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


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.

Thus far in this series we've been treated to much 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, let us continue 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 now apply ourselves. - ed.


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."


Parts I through III were covered in previous Shofars. We'll repeat the introduction here, and then continue with Part IV. Here's the introduction:

The seventh law of interpretation is the LAW OF PARONOMASIA or A PLAY ON WORDS.

A. Paronomasia consists of our laying down beside one word or idea that has been used a similar one with a little variation.

B. The following are example of paronomasia:
1. In Amos 8:1,2 there is a play on the Hebrew word "kayits" (translated "summer fruit") and "kets" (translated "the end"). The radicals of each word are the same, with the exception of the "y."
2. In Micah 2:1-3 there is a play upon the word "evil." Daniel 9:24 has a play upon the words "seventy sevens."
3. There is a play upon ideas in Daniel 11:36ff - "the desire of women" (Messiah God in human flesh), vs. 37; and the "god of fortresses" (military power pictured as idol), vs. 38.

C. Exercises: Find the paronomasia in the following passages:
1. Isaiah 28:1-8;
2. John 3:5;
3. John 6:28,29.



AS STATED BEFORE, a play on words is such an important matter in the Scriptures that I feel constrained to give another study on this subject.

John 3:5: Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus, who was of the Pharisees and a ruler of the Jews, came, as we are told in John 3:1-15, to Jesus by night. Why he came at night no one knows. It is possible that he wanted to have an uninterrupted interview. On the other hand, he may have sought Him in the darkness of the night because he was afraid of the Jews. Since we have no testimony along this line, we shall have to hold our judgment in suspense.

According to the records Nicodemus began his conversation by recognizing that Jesus was a teacher come from God. In fact, he called Him Rabbi. This was unusual. For a man occupying the position which Nicodemus held in the councils of the nation to recognize that Jesus was a Rabbi, although He had never attended the theological seminary in Jerusalem, was an indication of the high esteem in which he held our Lord. The reason for his recognizing Jesus as a teacher sent from God was that no one was able to do the things which He performed unless God was with Him.

Jesus immediately broke off his line of thought by abruptly saying, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Of course we do not have the full account of the interview. We have only sketches of it here and there. But from what we have, it seems that Jesus was very abrupt. He knew, however, what He was doing; and we may be certain that He did the right thing. He brushed aside all formalities and preliminary discussion and went right to the vital issue of life - the matter of regeneration, salvation. Thus Jesus informed Nicodemus that he had to be born anew or again; otherwise he would not be able to see the kingdom of God which John and He were proclaiming.

Nicodemus did not understand the words of our Lord. He therefore asked, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? In reply Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Why did Jesus use the expression, be born anew or, again? We do not see it anywhere else in the Scriptures. Why does it appear here? The reason is easily seen. The Jews doted on the fact that they were the descendants of Abraham. John the Baptist knew that fact and told them not to think that they had Abraham as their father, for God was able to raise from the stones children unto Abraham. Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, shared the general view of the people, which was that the Jews were the seed of Abraham; therefore, the children of God. The kingdom of Israel is called the kingdom of God in I Chronicles 28:4,5. In order for any Gentile to worship the true God he had to come over into the Jewish fold and accept circumcision - become a proselyte; thus he entered the kingdom of God as it then was. But the Jews were born, by natural birth, into this kingdom of God. Thus to be born of Jewish parents was a great thing. In Jewish theology of that day the hopes of the nation for time and eternity were built upon the fact that the Israelites were the seed of Abraham, that they were of the circumcision.

Jesus, knowing this fundamental teaching of Judaism, immediately brushed away these false hopes by stating to Nicodemus that, if he wished to see this kingdom which He and John were proclaiming, he, Nicodemus, and everyone else with the same desire, must have another birth, a spiritual one; for That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Your natural birth, said Jesus to Nicodemus, will avail you nothing so far as this new phase of the kingdom which we are preaching is concerned. You must have a second or new birth.

Thus Jesus spoke of regeneration of the soul in terms of the natural birth of the Jew. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but a new creation which is in Christ Jesus.

My friend, have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour? Has the Spirit of God regenerated your heart? If you have not had this experience, you will never see the kingdom of God.


John 4:10: Jesus answered and said, unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

In the fourth chapter of John's Gospel we have a record of our Lord's leaving Judaea and going into Galilee. Not having the prejudice that the Jews of that day had against the Samaritans - hence going from Judea through Peraea northward into Galilee - our Lord went directly through Samaria on His journey northward. When He came to Sychar, He sent the disciples into the village to buy food, while He remained at the well. As He sat there, a woman of Samaria came for water. (I have been to this very well and have drunk of the same water.) Jesus asked her for a drink of water. She, being a woman of Samaria, recoiled, because the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Moreover, a man, from the Jewish standpoint, would never condescend to speak to a strange woman. Thus she was surprised and asked Him how it was that He who was a Jew would ask her for a drink of water, since she was a Samaritan.

Jesus replied, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water (4:10). Why did Jesus say that He would give her living water if she asked for it? It is clear that this language is a play on words or ideas. He had asked for a drink of water, literal water. Then He had declared that, if she would ask of Him, He would give her, not the water from the well, but living water. Thus it is clear that the expression, living water, is an echo of the water about which the conversation was being held.

What did Jesus mean here by living water? From verse 14, we learn that He told her ... the water that I shall give ... shall become ... a well of water springing up unto eternal life. Thus we see that He was talking about something which He would give her upon request, and which would result in eternal life - throughout all the ages of eternity. What makes it possible for people to live with God forever and ever? It is the salvation of the soul, the regeneration of the heart, the being "born again." Thus Jesus spoke of salvation in terms of the topic of the conversation.

Our Lord declared that, if she asked, He would give. The proposition was clear, no misunderstanding possible. All she had to do was to ask, which request would simply indicate a desire for salvation. He did not impose any acts of obedience whatsoever; He simply declared that, if she wanted it and asked for it, salvation would be hers.

Salvation is a very simple matter. It is to be had for the asking, if one simply believes, turning to the Lord for that which He alone can give. Friend, have you enjoyed drinking this water of life? It is free to you for the asking. If you have not asked Him for it, may you do so today. Having received, may you go forth serving Him day by day.


John 6:28,29: 28.They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? 29. Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

The Jews all the time thought in terms of work, of service, of obedience to law. They could not think in any other categories. They therefore asked Him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? His reply was, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. Here again we have a play on words. The universal testimony of the New Testament Scriptures is that salvation is by grace through faith. God was under no obligations to save anyone. But He, out of His graciousness, has provided a means of redemption, whereby salvation is made acceptable to all, to the rich and the poor alike. All one has to do is to believe.

The Jew thought that he had to do some work in order that he might work the works of God. Jesus took advantage of this statement and set forth the plan of salvation. If they wanted to do the real work of God, then they should believe on Him, Christ, whom God had sent. In so doing, they would accept Him as their Redeemer and follow Him as the sheep follow the shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is leading the way. All His sheep harken to His voice and follow Him daily. Let us follow Him, not afar off, as Peter did at the time of the crucifixion; but let us follow Him closely and daily.


John 6:48-58:

48. I am the bread of life. 49. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died ... 51. I am the living bread which came dawn out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world ... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. 54. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day ... This is the bread which came down out of heaven: not as the fathers ate, and died; he that eateth this bread shall live for ever.

How are we to understand the language of this quotation? Was Christ talking about cannibalism, eating His literal flesh and drinking His literal blood? Such an idea is ridiculous and abhorrent. The key to the understanding of this language, however, is to be found in the circumstances which gave rise to this message. The events recorded in the sixth chapter of John occurred at the Passover time, one year before the crucifixion. In the first fourteen verses we have a record of Christ's feeding the five thousand on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. When the people came and were trying, by force, to make Him King, He retired into a mountain alone. At eventide the disciples entered into a boat and were crossing the sea to the west side. As they were sailing along, there arose a storm. Jesus came to them, entered the boat, and brought them safely to the opposite shore. On the next day, the multitudes that had been fed - given a free dinner - ran around the north end of the sea and came to Capernaum. Jesus entered into the synagogue and delivered His message. It was quite evident that the people had come and were following Him in order that they might receive another free dinner, or many of them. Knowing the motives that had prompted them to come, Jesus told them that He was the true bread that had come down out of heaven and that they would have to eat Him - eat His flesh and drink His blood - otherwise they would have no life in themselves.

In view of the circumstances which gave rise to this message, it is very evident that Jesus was speaking of their receiving Him as their Saviour in terms of their receiving the food which He had given to them free the day before. He was therefore speaking of their accepting Him and the gift of salvation in terms of the thought which was uppermost in their minds at the time.

To refer this passage to the Lord's supper and to build up a doctrine around it that, unless one partakes of the loaf and the cup, he has no life in him is to do violence to this passage. The Bible does teach that the children of God should meet on the first day of the week and remember their Lord by observing the supper, but this thought was farthest from His mind on the occasion of His preaching the sermon recorded in John, chapter 6.

To take this passage literally and to claim that the cup and the loaf, when blessed, are literally converted into the actual body and blood of Jesus is not suggested by anything in the language. Jesus did not intimate that the loaf would be converted into His actual body and the fruit of the vine into His actual blood in order that His disciples might partake thereof and live. Such an idea is paganism.

The extreme and unreasonable positions that have been placed upon this language would never have been thought of if this passage had been recognized as a plain case of paronomasia or a play upon word.


John 11:25: Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and, the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live.

Why did Jesus declare on this occasion, I am the resurrection, and the life? And, ... he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live?

A glance at the context points instantly to the force of His language. Lazarus had died and his sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent for Jesus, who came. Upon His arrival, Martha met Him and began talking to Him about Lazarus. She was indeed grieved at the loss of her brother. In the course of the conversation Jesus said to her, Thy brother shall rise again. She rejoined by declaring, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. "I am the resurrection," responded Jesus, "and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live ..." When Jesus told her that her brother would rise, Martha thought that He was talking about the resurrection at the last day. But Jesus said: No, I am the resurrection and the life. Was He the literal resurrection and the life? No. Resurrection is an abstract term. It connotes an action. Since they were talking about the resurrection of the body, and since He is the cause of the resurrection, He declared that, I am the resurrection ... In the light, therefore, of these facts we instantly grasp the significance of the language.


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 http://www.biblicalresearch.info/page7.html.
A brief biography of Dr. Cooper may also be found
on the Biblical Research Society home page.

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