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HERMENEUTICS: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures


Dr. David L. Cooper

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (Strong's: dissecting correctly) the Word of Truth.
- 2 Timothy 2:15 -

Editor's note - In many places in the Scriptures, the believer is encouraged to study the written Word as the foundation for a holy, godly and fruitful life before God and man. But how are we to study this unified, but daunting, compilation of sixty-six books written by over forty authors between nineteen hundred and thirty-five hundred years ago in languages and cultures that may be totally foreign to us? Enter the science of hermeneutics.

To understand hermeneutical principles is to be equipped for an intelligent study of the Word of God, tending greatly to our approval before God as workmen that do not need to be ashamed.

"The Law of Comparing Scripture with Scripture" by Dr. David L. Cooper, founder of the Biblical Research Society, declares an important principle that is essential for a healthy hermeneutic.

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Dr. David L. Cooper

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One of the characteristics of the present era is that it is imbued with what is called the scientific spirit. The word science comes from the Latin word which means "to know." Science, then, according to definition, is that which is known. In order to know anything properly, a person must have all the facts that pertain to the subject in hand. He must not only gather the facts, but must correlate his data, and place it in proper relation in its environment.

If a person, therefore, is endeavoring to study any passage or text in a scientific manner, he must gather all the facts that bear upon the subject of the special passage, must relate them to kindred thoughts, and give them their proper place in the scheme of things. I might illustrate this process by the use of the jigsaw puzzle. The component parts are laid out for one to use in reconstructing or building all the pieces into a complete unit. When each single part is placed in its proper position with relation to others without being forced, a picture or map is thus constructed - figuratively speaking, a mosaic is formed, which presents some pattern or scene.

Again, the principle which we have under consideration may be compared to the work of a lawyer on a given case. He seeks all the information and the data that has any bearing upon the situation. The facts and material evidence, if there be any, are presented in the proper relation to other things. In the case of a trial by jury, these facts are presented by the witnesses and are summed up by the legal advisers on both sides. Then it is for the jury to decide the case upon the merits of the evidence.

In a similar way, when anyone is studying any particular subject in the Scriptures, he must examine carefully the testimony of each of the biblical writers on the subject to be investigated. The testimony of each passage must be related properly to the theme in hand in order that a clear picture may be presented by all of those giving their testimony.


In order to gather all facts on a given subject - if a person wishes to get a complete and a clear picture of a subject - he should have a good concordance; but should know how to use it. Of course, the references in a good reference Bible are often of great advantage to the student. At the same time, many of these references are incorrect, since they have been placed there by men, fallible creatures who do make mistakes. A person must study each scripture to which a reference is made in order to determine whether or not the particular passage referred to has any bearing upon the theme under investigation. The facts of each context alone can decide this matter.

A very grave error is frequently made by considering a verse as being related to a given one because of the same words in both passages. For instance in Genesis 1:2 we see the words, waste and void, which describe the condition of the earth after it had been wrecked. In Jeremiah 4:23 we also see these same words. Many have concluded, therefore, that Jeremiah was looking backward to the same original catastrophe that overtook the primitive earth. Whenever such an interpretation as this is made, error instantly is injected into the subject. When the context of the passage of Jeremiah 4:23 is studied, it becomes immediately evident that this passage is referring to the great Tribulation, when wreckage and devastation will he the order of the day on account of the terrific judgments which the Lord will send upon the earth.

Again, we see mention made of the new heavens and the new earth in Isaiah 65:17. By looking at and studying carefully II Peter 3:1-13, we find reference to the new heavens and the new earth. By our studying each of these passages and getting the facts in each context, we see that both Isaiah and Peter were talking about the new heavens and the new earth of the Millennial Era. But in Revelation, chapters 21 and 22, we also read of new heavens and a new earth. When a person studies the chronological development of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, he sees that the new heavens and earth of these chapters are those which will be created after the Millennium has ended. To identify therefore the new heavens of Isaiah 65:17 and II Peter 3:13 with the new heaven of Revelation, chapters 21 and 22, is a false identification. Whenever these are thus considered the same confusion is immediately introduced into the Scriptures.

Whenever a person studies the Scriptures by comparing one passage with another, he assumes that all truth harmonizes. Since the Bible is the inerrantly inspired Word of God, all of its statements must harmonize. Should there appear to be, on the surface, a contradiction, let us conclude that the discrepancy is only apparent and not real. Any such variance is to be accounted for upon the basis of our lack of knowledge or comprehension to understand the real situation which appears as inharmonious. Truth and facts, whether in the physical, material universe, or in revelation, are in perfect accord. The God who created the universe likewise made the revelation that is contained in the Scriptures. He being the God of reality, stamps truth on His material universe and states it in His Word.

It is of paramount importance that, whenever we attempt to compare scripture with scripture, we must be certain that the passages under consideration are indeed talking of the same things, persons, or events. Sometimes, upon the surface, there appears to be a connection between two passages. But when all the facts of the context of each passage are studied carefully, it frequently becomes evident that those passages that are supposed to be related are not. On the other hand, often there are passages that have bearing upon other quotations, which at a glance we do not immediately recognize. But let it be understood that the facts of the context of all passages must be thoroughly studied before any identification may be made.

We must understand that the fullness, completeness, and the clarity of a picture that is made by comparing scripture with scripture, depend upon the thorough and complete investigation that is made. If only a few passages that have bearing upon a subject are studied and considered, of course the picture or conclusion to which one is brought is only partial, limited, and incomplete. On the other hand if all related passages are studied in the light of the context of each and the facts thus gleaned are placed in the proper relationship with the others that are gathered from different passages, and if a thorough induction is made, then we have a complete and clear picture of the subject under consideration - we have all the truth that God has revealed on a given subject.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). The first statement of the Scriptures in the original Hebrew contains seven words. This declaration has mighty and far-reaching ramifications. In fact, volumes are wrapped up in this sublime utterance. By a clear, full understanding of this passage, most of the philosophies and cults may be refuted.

In the Beginning

In the beginning. . . . This phrase immediately suggests that found in John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word. ... The Word, the Living Word, existed in the beginning, that portion of eternity that antedated the creation of the material universe. Likewise reference is made to this same Living Word who is thought of as Wisdom, in Proverbs 8:22f: 22 Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. 23 I was set up from everlasting from the beginning, Before the earth was. 30 Then I was by him, as a master workman; And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing always before him, 31 Rejoicing in his habitable earth; And my delight was with the sons of men.

In such a passage as Isaiah 44:6 we have a reference to God and His being back in the beginning, in the eternity of the past, as well as existing throughout all the future ages of eternity.

There are many more passages that deal with this phrase and the idea set forth, but these are sufficient for us to understand how to proceed in comparing scripture with scripture to get all the information on any one particular expression.

God, Jehovah, the Lord

In Genesis 1:1 we are told that God created the material universe. God here is the original name for the Almighty and carries the idea of Strong Ones, since the word is in the plural number. When, in the thinking of men who refused to retain God in their knowledge, the forces of nature were deified and were considered as actual gods, the Lord revealed His memorial name to His people. In the days of Seth, for instance, men began to call upon the name of Jehovah (Gen. 4:26). This name carried the idea of the Uncaused Cause of all things, the one who stands back behind all things, and who has brought all things into existence, -  the one in whom all live, move, and have their continual being.

Since the word rendered God is in the plural, and since "three" is the smallest plural - there being the singular and also the dual numbers - we can see how the plural for the word God is an echo of the Trinity, tri-unity - Three in One and One in Three.

Moses declared the unity and at the same time the plurality of the Divine Being in Deuteronomy 6:4, which literally rendered is: Hear 0 Israel! Jehovah, our Gods, is Jehovah a unity. Here the word Jehovah refers to the Holy Trinity. In certain other texts it is evident from these facts that this memorial name of God refers to the Father; in still others the Son is referred to by this same name. And in still others the Holy Spirit is called Jehovah.

By looking at a few passages and by noting the facts just mentioned, we see that, in our study of passages containing the word God, Jehovah, or Lord, we have an inexhaustible fund of biblical knowledge. We could continue with this second word of Genesis 1:1 and fill several volumes. But these suggestions show us how we should study this phase of our subject.


An examination of the fifty-odd occurrences of the word, create, in the Hebrew Bible shows that the fundamental concept lying behind this word is that of bringing something into existence which had no form nor substance before the act of creating was performed. This fundamental meaning lies inherently in the word although it may have secondary applications.

Though the word, create, does not occur in Psalm 90, verse 2, the idea is there, expressed in different terms. Moses looked back to the time when the heavens and the earth were brought into existence. Then he lifted his eyes and took a far-off view in the direction of the past and spoke of the ages which antedated time, and which constituted eternity in the past. From the context it is clear that creation is referred to in this passage.

Again, the creation of the universe is referred to in Job 38:7. When the Lord created the earth, it was not in the condition described in Genesis 1:2. On the contrary, it was not a waste, nor desolation. From John 1:1-4 we see that the Word, the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, was the one who actually was the Creator of the material universe. This phase, likewise, of our subject could be continued indefinitely. Such a study as this would enrich our lives very materially, but this much discussion is sufficient for us to see the importance of looking at this word.

The Heavens

In Psalm 115:16 reference is made to the heavens in contrast to the earth. The former belongs to God, the latter He has given to men. In Psalm 11:4 we are informed that God's throne has never been overturned, and that His Holy Temple is in heaven. This Temple of God in the heavens is not of the material order. It is unseen; hence it is of the eternal order (II Cor. 4:18).

Again, we see in Revelation 11:19 the Temple of God in heaven, which of course refers to that tabernacle of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The study of the visible, material heavens, as they are presented in the Scriptures, together with the invisible heavens, likewise constitute the most fascinating and instructive and informative subjects. These references however will suffice.

The Earth

The earth is a part of the material universe which God created in the beginning. Volumes of information are given to us with reference to it throughout the Scriptures.

In Psalm 24:1,2 we are told that the earth and all that is therein belongs to Jehovah. It belongs to Him because He is the Creator of it - as we learn in the Scriptures. It is His, Jehovah the Son's, because He purchased it by the redemption which He wrought for us on Calvary. It will be His by conquest when He returns in glory and power to take the reins of the government of the universe in His hands and to establish the reign of righteousness upon the earth. Volumes likewise could be written upon the subject of the earth. The completeness of our picture with reference to any of these material elements found in this verse depends entirely upon the extent and thoroughness of our investigation.

The material heavens and earth that was created in the beginning, as we learn in Genesis 1:1, will pass away eventually, but one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law until every word which God has spoken has been fulfilled with reference to them. Jesus likewise told us that heaven and earth should pass away, but His word should not pass away (Matt. 24:35). He did not tell us when they will pass away, but merely stated that such would be the case. In Revelation 20:11 we have this statement: And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. At the conclusion of the short period following the Millennium, the great white throne judgment will be established. At that time the material heavens and the earth that were created in the beginning will pass out of existence. God created them out of nothing, and into a state of nothings they shall return. At that juncture time, which began with the creation of the material universe, ceases. Then eternity begins.

This eternity of the future begins with God's creating the new heavens and the new earth. What is meant by the new heavens and the new earth? The eternal order of which we read in Revelation, chapters 21 and 22. There we see the eternal heavens, and the eternal earth, and the eternal Jerusalem coming down out of the eternal heavens and resting upon the eternal earth. This will be the place of the abode of the righteous, throughout the ceaseless ages of the eternity of the future.

Great things lie ahead of us - that is, for all who know and who love the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.


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Reprinted by permission of the Biblical Research Society, where other
outstanding studies by Dr. Cooper and Burl Haynie may be accessed.