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Words – I love words. God’s word tells us that the power of life and death are in the tongue and therefore in words we speak.
Words imply their intended meaning and understanding or not understanding a word will reveal or conceal its intended meaning.
By misinterpreting a single word, a person may come to a completely incorrect interpretation.
The 66 books of the Bible were written by 40 authors spanning about 1,500 years. The text of the Bible was written in three ancient languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. These three languages combined have over 11,500 words.
The first organized translation of the bible took place between 200 and 300 BC when the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Torah, the name of the Hebrew Bible, was translated into Greek.
When scholars first translated the Torah, they translated it into Greek. At the time, the common Jews no longer spoke Hebrew as their primary language. Hebrew had become something of a ceremonial language in much the same way Latin is a ceremonial language to Catholics.
The Septuagint LXX
Sometime between 200 and 300 BC, a group of seventy scholars, fluent in both Hebrew and Greek, were commissioned to translate the Torah into Greek. The Greek translation became known as the Septuagint taking its name from the root word for “seventy” which is septua, as there were 70 commissioned scholars. This is why the Septuagint is often referred to by the Roman numerals for seventy, LXX.
The Septuagint was the bible Jesus and the apostles used. When Jesus quoted the Old Testament in Matthew, He used the Hebrew text only 10% of the time and the Septuagint translation 90% of the time.
By the end of the 1st century, the text of the New Testament had been written in its native language, Greek and by 500 AD, the Old and New Testaments had been translated from Greek into over 500 languages. So we see that many of today’s modern translations of the Bible have their roots in the Greek Septuagint.
Biblical Translations – The King James Bible
Greek is a very complex and colorful language with far more nuances and inflections than English. The King James Bible, which is considered the modern day standard, was translated into English from Greek over a span of nearly 300 years beginning in 1611 with revisions continuing through 1885.
For today’s Bible student, this means that an accurate understanding of God’s written word often requires careful study of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text.
General vs. Special Revelation
2Ti 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 2Ti 3:17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
A revelation is how God reveals Himself to the reader.
Physical Nature Revelation
Revelations are divided into two categories general revelations and special revelations.
General revelations are physical, human, or historical in nature.
An example of a physical-nature revelation is found in Psalm 19:1 which reads, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork". Here we see God revealing Himself through the heavens and the sky.
Human Nature Revelation
An example of a human-nature revelation is found in Gen 1:27 which reads, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Here we see God revealing Himself in man’s nature.
Historical Nature Revelation
God also reveals Himself through history which can be seen in Daniel 2:21 which reads, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding.” Here we see God revealing Himself through history.
Special revelations are different from general revelations in that they are direct revelations from God as seen in 2Pe 1:4 which reads, ”For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” Through special revelations, God reveals Himself and the person of Jesus Christ.
Intro to Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. As we can see, once we consider the complexities of translated scripture, it would be easy to misinterpret without some guidelines to keep us on course. Metaphorically, one may think of hermeneutics as guide rails – a set of rules to keep one from straying away from the scripture’s true message.
Seven Rules of Hermeneutics
Hermeneutics gives us guidelines, like fence posts, that help keep us from straying into misinterpretation. There are seven basic rules of hermeneutics:
Rule 1 – Discover the Author and the Culture’s Point-of-View
Rule 2 – Discover the Facts and Note the Exact Wording
Rule 3 – The Golden Rule of Interpretation
Rule 4 – The Law of First Mention
Rule 5 – The Law of Double Reference
Rule 6 – The Law of Recurrence
Rule 7 – The Law of Paronomasia
Rule 1: Discover the Author’s Point of View
The first rule of hermeneutics is to discover the author’s point-of-view. What exactly does this mean?
Point-of-view, sometimes abbreviated POV, is the understanding of something as seen through the eyes or in the mind of another person.
The meaning and importance of your message is completely lost if your audience is not privy to the same knowledge and understanding you have. In other words, they do not have your point-of-view.
Consider Common Knowledge
In considering point-of-view while searching scriptures, you must consider the factors that the writer took for granted as common knowledge. Customs of the time or traditions that everyone at the time understood are the sort of thing a writer expects you to already understand. A writer of the bible may very well expect you to understand Jewish law and assume that no additional explanation is needed.
One must also consider customs of the local society or religions that are practiced at the time of the writing.
Applying the Author’s Point of View
Paul writes to the church of Corinth in chapter 11, verse 13 and 14:
“Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,”
From these two verses, one may incorrectly conclude an instruction for woman to wear their hair long and for men not to wear long hair, but that is an inaccurate interpretation because the point-of-view of the writer is not understood.
Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church in the first century. At that time, Corinth was under the political control of the Roman Empire and was greatly influenced by the Roman cultures and religions, many of which were borrowed from the Greeks.
The predominant religious practice of that day was the cult worship of the Greco-Roman gods. One of the most prominent gods was Dionysus (dī-on-nī-sis), the god of wine, which was especially popular among women. It was believed by his followers that Dionysus was a homosexual, she-male sort of character that had been raised as a female though born a male. As part of their worship, his followers would kill live animals by ripping them limb from limb and then drink the animal’s blood while eating the raw meat (cf. Acts 15:28,29). Worshipping the god of wine, they would also drink wine to the point of incoherence and engage in lewd homosexual acts with one another.
According to researchers, the female worshippers of Dionysus would frequently dress like men. They would remove their veils and either cut their hair very short or completely shave their heads. The men, attempting to imitate women, would grow their hair long and don veils during the worship ceremonies.
According to Rev. Jimmilea Berryhill, M.A. author of First Century Woman, “In the Dionysiac cult, as well as other Greco-roman mystery rites, transvestitism was a specific distinction and by the second century A.D. was considered to be indispensable. Veils and long hair were worn by men as sign of dedication to their god while the women used unveiling and shorn hair. Men masqueraded as women and women as men.”
By understanding Paul’s point-of-view, we can interpret the scriptures with a completely different understanding. Paul’s concern is not about long hair or short hair, he is concerned that the Church of Corinth is not confused with pagan god worship and the sinful acts associated with worship to the god Dionysus.
Historical and Additional Texts
In understanding the author’s point-of-view, one should also be familiar with texts considered common knowledge. texts were common, known, and read by the writers of the bible who casually imply references to these texts they consider as common knowledge.
Two such examples are found in Joshua 10:13 and 2Sa 1:18 both of which use the understood reference to add understanding and/or validation to the canonized text.
Jos 10:13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
2Sa 1:17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 2Sa 1:18 and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):
Without an understanding of the texts known to the author, or the author’s point-of-view of the additional texts, the bible student may misinterpret the scripture.
Rule 2: Discover the Facts and Note the Exact Wording
The second rule of hermeneutics is to discover the facts and note the exact wording. The proper understanding of a single word, sentence structure, the use of conjunctions, and the facts surrounding a word can change the entire interpretation of a verse.
An excellent example of exact wording is the first two sentences in the Bible – Genesis 1:1-2. These two simple sentences have the church divided into two camps, each subscribing to different interpretations. The two verses read…
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Gen 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
By noting sentence structure, the bible student should see that verse one is connected to verse two with a conjunction and in grammar, a conjunction ties together two independent clauses. So, we begin by understanding that we are looking at two separate sentences because two independent ideas are presented.
So, we have verse one which tells us “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Then in a separate verse we learn that “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
The next thing a bible student should note is the phrase “without form and void.” This phrase always describes the desolation in the wake of a judgment. So this changes our interpretation of verse two to read, “the earth was in a state of desolation in the wake of a judgment.” This reveals to us that something must have happened after verse one and before verse two that warranted a judgment of God.
Created Not in Vain
We further know that God did not create the earth without form and void because Isaiah tells us in chapter 45, verse 18 “For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited…” and so our interpretation of the conjunction “and” as two independent sentences is confirmed – for if it were not, God’s word would be in conflict with itself for God cannot create the earth void in Gen 1:2 and not create the earth void in Isaiah 45:18.
Next, a careful study of the verb “was” reveals that it is not a condition that was always there, but rather it came into its current condition, so instead of “darkness was on the face of the deep”, a proper understanding would be “darkness came upon the face of the deep”. So, for something to become dark, it had to first be light and again we see the condition of the earth change from its original state in verse one to its state in verse two.
A Deep Unhappiness
Now our interpretation reads, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was in a state of desolation in the wake of a judgment of God and darkness came upon the deep.”
Finally, we need to interpret the final sentence, “and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” In this case, the interpretation of Greek to English is a little vague. The verb “moved” correctly implies movement, but movement with emotion, specifically brooding. What is brooding? Brooding is a deep unhappiness.
Now, with interpretation, Genesis 1:1-2 reads like this…
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. At some later point, the earth was in a state of desolation in the wake of God’s judgment and darkness came upon the deep. And with a deep unhappiness, the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.”
Wow! Now that gives us a completely different understanding of this scripture. Discovering the facts and noting the exact wording helps us interpret God’s word.
Rule 3: The Golden Rule of Interpretation
“If the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest it results in no sense.” – Dr. Clennon Saulsberry
The Golden Rule of Interpretation states the one should take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages indicate otherwise.
A good example of the literal sense is found in Jonah 2:2-3:
Jon 2:2 and he said, "I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. Jon 2:3 “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me."
According to the Golden Rule of Interpretation, we are to take the words , depth, deep, seas, breakers, and billows literally as referring to water – unless there are indications showing that these terms are not used literally.
Literal or Figurative
Be aware that there is risk of misinterpreting scriptures by taking passages too literal or by not taking a passage literal enough. If one misinterprets scripture, there is a tendency to reinterpret surrounding scriptures to support the original misinterpretation.
For example, consider Numbers 13:33 “And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
If we interpret the word “giants” figuratively, meaning they weren’t really giants but the just appeared that way because of our point of view, then we create a problem with Amos 2:9 that tells us that the Amorites were the height of Cedar trees which happens to be about thirty feet. The only way we can remedy this conflict is to either change the interpretation of Amos 2:9 so it works with Numbers 13:33, or we interpret Numbers 13:33 in the literal sense.
Rule 4: The Law of First Mention
The simple precedes the complex. The law of first mention requires one to go to where a word or phrase is mentioned for the first time and study its use in order to understand its basic meaning. The first appearance of words in scripture, tend to set precedence on how a particular word or phrase will be used in subsequent appearances.
The law of first mention may also be applied to whole themes in the bible as well as individual words and phrases. For example, the book of Genesis is considered the “book of beginnings” for it contains the creation of the universe, the creation of man, the doctrine of sin, sacrifices, biblical chronology, the judgment of the Wrath of God, the Rainbow Covenant, and the beginnings of Hebrew history.
By beginning with simple and clear verses, we are able to interpret more complex verses. Remember, the clear interprets the vague – the simple interprets the complex.
Rule 5: The Law of Double Reference
The Law of Double Reference is the principle of the association of similar or related ideas and is often found where the writer is describing both the present and the future within the same text.
In some cases, the writer describes the present which also describes the future. In other cases, the writer shifts from describing the present to describing the future within the same passage. In such cases, there are two messages or references within the same passage, hence the term Double Reference.
Rule 6: The Law of Recurrence
The Law of Recurrence involves the record of an occurrence of an event and the repetition of the account. Recurrence may occur within the same passage, within the same chapter, within the same book, within the same testament, or within the Bible as a whole. Essentially, the Law of Recurrence is God’s word repeating itself or further clarifying a subject previously presented.
Rule 7: The Law of Paronomasia
The Law of Paronomasia is defined as placing beside a word or an idea a similar word or idea with a slight variation. Paronomasia can also be a play on words.
Here is modern example of paronomasia:
What is the difference between a conductor and a teacher? The conductor minds the train and a teacher trains the mind.
In this simple example, the position of the verb and noun of each phrase is reversed creating a play on words.
Additional Principles of Hermeneutics
There are several additional principles of hermeneutics. Let’s review a short list of these additional forms of writing.
Symbolic Language – Uses a symbol to imply an understood meaning. For example, the symbol of the cross implies the perfect and complete work of Jesus.
Figurative Language – Figures of speech are often specific to cultures and languages. A person not wanting to work a certain task might say, “It can set there until the cows come home.” The phrase implies a time without end and has nothing to actually do with cows. This is a figurative phrase
The Parable – The parable is the bible’s preferred tool to illustrate a concept or principle. The parable teaches relationally through images familiar with the student. Worldly parables are called fables which use common situations to teach a lesson.
The Allegory – The allegory is the cousin to the parable and fable in that it is a complete story that uses the narrative to illustrate or define a concept of a larger story.
The Simile – The simile makes a comparison or observes a resemblance between two different things. Example: The sun was like a beach ball floating in the sky.
The Metaphor – The metaphor makes a comparison between two unrelated things. Example: At sunset, Sam heard a hiss as the sun touched the ocean.
The Metonymy – Metonymy is like the opposite of a metaphor in that is draws a comparison from two related things rather than two unrelated things. Example: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” – Julies Caesar is not actually asking to borrow people’s ears, rather he is asking for their attention whereas ears are closely related to listening.
Techniques of Hermeneutics
Let’s conclude our brief overview of hermeneutics with a list of techniques:
Compare Scripture with Scripture – What God says on any one topic is often distributed among many verses. Knowing this, the bible student should study each occurrence of a word or phrase to gain the whole bible understanding of the topic.
Examine Quotations in the Light of Both Contexts – Often more than one voice is quoted on the same topic and each voice will present a different view or understanding. The student of the bible should endeavor to understand the point-of-view of each writer of a particular topic.
Hebrew Poetry – The mechanisms of poetry are far too complex for our discussion. Students should keep in mind that some books of the bible are considered books of poetry such as Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Students will likely find passages where a fundamental understand of poetry will aid in proper interpretation.
Obscure Passages Must Be Interpreted in the Light of Plain Ones – It is sometimes possible to interpret the same scripture with two very different meanings. In such situations, a student of the bible must allow clear scriptures to interpret vague scriptures.
Study the Exact Grammar – Small nuances within Greek and Hebrew can reveal the true meaning of a scripture whereas an English translation is more of a paraphrase. For example, verbs in the original languages are often gender specific. Understanding the object of a verb as masculine or feminine can change the interpretation of a passage. English verbs seldom imply gender.
The Meaning of Words – The use of words in the scriptures are always specific and are there to render a specific meaning. Failure to understand the meaning of a specific word can change the interpretation of the entire verse.
Note the Difference between Biblical and Present Day Terminologies – Over the years, many English word meanings have changed and no longer reflect the original meaning of the translation. It’s important for a bible student to understand the meaning of the word at the time the passage was translated.
Key Point Summary
Discover the Author’s Point-of-View
Consider Common Knowledge
Consider Texts the Author Considers Common Knowledge
Discover the Facts & the Exact Wording
The Golden Rule: "If the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest it results in no sense."
Consider the First Mention of a Word or Phrase
Be Aware of Double References Within the Same Passage
Repeating Words Clarify the Word or Phrase’s Meaning
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