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 fourteen 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 clear and accurate voices for the Lord. To read or review prior studies, please see links in our Library. Let us apply ourselves. - ed.

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Dr. David L. Cooper


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."


IV. The fourth rule of interpretation is THE LAW OF FIRST MENTION.

A. The Meaning of the Law of First Mention:
The Law of First Mention may be said to be the principle that requires one to go to that portion of the Scriptures where a doctrine is mentioned for the first time and to study the first occurrence of the same in order to get the fundamental inherent meaning of that doctrine.

B. When this law is applied the simple precedes the complex.
    1. A history of the development of anything will show that it sprang from something in the
        very simplest form (for example the steamship; airplane; automobile).
    2. In the Scriptures the growth and development of ideas and doctrine might be illustrated
        by some simple word.
        a. Throughout the history of a term it may have increased its meaning and undergone
            certain changes, yet the basic, original, fundamental thought is seldom lost.
        b. The fundamental concept usually controls or is dominant in coloring every shade of
            idea expressed by a term in its current usage.

C. Exercises
    1. Trace how the writer of Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 related their messages to the doctrines
        which are mentioned for the first time in Genesis 1:2 - 2:3. These doctrines are as
        a. The original creation;
        b. Disaster which overtook the primitive earth;
        c. The reconstruction and repairing of this damage;
        d. The beginning of the present human race.
    2. Study the doctrine concerning man in his original state and his fall given in Genesis 2
        and 3.
    3. The first mention of the doctrine of sin is given in chapter 3 of Genesis. Study how the
        writer of Romans 7:17 developed his message upon the doctrines given in Genesis 3.
    4. Study the doctrine concerning sacrifices.
        a. When man first disobeyed God and tried to cover his nakedness with fig leaves the
            Lord gave him a covering made from the skins of animals. Why the skins of animals?
            Why couldn't He have used another material? No answer is given in Genesis.
        b. The account of Cain and Abel bringing their offerings to the Lord reveals that Abel by
            faith brought his flock and placed such on the altar to atone for sin. This pleased the
            Lord. See Genesis 4 and Hebrews 11:4.
        c. Animal sacrifices in the beginning of the history of man were typical of the sacrificial
            death of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary's tree.
    5. Study Bible chronology.
        a. Chronology is to the story of redemption given in the Bible what the skeleton is to the
            rest of our body.
            1) If all the bones of our body were removed our flesh would be a pile of jumbled
            2) If chronology were removed from the Scriptures, the Scriptures would be a mass
                of jumbled facts.
        b. Biblical chronology had its beginnings in the book of Genesis, and God was very
            careful to give hundreds of dates here and there throughout the Scriptures to show
            the orderly development of events recorded in the Bible.
            1) Study the six days of creation recorded in Genesis 1.
            2) Study the genealogies of the theocratic line given in Genesis 11.
            3) Observe how God dated events in the Bible from the time of the creation of man,
                "Anno Homonis" (A.H.).
    6. Study the doctrine concerning the wrath of God and His judgments.
        a. Observe how God has dealt with the sinfulness of man on an international scale
            (Genesis 6 to 8).
        b. Observe how God must deal with the sinfulness of mankind yet in the future (Luke
            17:26-30; Revelation 19:15).
    7. Study the Rainbow Covenant which God made with man (Genesis 9:1-16) and observe
        the following:
        a. The Rainbow Covenant is an everlasting covenant.
        b. God entered into this covenant with all humanity.
        c. God's obligation under this covenant, "the everlasting covenant," is never again to
            destroy the earth by water.
        d. Man's obligation under this covenant is to obey the four provisions of the covenant
            God laid down for man's benefit (Genesis 9:3-7). (Read Isaiah 24:5; Revelation 4:3).
    8. Study the beginning of Hebrew history.
        a. God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).
        b. To confirm the fact that God chose Israel, read Deuteronomy 32:8,9.

NOTE: The Book of Genesis is the seed plot of every doctrine found in the Scriptures for every doctrine is found there in simple form.

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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 may also be found on the Biblical Research Society home page.

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