see the widening sphere of the Gospel. for “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.”

In Matthew 24:13, we read a verse that has troubled many “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” If we study the dispensational setting, we will see that it refers to a physical salvation, as in 24:22, and to the entrance into the earthly kingdom.

A comparison of Luke 4:18-20 and Isaiah 61:1-2, from which it is quoted, leads us to three interesting questions. When did He close the Book? Why did He close the Book? When will He reopen the Book?

The Rule of the Relevance of Scripture

Closely connected to the above rule must be a reminder of the rule, that in spite of dispensational distinctions, that all scripture is nevertheless relevant. The Sermon on the Mount is relevant to us today. The Psalms are relevant. All scripture is profitable, and is to be used in the equipping of the man of God (2 Tim 3:16).

The Principle of Progressive Revelation

It is the character of Scripture that not everything about a particular topic is found in one place. For example, from Isaiah 9:6-7 it would be logical to conclude that the Child born would ascend to the throne of David without any intervening time period. We are not told in this passage that the cross would precede the crown. Little wonder that some Jewish theologians said that there would have to be two Messiahs — a suffering Messiah and a sovereign Messiah, in order to fulfil the prophecies. As Peter writes, they could not reconcile the sufferings with the glory that would follow.

The Laws of Mention

We are told when we read our Bibles to remember the laws of first mention, further mention, and last mention. In the law of first mention, for example, an understanding of what worship is would require a study of its first mention in the Bible – Genesis 22. An understanding of priesthood would be greatly helped by a study of the first mentioned priest, Melchizedek, in Genesis 14:17-24.

The Interpretation of the Types and Shadows

The Bible is a Book with many pictures. Typology is a fascinating and satisfying study. “The Word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us” (John 1:14). This tells us that the tabemacle of the Old Testament was a type of Christ. Joseph is never stated to be a type of Christ, but there are about 30 things said about Joseph in which we see a picture of the Lord Jesus.

“Now these things were our examples” (I Cor 10:6). “For whatsoever things were written before-hand were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4).

We do not get our doctrine from the types. We see pictures of the doctrines of the New Testament hidden within the Old.

The Interpretation of Symbols and Numbers

Are numbers significant? Read Acts 10-11 and see how many times the numbers “three” and “four” are mentioned. Is three the number of manifestation? Is four the number of the Gospel? Is it significant that in the preparation of Peter to take the Gospel to the Gentiles that he lodged in a house by the seaside? Does the sea speak of the Gentile nations? Is it significant that in Matthew 13:1, after breaking the relationship with His mother and brethren, typically, and identifying Himself with “whosoever,” that He goes out of the house and sits by the seaside?

Is it significant that on the third day of creation, the word was, “Let the waters be gathered together into one place,” reminding us of Matthew 18:20. The number three seems to be associated with the place, the house, as in the third book of the Bible, where God speaks out of the tabernacle (Lev 1:1).

The Interpretation of Figurative Language

There are many times when we will see figurative language in the Bible. The student is encouraged to study the following independently. You can see similes in Psalm 1:3, and 92:12; metaphors in John 6:35 and Mat 5:13; allegory in Galatians 4:24; paradox in Matt 16:25; and irony in I Kings 18:27. You will see personification in Psalm 85:10, James 1:15, Matthew 6:3; anthropomorphism (the ascribing of physical characteristics to God) in James 5:4, Psalm 91:4, Job 34:21; hyperbole in Deuteronomy 1:28, and Matthew 7:5; and metonymy (where a related thing stands for the thing itself) in Genesis 25:23,Psalm 51:5 and I Peter 3:21.d