The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures

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 -

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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.

In our previous eight Shofars, we've been treated to sound instruction by Dr. David L. Cooper, founder of the Biblical Research Society, in interpreting Scripture, a critical skill to master, particularly in an age in which the Babel of interpretations is legion. With "Rules of Interpretation," a study that will span perhaps seventeen Shofars, we are engaging what will be our most extensive and detailed study thus far on the topic and continuing to hone our skills in rightly dividing the Word of Truth that we might be a clear and accurate voice for the Lord. Let us apply ourselves. - Editor

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Dr. David L. Cooper


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Part Three: Rules of Interpretation Proper

"The knowledge of certain rules of interpretation and the observance of these rules when studying the Scriptures is very important and helpful in arriving at a clear understanding of God's Word."

RULE 1: Discover the Author, the People Addressed,
and the Life and Times of the People Involved in a Given Case

A. Discover the Author

1. Get acquainted with his home life and parental background.
2. Get acquainted with his community life.
3. Get acquainted with his occupational life.
4. Get acquainted with his general outlook.

B. Discover the People or Object Addressed

1. Discover to whom or to what the words of a given passage are spoken.

    a. Moses and the prophets spoke directly to Israel, and their outlook as a rule was from the legal standpoint.

    b. The New Testament writers wrote and spoke of God's provision to govern the lives and activities of both Jew
        and Gentile through the grace and truth which He sent through Jesus Christ.

    c. What was spoken to Israel nationally is not necessarily applicable to the church of God and vice versa. What
        Moses and the prophets spoke to the nation of Israel as a people should not be applied to anyone else except
        Israel. If in a given passage a certain fundamental basic principle is set forth it may be applied to an
        analogous case. Be most certain that the analogy exists before an application of the principle is made.
        Compare Jeremiah 31:31 and Hebrews 8. The book of Psalms expresses the national hopes of Israel and
        the spiritual relations of Israel with God. However there are certain Psalms that are of the individual nature:
        Psalm 1, 23, 25, etc.
     d. Though all wrote of the same one and only gospel (Galatians 1:8, 9) the writers of each of the four gospels
         wrote to a different group of people:
         1) Matthew wrote to the Jew;
         2) Mark to the Roman;
         3) Luke to the Greek;
         4) John to the Gnostics.

     e. The account of the Acts of the Apostles may have been written to one person, Theophilus, but the messages
         of the book are of inestimable value to the church today.

     f. There are some portions of the Scriptures which were not spoke infallibly by the Spirit of God
.       1) Any quotation in chapter 1, 2 and 38 - 42 of Job may be handled as the inspired revelation of God, but the
        material found in chapters 3 - 37 of the book of Job are not to be lifted to the level of a revelation from God.
        These chapters are simply the inspired record of what men said and did (Job 38:2).
        2) What is said about the book of Job is true with reference to the book of Ecclesiastes, which is the spiritual
        biography of a man from chapter 1:1 through 12:12.

2. In addition, note particularly whether or not a specific promise or promises given in the Scriptures are made to specific people under specific conditions. (Anyone standing before God on the same ground as the one to whom a specific promise has been made may claim the same promise upon the principle that the Lord is no respecter of persons.)

C. Discover the life and times of the people involved in a given case

1. Note the spiritual conditions that prevail.
2. Note the political, economic, and social conditions.

3. Note the world situation.
4. Note particularly the laws and customs of the times, for these vary in order to suit the lives of certain individuals under specific circumstances at specific times. For example,

a. New York requires laws to govern traffic at water fronts. Arizona does not need such laws.

b. Jews celebrate Passover; Christians celebrate Easter to commemorate the liberty God set in motion in the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

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Links to prior studies in the "Rules of Interpretation" series may found in our Library

Reprinted by permission of the Biblical Research Society, where other outstanding studies by Dr. Cooper may be found.
Links to the entire "Rules of Interpretation" series may be found at
A brief biography of Dr. Cooper appears at http://www.hadavar.org/brsocietyfounder.html.

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