APPENDIX 5 How to Interpret the Bible

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

There are dozens upon dozens of books on how to interpret the Word of God. This appendix intends to give the Christian the basics of the correct way to interpret the Bible. Almost all the books on biblical interpretation are liberal to moderate, that is, follow what is known as the historical-critical method (subjective) instead of the conservative historical-grammatical method of interpretation (objective). The subjective historical-critical method means their interpretation is based on or influenced by personal feelings, thoughts (theories), and beliefs. The objective historical-grammatical method means their interpretation is not influenced by personal feelings, thoughts (theories), and beliefs but rather on actual, real, verifiable facts about what the author meant by the words he used.

Hermeneutics comes from classical Greek, hermeneuo, which often means “to explain, to interpret.” Simply put, hermeneutics (to explain, to interpret) is the study of the correct methods of interpretation. In other words, we are going to learn the rules and principles of biblical interpretation, as well as examples. Another essential technical term is exegesis (from exēgeisthai to explain, interpret, from ex– + hēgeisthai to lead; ex– “out of” or “from”), which is taking the explanation or interpretation from or out of the text. However, we also have what is known as eisegesis (Greek eis into (akin to Greek en in; eis- “into” or “in”), which is an interpretation of a text that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, as opposed to what the author meant by the text. In other words, it is the interpreter reading their own meaning “into” the text instead of taking the author’s intended meaning “out of” the text. Clearly, the Christian should carry out an exegetical analysis of a text, applying hermeneutic interpretation rules and principles. Therefore, when one studies the principles of interpreting the Word of God, this is hermeneutics. However, when one uses those principles to explain a biblical text, they are doing exegesis.

Context is the words, phrases, or passages that precede and follow a particular word or passage in the Bible, which will help to explain its meaning. Context also includes the chapter, the Old or New Testament book that it is in, up unto the entire Bible. In addition, it is the dispensation[1] in which it was written. As well, it is the historical-cultural environment of the time when it was penned. The immediate context is that which immediately precedes and follows a given word or sentence. What is known as the remote context is that which encompasses an entire paragraph or section. For example, if we turn to Ephesians chapter 6 in our Bible, we will notice indentations between verses 5-9, covering slaves and their masters.

The Scope of the Bible author is the range covered by his subject or topic. Every writer has an objective for his penning a book, such as Luke, who writes, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things accurately from the beginning, to write an orderly account,” for a man named Theophilus. (Lu 1:1-4) Who did John write his Gospel? He tells his readers, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) The plan of an author for a biblical book is the outline of the content. For example, Luke chapter 1,

  • Dedication to Theophilus (1-4)
  • Birth of John the Baptist, foretold by Gabriel (5-25)
  • Birth of Jesus, foretold by Gabriel (26-38)
  • Mary visits Elizabeth (39-45)
  • Mary’s Song of Praise (46-56)
  • The Birth of John the Baptist (57-66)
  • Zechariah’s prophecy (67-80)

All three of these areas should be studied together, as they relate to our objective of discovering the meaning of a given author’s book. The best approach is, to begin with, the scope, by reading through the entire Bible book in one setting, or 3-5 settings, if we are talking about a book the size of Isaiah. In this, we are looking at why the author penned the book and how he has approached his task. Only then can we break it down into sections because we have the big picture of the whole? Each writer has an objective for his book, and he will lay out the book in some sort of outline to accomplish that plan.

While some Bible authors offer insight into the objective of their book, i.e., the purpose of his writing, such as Luke and John mentioned earlier, some are not that simple. For example, the Book of Genesis is laid out in ten sections, only discovered by reading the entire book. The reader will note these sections by the similar phrases. For example, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (2:4) “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (5:1) “These are the generations of Noah.” (6:9) “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (10:1) The ten “generations” or “histories” are preceded by the creation of the heavens and the earth, as well as man. Thus, it would seem, God had Moses give us the creation account and then the history of humanity. Truly, the account in Genesis is beneficial in building up faith for the Israelites to understand their origins as they were to conquer the land of Canaan. 

Historical-Grammatical Method VS Historical-Critical Method

The historical-critical method is also known as higher criticism (aka biblical criticism and literary criticism). It is used in most universities throughout the United States. It should be differentiated from lower criticism. Lower criticism is also known as textual criticism. It is the study of families of original language manuscripts and patristic writings, versions, and lectionaries to determine which is the original reading. Since lower criticism is to restore the text to its original words, it is constructive, not destructive. As was stated above, higher criticism is pseudo-scholarship and has done nothing more than weaken and demoralize people’s assurance in the Bible, being the inspired and fully inerrant Word of God, and is destructive in its very nature. Higher criticism or historical-critical method is made up of many forms of biblical criticism that is harmful to the authoritative, inspired, and inerrant Word of God: historical criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, social-science criticism, canonical criticism, rhetorical criticism, structural criticism, poststructuralist criticism, narrative criticism, reader-response criticism, feminist criticism, and socioeconomic criticism. While we cannot cover these in the space allotted, evidence of their destructive nature is apparent.

New Testament Textual Scholar J. Harold Greenlee writes, “This ‘higher criticism’ has often been applied to the Bible in a destructive way, and it has come to be looked down on by many evangelical Christians.”[1] The first generation of modern-day Christian apologists tries to stem the tide of liberal Christianity and higher criticism. Such as Milton S. Terry, Benjamin B. Warfield, R. A. Torrey, Bernard Ramm, Harold Lindsell, John Gresham Machen, Gleason L. Archer, Robert L. Thomas, Norman L. Geisler, Thomas Howe, Roy, B. Zuck, David F. Farnell, and Edward D. Andrews, among others. They have held the tide back for a time, but wave after wave of liberalism has just decimated Christianity.

Higher critics have taught that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth. They claim that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, 8th century Isaiah did not write Isaiah, there were three authors of Isaiah, 6th century Daniel did not write Daniel, it was penned in the 2nd century BCE. Higher critics have taught that Jesus did not say all that he said in his Sermon on the Mount and that Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees in Matthew 23, as this was Matthew because he hated the Jews. These are just the highlights, for there are thousands of tweaks that have undermined the word of God as being inspired and fully inerrant. Higher critics have dissected the Word of God until it has become the word of man and a very jumbled word at that. Higher criticism is still taught in almost all seminaries, and it is quite common to hear so-called Evangelical Bible scholars publicly deny that large sections of the Bible are fully inerrant, authentic, and true. Biblical higher criticism is speculative and tentative in the extreme.

After two centuries, higher critics with their higher criticism have ousted the Bible from its earlier status as the fully inerrant, inspired Word of God? Higher criticism has opened the flood gates to pseudo-scholarly works, which has resulted in undermining Christians’ confidence in the Bible. There is utterly no solid evidence for the claims made by higher critics. Supporters of higher criticism may claim, “just because some have gone too far,” or “some have abused the method, this does not negate the benefits of using it.” Listen to that foreboding feeling in the back of your mind. Or, the higher critic might argue, “you can take the good parts of higher criticism and leave the parts that undermine the Bible.” This is like saying, “you can remove the 75% poison from the water before drinking it, trust me.” There is a way to remove the bad parts, completely abandon what is known as the subjective historical-critical method of interpretation and return to the old objective historical-grammatical method of interpretation. Some modern-day scholars believe that they can dip their feet in the pool of higher criticism, suggesting they can use certain aspects of these forms of criticism without harming the text’s trustworthiness. This is very naïve, as some of them end up swimming in the deep end of higher criticism, while others walk along the edges of the deep end.

Here is just ten of the small visible part of a much larger situation that these liberal-moderate scholars would agree with:

  • Matthew, not Jesus, created the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The commissioning of the Twelve in Matthew 10 is a group of instructions compiled and organized by Matthew, not spoken by Jesus on a single occasion.
  • The parable accounts of Matthew 13 and Mark 4 are anthologies of parables that Jesus uttered on separate occasions.
  • Jesus did not preach the Olivet Discourse in its entirety, as found in the gospel accounts.
  • Jesus gave his teaching on divorce and remarriage without the exception clauses found in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9.
  • In Matthew 19:16-17, Matthew changed the words of Jesus and the rich man to obtain a different emphasis or avoid a theological problem involved in the wording of Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of the same event.
  • The scribes and the Pharisees were, in reality, decent people whom Matthew painted in an entirely negative light because of his personal bias against them.
  • The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are figures of speech and not accurate records of Jesus’ physical/and or legal lineage.
  • According to Matthew 2, the magi who visited the child Jesus after his birth are fictional, not actual characters.
  • Jesus uttered only three or four of the eight or nine beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12[2]

The grammatical-historical method is a method, which attempts to ascertain what the author meant by the words that he used, which should have been understood by his original readers. (Stein 1994, 38-9) It was the primary method of interpretation when higher criticism’s Historical-Critical Method was in its infancy back in the 19th century (Milton Terry) and remains the only method of interpretation for true conservative scholarship in the later 20th century into the 21st century.

The objective of the exegete in his use of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is to discover what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his originally intended audience. Each text has one single meaning. Milton S. Terry wrote, “A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle, we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture.” (Terry 1883, 205)


Proof-Text Method

Another misapplication of the text is what is known as proof-texting. Proof-texting is stringing along a series of verses that one has found throughout the Bible. Then, they use a sentence or two from each to support what they want the Bible to say. The problem with this process is that they are taking the texts out of their context. There is nothing wrong with listing verses that support what we believe, but they need to be within the context of their actual meaning. Let us look at one Scriptural example:

Acts 2:38 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Immediately, there are several doctrinal points that this text could be used for: (1) One must be baptized to be saved, (2) baptism takes one’s sins away, and (3) one must be baptized only in Jesus’ name. The interpreter has forgotten the first word uttered by Peter in verse 38, “repent.” To repent means to turn one’s life around and live in another direction. This is what initiates the forgiveness of sins, not baptism. Baptism is an outward display of this repentance, a life course that is now made known to others by the ceremony of baptism. Everyone offers texts as proof of a position they hold, so proof-texting in and of itself is not wrong. It is using several verses out of cotext and context, which makes it wrong.

Allegorical Method

Allegorical Interpretation is an approach in which the characters and events are viewed as beyond the plain literal sense of a text. It is understood as representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper (more profound), often spiritual or moral, meaning. For example, Genesis 3:22 in Bagster’s Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament says, “The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothed them.” Philo[3] found symbolism in that verse and stated, “The real meaning, then the garment of skins is a figurative expression for the natural skin, that is to say, our body; for God, when first of all he made the intellect, called it Adam; after that, he created the outward sense, to which he gave the name of Life. In the third place, he of necessity also made a body, calling that by a figurative expression, a garment of skins.”[4] Thus, Philo endeavored to make the historical act of God clothing Adam and Eve an allegory. Consider also the historical and geographical account of Genesis 2:10-14.

Genesis 2:10-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Philo made an effort to go beyond the words and look to a so-called deeper meaning. “Perhaps this passage also contains an allegorical meaning; for the four rivers are the signs of four virtues: Phison being the sign of prudence, as deriving its name from parsimony; and Gihon being the sign of sobriety, as having its employment in the regulation of meat and drink, and as restraining the appetites of the belly, and of those parts which are below the belly, as being earthly; the Tigris again is the sign of fortitude, for this, it is which regulates the raging commotion of anger within us, and the Euphrates is the sign of justice since there is nothing in which the thoughts of men exult more than in justice.”[5]

Indeed, one can see the danger of allegorical interpretation because the interpreter can align it with whatever he wants it to mean. If we could talk with many liberal Bible scholars today, they would say, “in the Book of Genesis, which Moses did not author, Adam and Eve, are allegorical.” In other words, Adam and Even are fictional characters, not historical persons. Therefore, the reformers of the Reformation of the 16th century abandoned allegorical interpretation. However, it has hung on through the writings of some religious groups and some Bible scholars. Did any of the New Testament writers use allegorical interpretation in their writings? Moreover, should we mimic them if they did use allegorical interpretation? Please see what Paul wrote to the Galatians below, which is one of the few places viewed as allegorical.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Galatians 4:24-26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24 which things are spoken allegorically, for these women are two covenants, one from Mount Sinai, bearing children into slavery, who is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother.

The first part of verse 24 could be rendered differently. Such as, “these things are illustrations” or “these things are symbolic.” Regardless, Paul sounds pretty much like Philo? Thus, for the sake of making our point, we will say Paul is interpreting allegorically here. What is the difference between Philo and Paul? Yes, Paul is an inspired Bible writer, penning his book under inspiration, and it is subjective. Subjective means that something is based on somebody’s opinions or feelings rather than on facts or evidence. Objective means that something is free of bias or prejudice caused by personal feelings, based on facts rather than thoughts or opinions.[6]

Allegorical interpretation is subjective, based on opinion. Paul’s view just so happens to be under the inspiration of God, as the Holy Spirit moved him along. In other words, it is God’s view. This is perfectly acceptable. Philo’s allegorical interpretation is subjective too, meaning it is not based on any facts but instead based on his personal feelings, and is his opinion. This is absolutely not acceptable. Thus, we do not interpret Scripture allegorically. If the New Testament writer has done it for us; then, we accept it as the Word of God. We also arrive at our understanding based on historical-grammatical interpretation, which is primarily objective. The New Testament writer did not need to use historical-grammatical hermeneutics because the Holy Spirit led him. We, in contrast, are not led by the Holy Spirit.[7]

Finally, suppose a New Testament writer uses allegory for an Old Testament people, object, institution, or event. In that case, this does not mean that the New Testament writer’s allegorical interpretation is to be carried back to the Old Testament, as though that is what the Old Testament writer meant to convey. That allegorical meaning would be a different meaning, belonging to the New Testament writer alone. Finally, we are not inspired, so we do not use allegorical interpretation unless the New Testament writer penned it. And then, we are after what the author meant by the words that he used.

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Typological Method

Typological Interpretation is the study of religious texts to identify entities (people, objects, institutions and events) that appear to prefigure subsequent corresponding entities. For example, King David is viewed as a type of Christ.

A biblical “type” is an illustration, an example, or a pattern of God’s activity in the history of his people Israel and the church through persons, events, or institutions. Typology is not the same thing as an exegetical analysis of a passage. A biblical text has only one meaning, its natural or normal meaning as determined by the grammatical-historical study. Suppose the typical sense is not indicated by the original author or his text. In that case, it probably is not consistent with the normal or natural (some read: literal) meaning of the text.[8]

Like allegory, typological interpretation is subjective, meaning one’s opinion. Therefore, it is acceptable that a New Testament writer used typological interpretation because they were inspired, and the result was the Word of God.[9] However, we are not inspired, so like allegory, we do not use typological interpretation unless we use what the New Testament writer already established as typological. Again, the New Testament writer did not need to use historical-grammatical hermeneutics because the Holy Spirit led him.

Author, Text, and Reader

One must have the author, the text, and the reader to accomplish communication. If we remove any one of these three, communication is impossible. However, modern liberal scholarship has caused confusion as to which one of these three is responsible for the meaning.

The text does not determine the meaning; it is simply a tool used to convey the author’s intended meaning. The idea that the reader is the one who determines the meaning is known as the “reader response.” All meaning is equal to another for those who hold to this position, and all are correct. We can have a set of verses, and 20 people may give different interpretations, and many may seem the opposite of others. Those believing in the “reader “response” will say that all are correct. Under this position, the text allows each reader to derive their own meaning from the text. This is where we hear “I think this means,” “I believe this means,” “this means to me,” and “I feel this means to me.” The problem with this is that the text loses its authority; God and His author lose their authority over their intended meaning. When God inspired the writer to express His will and purposes, there was the intention of one meaning: the author under inspiration meant by the words he used. If anyone can come along and give it whatever meaning pleases them, then God’s authority over the meaning is lost, and there is no real meaning at all.


The Author

The approach that has been with us from the beginning and is by far the most logical is that the author is responsible for the meaning. This approach holds that what Moses, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew, Paul, John, or any other 34 Bible authors determine the meaning of what they intended to convey, as they were moved along by the Holy Spirit, is found in the words that they used. There are several arguments against this approach, which will be discussed below.

The first objection is that the reader cannot possibly get into the author’s mind, not knowing what he thought as he penned his words. The reader cannot share the experiences that contributed to the author’s penning of his words. Therefore, they claim that the reader is blocked from accessing what the author meant by his words. This reasoning makes no sense based on how humans come to understand any book. The reader’s goal is not to share in Paul’s experiences or access the thoughts passing through his mind when he penned his words. The goal is to determine what Paul meant to communicate by the words he chose to use and should have been understood by his intended audience.

The second objection is that Paul may have fallen short of conveying the message by choosing the wrong words, like the rest of imperfect humanity. First, the irony is that those who write such comments do not believe that there is any chance that they may fail to communicate their message. Even this writer has undoubtedly written a paper or an email that has miscommunicated what he meant to say. However, we must consider two things. (1) Authors, with few exceptions, succeed in conveying their intended message; (2) and we do not have the Holy Spirit to move us along (2 Pet 1:21), as was the case with the biblical authors. The process of publishing a work goes through multiple stages. The biblical author would have had a scribe that would have copied down what he was inspired to say. The scribe’s work would have been considered a rough draft. This rough draft needed to be checked because, while the author was inspired, the scribe was not. At that point, both the scribe and the author would have gone over the text, making corrections, if necessary. From there, the scribe would have produced the authorized text for publishing, which the author would read again and sign.

The third objection is at least more grounded in reality. Here these objectors suggest that we are just too far removed from the author in time (thousands of years), language, custom, and culture, among many other barriers. This argument suggests that these obstacles make our understanding of the author’s meaning impossible. While there is some merit to what they imply, and it may be difficult at times, it is hardly impossible.

The first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, were written some 3,500 years ago in different times, cultures, and languages. Even the people of that day found them hard to understand, so they sometimes asked Moses and the seventy elders to clarify. The same is true in the first century C.E., Matthew through Revelation, 2,000 years ago, represents many different cultures, three different languages, and so on. And here is what Peter said about Paul’s letters: “in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Pet 3:16) Nevertheless, know this; they understood almost immediately what was meant because it was their time, language, circumstances, idioms, metaphors, and way of talking and doing. It is not ours, so we must compensate.

If meaning is what Paul meant by the words he used in the letter to the Ephesians, as it should have been understood by those who had read it; then, we have to have the same mindset as those Ephesians. We have to know who wrote the letter, who was the recipient, their historical setting, Bible backgrounds, who are involved, and the circumstances. In addition, we need to know what the technical and religious terms mean in the original language, the idioms, the hyperbole, the metaphors, and far more than one may realize. We have study tools like a good study Bible, word dictionaries, Bible dictionaries, handbooks, encyclopedias, Bible background books, and others to arrive at the author’s intended meaning.

The author had an intended meaning when he wrote his text, and that meaning is for all time, as long as that text exists. However, we need to understand that there are implications that belong to those words as well. What is an implication? Implications are principles that a reader can draw from the text to apply in their life. They fall within the pattern of the author’s intended meaning. Let us look at a few examples from Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. First, Paul’s letter to the Galatians will set the stage.

Galatians 5:19-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Look again at the very last expression in that list, “things like these.” The Bible will not provide us with exhaustive lists of everything that we should understand as an example, a lesson, or implication, as this would mean a Bible with tens of thousands of additional pages. How long of a list would it be if Paul had given the reader an exhaustive list of the works of the flesh? Do we believe that any Galatians who had this letter written to them thought, ‘Wow, that was close; he didn’t list the one I do.’ By closing the list with the words “things like these,” Paul made his readers aware that they should perceive or discern other things that fit the pattern of “these things.”

Matthew 5:21-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 21 “You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever says to his brother, ‘You fool,’ will be brought before the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of Gehenna.

We should note in each of these that Jesus is giving an implication of what sin leads to, which is an act of heinous sinning. Furious anger is a sin, and in some cases, does lead to murder. Let us put it another way; all murder is the result of fierce anger.

Matthew 5:27-28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

We will notice the phrase “lustful intent,” keying in on the word “intent.” This is not a man walking along who catches sight of a beautiful woman and has an indecent thought, which he then dismisses. It is not even a man in the same situation who has an indecent thought, entertaining and cultivating that thought. No, this is a man staring, gazing at a woman with the intent of lusting, and looking at the woman to piquing her interest and desire to get her to lust.

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Therefore, the author determines the meaning of a text by the words he chose to use, as should have been understood by his intended audience. Within the one intended meaning are extensions or connections that must conform to the author’s intended meaning pattern. All readers are to discover the intended meaning, as well as any extensions or connections. Extensions or connections are principles that a reader can draw from the text to apply in their life. They fall within the pattern of the author’s intended meaning. The Apostle Paul’s command at Ephesians 5:18 is a good example. There Paul writes, “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” Are we to believe that Paul would be fine if the Ephesian congregation members were to get drunk with beer instead? No. What about whiskey, since it was not invented until centuries later? No, the Christian would avoid this as an instrument for getting drunk as well. The principle of what Paul meant was that a Christian does not take in a substance that can affect their abilities to make good decisions in excess. Therefore, this principle would apply to whiskey, wine, beer, bourbon, marijuana, and other things like these, which Paul would not have been aware of.

The reader does have a responsibility in the discovery of the meaning. He must seek the intended meaning of the author. He goes about this by grammatical-historical interpretation. Here are the recommended books on the correct methods of biblical interpretation. We place the books in the order of difficulty from easy to understand, intermediate, and advanced. (1) A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules, Second Edition, by Robert H. Stein. (2) Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth by Roy B. Zuck.  (3) Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics by Bernard Ramm (4) Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old by Robert L. Thomas (5) Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments by Milton S. Terry (ISBN-13: ‎ 979-8491466566).

Holy Spirit and Biblical Interpretation

2 Corinthians 4:3-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

By unbelievers Paul has in view non-Christians (1 Cor. 6:6; 7:12–15; 10:27; 14:22–24). First, the unbelievers of verse 4 are a subset of those who are perishing in verse 3. In other words, the two are the same. Second, the unbelievers are not persons who have never heard the truth. No, rather, they are persons who have heard the truth and have rejected it as foolish rubble. This is how this writer is using the term “unbeliever” as well. Technically, how could one ever truly be an unbeliever if they had never heard and understood the truth, to say they did not believe the truth? Therefore, to be an unbeliever, one needs to hear the truth, understand the truth, and reject that truth (i.e., not believing the truth is just that, the truth). 

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is taken away only by means of Christ15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts; 16 but whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Let us start by looking at an example of blind minds within Scripture. This was not a case of physical blindness, but mental blindness. There was a Syrian military force coming after Elisha, and God blinded them mentally. If it had been physical blindness, they would have to have been led by the hand. However, what does the account say?

2 Kings 6:18-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to Jehovah and said, “Please strike this nation with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria.

20 When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “O Jehovah, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So Jehovah opened their eyes and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.

Are we to believe that one man led the entire Syrian military force to Samaria? If they were physically blind, they would have to have all held hands. Were the Syrian military forces not able physically to see the images that were before them? No, instead, it was more of an inability to understand them. This must have been some form of mental blindness, where we see everything that everyone else sees, but something just does not register. Another example can be found in the account about the men of Sodom. When they were blinded, they did not become distressed, running into each other.

Definitely, Paul is speaking of people who are not receptive to the truth because their heart is hardened to it, callused, unfeeling. They are not responding because their figurative heart is opposed. It is as though God handed them over to Satan to be mentally blinded from the truth, not because he disliked them, but because they had closed their hearts and minds to the Gospel. Thus, no manner of argumentation is likely to bring them back to their senses.


However, at one time, Saul (Paul) was one of these. Until he met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was mentally blind to the truth. He was well aware of what the coming Messiah was to do, but Jesus did none of these things because it was not time. Thus, Paul was blinded by his love for the Law, Jewish tradition, and history. So much so, he was unable to grasp the Gospel. Not to mention, he lived during the days of Jesus’ ministry, studied under Gamaliel, who was likely there in the area. He could have even been there when Jesus impressed the Jewish religious leaders at the age of twelve. Therefore, Saul (Paul) needed a real wake-up call to get through the veil that blinded him.

Hence, mentally blind people see the same information as others, but the truth cannot or will not get down into their hearts. I saw this in action. I have had the privilege of talking to dozens of small groups of unbelievers, ranging from four people to ten people in my life. As I spoke to these groups, inevitably, I would see the light going off in the eyes of some (they would be shaking their heads in agreement as I spoke). However, others had a cynical look, a doubting look (they would be shaking their heads in disgust or disapproval), and eventually walked away. This is not saying that the unbeliever cannot understand the Bible; it is simply that they see no significance in it, as it is foolishness to them.

1 Corinthians 2:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 14 But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them, because they are examined spiritually.

“The Greek word ginosko (“to understand”) does not mean comprehend intellectually; it means know by experience. The unsaved obviously do not experience God’s Word because they do not welcome it. Only the regenerate have the capacity to welcome and experience the Scriptures, by means of the Holy Spirit.”― (Zuck 1991, 23) 

Hundreds of millions of Christians use this verse as support that without the “Holy Spirit,” we can fully understand God’s Word. They would argue that without the “Spirit” the Bible is nothing more than foolish nonsense to the reader. What we need to do before, arriving at the correct meaning of what Paul meant, is grasp what he meant by his use of the word “understand,” as to what is ‘foolish.’ In short, “the things of the Spirit of God” are the “Spirit” inspired Word of God. The natural man sees the inspired Word of God as foolish, and “he is not able to understand them.”


Paul wrote, “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” What did Paul mean by this statement? Did he mean that if the Bible reader did not have the “Spirit” helping him, he would not grasp the correct meaning of the text? Are we to understand Paul saying that without the “Spirit,” the Bible and its teachings are beyond our understanding?

We can gain a measure of understanding as to what Paul meant by observing how he uses the term “foolishness” elsewhere in the very same letter. At 1 Corinthians 3:19, it is used in the following way, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” This verse helps us to arrive at the use in two stages: (1) the verse states that human wisdom is foolishness with God, (2) and we know that the use of foolishness here does not mean that God cannot understand (or grasp) human wisdom. The use is that He sees human wisdom as ‘foolish’ and rejects it as such.

Therefore, the term “foolishness” of 1 Corinthians 3:19 is not concerning “understanding,” but as to one’s view of the text, its significance, or better yet, lack of significance, or lack of value. We certainly know that God can understand the wisdom of the world but condemns it as being ‘foolish.’ The same holds true of 1 Corinthians 1:20, where the verbal form of foolishness is used, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Thus, the term “foolishness” is used before and after 1 Corinthians 2:14 (1:20; 3:19). In all three cases, we are dealing with the significance, the value being attributed to something.

Thus, it seems evident that we should attribute the same meaning to our text in question, 1 Corinthians 2:14. In other words, the Apostle Paul, by his use of the term “foolishness,” is not saying that the unbeliever is unable to understand, to grasp the Word of God. If this were the case, why would we ever share the Word of God, the gospel message, with an unbeliever? Unbelievers can understand the Word of God; however, unbelievers see it as foolish, having no value or significance. The resultant meaning of chapters 1-3 of 1 Corinthians is that the unbelieving world of mankind can understand the Word of God. However, they view it as foolish (missing value or significance). On the other hand, God understands the wisdom of the world of mankind but regards it as foolish (missing value or importance). Therefore, the information is understood or grasped; however, it is rejected because the unbeliever thinks it lacks value or significance to the party.

We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and our spirit, or mental disposition, needs to be tuned to God and His Spirit through study and application. Now, if our mental disposition is not in tune with the Spirit, we will not come away with the correct answer. As Ephesians shows, we can grieve the Spirit.

Ephesians 4:30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

How do we grieve the Holy Spirit? We do that by acting contrary to its leading through deception, human weaknesses, imperfections, setting our figurative heart on something other than the leading.

Ephesians 1:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the holy ones,

“Eyes of your heart” is a Hebrew Scripture expression, meaning spiritual insight, to grasp the truth of God’s Word. So we could pray for the guidance of God’s Spirit, and at the same time, we can explain why there are so many different understandings (many wrong answers), some of which contradict each other. This is because human imperfection dilutes some of those interpreters, causing them to lose the Spirit’s guidance.

A person sits down to study and prays earnestly for the guidance of the Holy Spirit that his mental disposition is in harmony with God’s Word [or simply that his heart is in harmony with . . .], and sets out to study a chapter, an article, something biblical. In the process of that study, he allows himself to be moved, not by a mental disposition in harmony with the Spirit, but by human imperfection, by way of his wrong worldview, his biases, his preunderstanding. Preunderstanding is all the knowledge and understanding that we possess before we begin the study of the text. A fundamental grammatical-historical interpretation is to look for the simple, essential, and apparent meaning. However, when this one comes to a text that does not say what he wants, he rationalizes until he has the text in harmony with his preunderstanding. In other words, he reads his presuppositions into the text instead of discovering the meaning. Even though his Christian conscience was tweaked at the correct meaning, he ignored it, as well as his mental disposition that could have been in harmony with the Spirit, to get the outcome he wanted.

Another example may be that the text does mean what he wants, but this is only because the translation he is using is full of theological bias. His translation is violating grammar and syntax, or maybe textual criticism rules and principles that arrive at the correct reading. Therefore, when this student takes a deeper look, he discovers that it could very well-read another way and likely should because of the context. He buries that evidence beneath his conscience and never mentions it when this text comes up in a Bible discussion. In other words, he is grieving the Holy Spirit and loses it on this particular occasion.

Human imperfection, human weakness, theological bias, preunderstanding, and many other things could dilute the Spirit or even grieve the Spirit. So, that while one may be praying for assistance, he is not getting it or has lost it. This is because one, some, or all of these things he is doing has grieved the Spirit.

Again, it is not that an unbeliever cannot understand what the Bible means; otherwise, there would be no need to witness to him. Instead, he does not have the spiritual awareness to see the significance of studying Scripture. An unbeliever can look at “the setting in which the Bible books were written, and the circumstances involved in the writing,” as well as “studying the words and sentences of Scripture in their normal, plain sense” to arrive at the meaning of a text. However, without having any spiritual awareness about themselves, they would not see the significance of applying it in their lives. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural person does not accept [δέχομαι dechomai] the things of the Spirit of God.” Dechomai means “to welcome, accept, receive, to consider or hold as true.” Thus, the unbeliever may very well understand the meaning of a text but just does not welcome, acceptreceive or consider it as accurate.


Acts 17:10-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Readiness of mind or with all eager readiness of mind. The Greek word (προθυμίας prothumias) means that one is keen, ready, mentally prepared to engage in some activity. 

Unlike the natural person, the Bereans accepted, received, or welcomed the Word of God eagerly. Paul said the Thessalonians “received [dechomai] the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess. 1:6) At the beginning of a person’s introduction to the good news, he will take in the knowledge of the Scriptures (1 Tim. 2:3-4), which, if his heart is receptive, he will begin to apply them in his life, taking off the old person and putting on the new person. (Eph. 4:22-24) Seeing how the Scriptures have begun to alter his life, he will start to have genuine faith in what he has learned (Heb. 11:6), repenting of his sins. (Acts 17:30-31) He will turn around his life, and his sins will be blotted out. (Acts 3:19) At some point, he will go to God in prayer, telling the Father that he is dedicating his life to him to carry out his will and purposes. (Matt. 16:24; 22:37) This regeneration is the Holy Spirit working in his life, giving him a new nature, placing him on the path to salvation.―2 Corinthians 5:17.

A new believer will become “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make [him] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15) As the Bible informs us, the Scriptures are holy and are to be viewed as such. If we are to acquire accurate or complete knowledge, to have the correct mental grasp of what we carried out an interpretive analysis on, it must be done with a prayerful and humble heart. It is, as Dr. Norman L. Geisler said, “the role of the Holy Spirit, at least in His special work on believers related to Scripture, is in illuminating our understanding of the significance (not the meaning) of the text. The meaning is clear apart from any special work of the Holy Spirit.” What level of understanding can we acquire based on the degree to which we are not grieving the Holy Spirit with our worldview, preunderstanding, presuppositions, and theological biases? In addition, anyone living in sin will struggle to grasp God’s Word as well.

No interpreter is infallible. The only infallibility or inerrancy belonged to the original manuscripts. Each Christian has the right to interpret God’s Word, to discover what it means, but this does not guarantee that they will come away with the correct meaning. The Holy Spirit will guide us into and through the truth by our working on behalf of our prayers to have the proper understanding. Our working in harmony with the Holy Spirit means that we buy out the time for a personal study program, not to mention the time to prepare correctly and carefully for our Christian meetings. In these studies, do not expect that the Holy Spirit will give us miraculously some flash of understanding. Understanding will come to us as we set aside our personal biases, worldviews, human imperfections, presuppositions, preunderstanding, and open our mental disposition to the Spirit’s leading as we study.

Genre and Its Importance

is one of the categories, based on form, style, or subject, into which each Bible book can be divided. Some genres are poetry, narrative, prophecy, proverbs, parables, letters, idioms, hyperbole, etc. Even some Bible books might contain several genres. For example, 2 John is the genre of a letter. If we are to understand what the author meant, we must first understand what genre he is using and how that genre works. We would not approach the book of Psalms or Proverbs in the same way we would go about interpreting the books of Chronicles. Like any author, the Bible authors expected that their readers would readily understand the genre use in their text and the rules that go with them. Below are some genres and the rules for interpreting them.



A riddle is a puzzle in the form of a question or rhyme containing clues to its answer, which is puzzling or confusing. The Hebrew word, chidah, means “riddle” or “ambiguous saying.” Riddles are designed to confuse and confound the hearer. The objective of the riddle is to obscure the significance from everyone, except those who have understanding. The reason the King James Version rendered Hebrew term five times as “dark sentences” is because “the Hebrew word for riddle (chidah) is from a root which means to twist, or tie a knot, and is used of any dark and intricate saying, which requires peculiar skill and insight to unravel.” (Terry 1883, 268) 

Numbers 12:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of Jehovah. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”

God told the Israelites that he speaks with Moses plainly, not in confusing riddles, or ambiguous sayings, so that he will be understood.

Daniel 8:23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

23 And at the latter end of their kingdom, as the transgressors act to a completion, a fierce-looking king who is skilled in intrigue will stand up.

Scholars agree that Daniel 8:23 is speaking of the  wicked king, Antiochus IV, who certainly was “a master of intrigue.” (Slotki, Daniel, 70)

Psalm 49:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

The Hebrew word for riddle (חִידָה chidah) is used as an expression corresponding to “a proverb,” because a riddle can very much be a statement, which possesses much meaning, but is used with ambiguous language.


Proverbs 30:18-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a young woman.

There is a similarity to the above list. An eagle soars through the sky; the way of a serpent on a rock is that it crosses the rock, the way of a ship on the high seas as it cuts through the waves. The similarity is that none of these three leaves a trail, which does not allow anyone to follow their path. This now helps us establish the similarity of number four, where the proverb was leading us, “the way of a man with a virgin.”

A man may engage in cunning ways of using insincere flattery and pleasantness, especially in order to persuade somebody to do something, to capitalize upon the friendliness of an innocent virgin. She is innocent and untested; she would not be able to discover his charms. It is nearly impossible for her to see the trail or path of a seductive man. Yet, he has a goal just as “the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas.” The seductive man has the objective of exploiting her for sex.

Proverbs 1:5-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and a man of understanding will acquire wise guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

Framing a riddle, which frequently comprises an ambiguous but accurate analogy, involves a robust and deep mind. And cracking such a riddle calls for the facility to see how things relate to one another; accordingly, the Bible speaks of riddles as belonging to wise persons and as something a man of understanding comprehends. This same Hebrew word, which is rendered “riddles” many times throughout the Hebrew Old Testament, is also “difficult questions” in a different context. – 2 Chronicles 9:1

God himself inspired writers to use riddles or ambiguous sayings or words when speaking of his will and purposes. These are statements, which at first seem quite perplexing (because the answer is obscured), but after the time of the original writer, they are understood, making perfect sense.



A proverb is a short, well-known pithy saying that expresses an obvious truth and often strongly offers advice, is to the point, and frequently with wit. Generally, the proverb will describe somebody or something with a word or phrase that is not meant to be taken literally. Employing a vivid comparison, proverbs express something about a person or thing. While we do have a whole book of proverbs, they are found all throughout the Bible.

Isaiah 5:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and discerning in their own sight!

Proverbs have caused some difficulty in many churches because they are treated like absolutes or guarantees; if we do A we will get B. Proverbs are not to be applied in this sense in an imperfect world with imperfect people. The best phrase that we can put before the proverb is “generally speaking.” Let us look at Proverbs 22:6 as our example, it says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (UASV) Let us look at an easy version of this, “direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” (NLT) Is this an absolute guarantee that if I raise my children in the best way, they will not leave it when they get older? No. Let us place our phrase in front of it. ‘Generally speaking,’ if you direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.’

Again, we ask, is a proverb to be interpreted as a universal law? Is it like the law of the Medes and the Persians, which could never be overruled (Esther 8:8)? Is it to be interpreted absolutely, as the laws of thermodynamics, which describe what must always take place? It is apparent when reading proverbs that many of them seem to be less than absolute in their applicability. Let us look at a few more examples,

Proverbs 1:33 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

33 “But he who listens to me shall dwell securely
    and he will live, without the dread of disaster.”

Is it not true, even some of the most spiritual people we know have suffered a lack of peace in war-torn countries (i.e., have not dwelled securely), or have had trouble in a bad neighborhood, as they fearfully walk to the store, or get in and out of their car, even walk out on their front porch? Was not Stephen of the first century a very spiritual Christian, and was he not martyred?

Proverbs 3:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Honor Jehovah with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Is it not true that many good Christians have given much to the congregation out of their hearts over the years and yet suffered financial disaster during an economic downturn?

None of these are absolutes. However, if we follow the rule and place “generally speaking” before the proverb, we will arrive at the author’s meaning. Generally speaking, all who listen to the principles of God will have peace, untroubled by harm. Keeping physically clean contributes to good health. (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) God’s servants must always speak the truth. (Ephesians 4:25) Sex before marriage, adultery, bestiality, incest, and homosexuality are all serious sins against God. – Leviticus 18:6; Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

Christians must avoid lying. (Pro. 6:16-19; Col. 3:9-10) They do not take part in any kind of gambling. (Eph. 5:3-5) In addition, Christians do not steal. Additionally, they do not knowingly buy something they know to be stolen, nor do they take things without the owner’s permission. (Ex. 20:15; Eph. 4:28) Christians have learned to control their anger, as uncontrolled anger can lead to acts of violence. (Gen. 4:5-8) God does not accept a person that is violent or even loves violence as his friend. (Psa. 11:5; Pro. 22:24-25) Christians do not take revenge or return evil for the bad things that others might do to them. (Pro. 24:29; Rom. 12:17-21) There is nothing in the Bible that prohibits drinking alcoholic beverages. (Psa. 104:15; 1 Tim. 5:23) However, heavy drinking and drunkenness are condemned. (1 Cor. 5:11-13; 1 Tim. 3:8) A person who consumes too much alcohol will more than likely ruin their health and upset their family. Moreover, it will decrease one’s spiritual thinking ability, causing them to give in to temptations. – Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35.

Keep in mind, the world is under the rulership of Satan, the Devil. (2 Cor. 4:3-4; John 14:31 Eph. 2:2; 1 John 5:19) We are all imperfect humans, and we are mentally bent toward evil. (Gen. 6:5; 8:21) Our hearts, inner persons are treacherous, and we cannot fully know them. (Jer. 17:9) And the apostle Paul tells us that we naturally do bad, even though we deeply desire to do good. (Rom 7:21-25) So, while bad things might just rain down on us in Satan’s world of imperfect humans, there is a time when it will end, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and the righteous will receive eternal life, while the wicked will receive eternal destruction.

The Hebrew word for “proverb” is mashal, and is believed to be from a root word, meaning “to liken” or “compare.” Psalm 49:12 says, “Man in his pomp [i.e., honor, fame, wealth] will not remain; he is like [or comparable to] the beasts that perish.” This is undoubtedly true, as many of the proverbs within Scripture make use of likenesses or comparisons. Milton Terry adds,

The same verb means also to rule, or have dominion, and some have sought to trace a logical connection between the two significations; but, more probably, as Gesenius suggests, two distinct and independent radicals have coalesced under this one form. The proverb proper will generally be found, in its ultimate analysis, to be a comparison or similitude. Thus, the saying, which became a proverb (mashal) in Israel, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” arose from his prophesying after the manner of the prophets with whom he came in contact (1 Sam. 10:10-12). The proverb used by Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth, “Physician, heal thyself,” is a condensed parable, as, indeed, it is there called (Luke 4:23), and it would be no difficult task to enlarge it into a parabolic narrative. Herein, also we may see how proverbs and parables came to be designated by the same word. The word paroimia, adage, byword, expresses more nearly the later idea commonly associated with the Hebrew mashal, and stands as its representative in the Septuagint. In the New Testament it is used in the sense of adage, or common byword, in 2 Peter 2:22, but in John’s Gospel it denotes more especially an enigmatical discourse (John 10:6; John 16:15, 29). (Terry 1883, 329)

If the above were true, it would mean that, at times, we are talking about the sayings of a ruler, which means it would carry authority and power, or at least suggest superior wisdom. We do have a text that is consistent with this view, King Solomon “also uttered three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five.” – 1 Kings 4:32.


Rules for Interpreting Proverbs

A proverb can be a simile, a metaphor, a parable, even an allegory. Therefore, we must first ascertain which of these fits our proverb under consideration. For example, Proverbs 5:15-18 is an allegory, which “depicts a model of chastity for the godly husband and wife through the figure of cool, fresh flowing water, so precious in an arid country. What a beautiful way to portray the never-ending love relationship of a husband for his wife.” (Goldberg 2000, 20)

If we are to interpret correctly the proverbs found all through Scripture, we have to be critical and practical combined with intelligence and good judgment, i.e., wise and shrewd. Some proverbs are only just straightforward facts; “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” (Pro 20:15) Have our children’s “actions” shown them to be “pure and upright” or careless and irresponsible?

Then again, some proverbs are simple principles, teachings, rules, guidelines, instructions, and truisms of a good and righteous life. Or, they can be warnings against sin, which is understandable to anyone, such as Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Another example would be Proverbs 4:14, “Do not go where evil people go. Do not follow the example of the wicked.” Then again, there are proverbs, which demand that we slow down and critically examine them. Like Proverbs 25:27, “It is not good to eat much honey, Nor is it glory to search out one’s own glory.” Verse 27b literally reads, “The seeking of their glory is glory.” Most take 27b, as saying the proud can never get enough glory. In fact, they will even seek the glory that belongs to others, even the glory that rightfully belongs to God. However, Duane A. Garrett writes,

However, with minor emending, it can be translated, “But seeking out difficult things is glorious.” While this creates a surprising response to line a, it looks back to v. 2 in the same way that line a looks back to v. 16. The chiastic structure of the whole is as follows: glory (v. 2)/ honey (v. 16)/honey (v. 27a)/glory (v. 27b). While an excess of sweets does no one good, the wise never can get enough of unraveling the riddles of the sages. (Garrett 1993, 209)

Of the many proverbs found within Scripture, most need some contemplation to come away with what the author meant by the words he used. Others were designed to puzzle but can be investigated and explained with the treasure house of Bible study tools available to us today. Along with these tools is the context that a proverb lies within; therefore, the immediate context is where one should begin.

In addition, we need to consider poetic parallelisms. The identical and the complete or exact opposite parallelisms, especially, are modified; by the similarities and contrasts they provide, which put forward their own meaning from within. For example, Proverbs 11:25, which reads, “The generous man will be fat [prosperous], and he who waters will himself be watered.” If we look at the second half of the parallelism, we will see that it is a metaphorical illustration of the rather hard to understand feeling or opinion of the first half. Looking at another, we see Proverbs 12:24, which reads, “The hand of the diligent will rule, But the slack [hand] will be put to forced labor.” Again, we are dealing with a metaphor, in which the contrast makes transparent.

Milton brings us back to what was spoken of at the outset, but bears repeating yet again; we need “to guard us against construing all proverbs as universal propositions. Proverbs 16:7 expresses a great truth: ‘When Jehovah delights in the ways of a man, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.’” But there have been many exceptions to this statement and many cases to which it could apply only with considerable modification. Such, to some extent, have been all cases of persecution for righteousness’ sake. So, too, with verse 13 of the same chapter: “Delight of kings are lips of righteousness, and him that speaks right things he will love.” The annals of human history show that this has not always been true, and yet the most impious kings understand the value of upright counselors.” (Terry 1883, 332-3) Here again, it is best to put the phrase, “generally speaking” before these proverbs that are not universal laws.



Most have heard the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ However, the Bible has a real knack for painting a picture with just a few words. The word pictures found in God’s Word create an image that will likely never be forgotten in the reader’s mind. The phrase that I am using, ‘word picture,’ is to be understood as all of the different figures of speech found in God’s Word: metaphors, similes, and other forms of literary devices that involve figures of speech. If we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount meticulously, we would discover that he used over fifty different word pictures.

Significantly, we learn how to discover the meaning behind these word pictures. Without finding their true meaning, we will misinterpret the Bible and misapply it in our lives. As we have already seen above, misapplication can cause one not to have the success that the Bible holds out. Instead, it can be dangerous at times, like misconstruing the shepherd’s rod in the many Proverbs, which talk about the disciplining of a rebellious boy. Of course, these word pictures throughout God’s Word are not to be taken literally, but the message they convey by the picture is to be taken literally.

Correct Mental Grasp of Word Pictures

A word picture is one thing used or considered representing or expressing something in another manner. The topic is compared with the image. Something about the topic and the image are similar. For us to discover the true meaning, we must find the similarities. The danger is in finding more than was intended by the author.

Revelation 3:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Therefore, remember how you have received and heard, and observe it, and repent. Therefore, if you do not wake up, I will come as a thief, and you will not know at all at what hour I will come upon you.

Jesus said, “I will come (topic) like a thief (image).” There must be a similarity. The context of verse 3 answers the question for us, as it reads: “you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Therefore, we can rule out that the verse tells us why he is coming but instead tells us how he will come. It will be like a thief, unforeseen and without warning.

The context helps us. Jesus went on to say, “You will not know at all at what hour I shall come upon you.” (Revelation 3:3) Therefore, the comparison does not point to the purpose of his coming. He was not implying that he would come to steal anything. Instead, the point of contrast involves the unforeseen, without the warning aspect of his arrival.

1 Thessalonians 5:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.

While the context here does not offer us a spelled-out explanation of the similarity, like the words of Jesus, it is best to use one part of the Bible to interpret the other. So, then, let us wake up!

The word picture can take a complex concept and use an easier one to help us wrap our minds around the difficulty. There can be multiple word pictures to highlight the different aspects of the subject. The word picture may be used to emphasize the concept the author is trying to bring out, more memorable, more appealing.

Recognizing the Different Features

WORD PICTURE: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water.” (Psalm 1:3)

TOPIC: Us (those of us who love God’s Word, vs. 1-2)

IMAGE: tree planted by streams of water

SIMILARITY IN CONTEXT: life is drawn through the root from the water; we draw spiritual vitality through God’s Word

LESSON: Just as a tree that is most healthy by being next to its life-sustaining element of water, we are most healthy when we are in the Word of personal study, meeting, ministry, and evangelism.



Biblical archaeology is the scientific study of ancient cultures by examining their material remains such as buildings, graves, tools, and other artifacts usually dug up from the ground. The biblical archaeologist in Bible lands removes the soil of the earth in a very careful and methodical manner to examine rocks, ruined walls, buildings, the city remains as well as pottery, clay tablets, written inscriptions, coins, and other ancient remains, or artifacts, to record information that can aid in the discovery of what happened. This painstaking work has improved our understanding of 2,500 years of Bible times, from the days of Noah stepping off the ark in about 2369 B.C.E. to the death of the Apostle John in 100 C.E. We have gained immense knowledge of their languages, places of residence, food and meals, clothing, home life, marriage, health, education, the surrounding peoples, economy, cities and towns, recreation and sports. Our knowledge of all the regions of Bible history has grown immeasurably: Palestine, Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Babylonia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. Archaeology is a relatively new science, as it has only been around for about 200-years.

Historical-Cultural Elements

The Bible is filled with a rich history of people, places, and events, and God’s interactions with them, personally at times, through materialized angels at other times, but by far, through human representatives.

All Christians desire a complete and accurate understanding of the meaning of the Bible. However, most are not aware that they must have knowledge of the historical-cultural and geographical background of the Bible. Without such, much of the Bible’s true message will be lost because the reader would be attempting to impose their modern-day mindset on an ancient society instead of bridging that gap, getting back to the Bible times setting.

Judges 16:2-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” And they surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, saying, “Let us wait till the light of the morning; then we will kill him.” But Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he rose up and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.

City gate from Balawat—Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds

Every Christian is aware of Samson’s superhuman strength that he received through God. However, some biblical accounts come to life when the reader is aware of the background information. What Samson pulled out of the ground and threw on his shoulders at Judges 16:2-3 weighed a minimum of 400-500 pounds. Some suggesting closer to 2,000 pounds. If this feat of strength is not enough to grow our appreciation of Samson’s great power, the simple statement that he “carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron” will do just that. Gaza, the city, mentioned here is at sea level, while Hebron is about 3,000 feet above sea level, a strenuous climb indeed! However, there is more. Hebron is 37 miles from Gaza, uphill all the way! Knowing the weight of the gate and posts, the distance traveled, and that it was uphill made Samson’s colossal feat take on a completely new magnitude, does it not?

If most Christians were aware of the need to understand Bible backgrounds, they would eagerly find the appropriate books that would aid them in this area. When a pastor adds some Bible background into his sermon, it really enhances what is being said and is a part of the conversation after the meeting is over by most of the congregants. Learning of the historical setting is paramount in much of the Bible if the reader desires an accurate understanding of the text. Many Christians are hungering for this sort of information, which will make their studies come to life.

Young Christians


Figurative language uses or contains a nonliteral sense of a word or words. The Bible is filled with figurative languages, such as metaphors, similes, parables (lengthy metaphors), and many other figures of speech. The authors draw on created things, plants, animals, and the heavens, as well as the human experience. It is not difficult to recognize figures of speech. Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” We immediately recognize that we are talking about our figurative heart because the literal heart cannot be deceitful. If the conservative, evangelical interpretation is literal, how are we to interpret figurative language literally? The author intended to convey a message with his figurative language, such as Jeremiah in the above, saying, in essence, that imperfect humans, the inner person is deceitful and is desperately sick. We cannot understand our inner person. Once we discover that message, this is what we take literally.

Figurative language adds a visual image to what one is trying to say. The psalmist could have said, ‘Jehovah is my solid, unmovable source of security,’ or what he did write, “Jehovah is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge; my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower.” (Psa. 18:2) Figurative language also gets our attention, causing us to slow down and ponder what the author is saying. Paul could have plainly said of the false teachers in the Philippian congregation, ‘watch out for those false teachers.’ No, he chose much stronger language, “watch out for those dogs.”[10] Does the Good News Translation cause us to pause, with, “Watch out for those who do evil things.” Hardly!

Figurative language helps us better understand expressions that are abstract or appreciated intellectually. Moses could have written, ‘The eternal God is a home, and will protect you; and … No, rather, Moses vividly wrote, “The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and he drove out the enemy from before you, and said, ‘Destroy!” – Deuteronomy 33:27.

Similes and Metaphors

Figures of speech are word pictures that generally involve only a few words, yet they can result in very vivid mental images. Similes are the easiest figure of speech to use and understand. Typically, they start with the word “like” or “as.” Although comparing two reasonably unlike things, similes focus on something they have in common. Metaphors also focus on the similarity between two very unalike things. However, the metaphor is extra powerful because it expresses the thought that one element is an element of the other. As a result, it conveys some quality from one thing to the other. The first three texts below are similes, while the second three texts represent metaphors.

Psalm 1:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 10:9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the afflicted one;
    he seizes the afflicted one when he draws him into his net.

Genesis 22:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore; and your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies.

Matthew 5:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

James 3:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And the tongue is a fire, the world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the course of life, and is set on fire by Gehenna.

Psalm 31:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For you are my rock and my fortress;
    and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;


Hypocatastasis is a figure of speech that declares or implies a resemblance, representation, or comparison. It differs from a metaphor because, in a metaphor, the two nouns are both named and given. In hypocatastasis, only one is named, and the other is implied, or as it were, is put down underneath out of sight. Hence, hypocatastasis is an implied resemblance or representation: that is, an implied simile or metaphor. A hypocatastasis has more force than a metaphor or simile and expresses as it were a superlative degree of resemblance.[11]

Bullinger gives the following example: one may say to another, “You are like a beast.” (Bullinger 1898, 744) This would be simile, namely stating a fact. If, however, he said, “You are a beast” that would be metaphor. But, if he said simply, “Beast!” that would be hypocatastasis,[12] for the other part of the simile or metaphor (“you”), would be implied and not stated. Therefore, this figure is calculated to arouse the mind and attract and excite the attention to the greatest extent.[13]



Metonymy is a figure of speech in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself, e.g., “laurels” when it stands for “glory” or “brass” when it stands for “military officers.” Some Scriptural example of metonymy,

Psalm 23:5a Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

David is the Psalmist, praising God for the love and protection he has provided him. David is not saying that God prepared a literal table in the presence of his enemies. The table is used to stand for a bountiful meal itself. That is why the GNT reads, “You prepare a banquet for me.”

Joshua 24:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve Jehovah, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.

Joshua is not saying that a literal house will serve Jehovah, but rather it is used to stand for his family.


Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which the word for part of something is used to mean the whole, e.g., “sail” for “boat,” or vice versa.

Psalm 63:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

The right hand of God denotes his person, but more specifically, here it is representing his power.

Psalm 110:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

1 Jehovah says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Here the “right hand” denotes God’s prominent position. Another example would be Mark 16:2, where Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Proverbs 1:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.

Clearly, this does not mean that only their feet run to sin, as the feet represent the whole person, i.e., they run to sin. Another example is in Romans 16:4, where Paul speaks of Prisca and Aquila, his fellow workers in Christ Jesus, whom he says, “risked their necks” for his life. Again, it is not their necks alone that they risked for Paul; their necks are representative of their whole, i.e., their lives.


Merisms are conspicuous features of Biblical poetry. For example, in Genesis 1:1, when God creates “the heavens and the earth” (KJV), the two parts combine to indicate that God created the whole universe. Similarly, in Psalm 139:2, the psalmist declares that God knows “when I sit down and when I rise up,” indicating that God knows all the psalmist’s actions.[14]


Hendiadyses are figures of speech with “and”: a literary device expressing an idea using two words linked by “and,” instead of a grammatically more complex form such as an adverb qualifying an adjective. Everyday examples of hendiadys are the expressions “nice and soft,” rather than “nicely soft,” and “good and tight.” In Acts 1:25, the apostles say, “to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place,” they mean this apostolic ministry.


Personification is the attribution of human qualities to objects or abstract notions.

Isaiah 55:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into a joyful cry,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Isaiah is speaking about a time when Israel would be restored in conjunction with nature, which is personified. See also Isaiah 44:23 and 49:13.

 Romans 8:19-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

In the above, Paul speaks of the “creation” as though it were a person. Creation is longing, it is not willingly subjected, it was enslaved, it has been groaning, in pains of childbirth, and so on. Jesus calmed a storm by saying a few words. (Mark 4:35-41) Jesus “is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (1 Tim. 6.15; Rev. 17.14; 19.16) Jesus has absolute power over creation. In fact, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, in the renewal,[15] when the Son of man sits down on his glorious throne, you [specifically the disciples] who have followed me will sit on twelve thrones ….” (Matt 19:28) The New International Version uses the expression, “the renewal of all things.” Yes, after Jesus’ second coming, he will renew creation here on earth, restoring the paradise-like environment that Satan, Adam, and Eve sidetracked with their sin.

Proverbs 8:22-26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

22 “Jehovah created me[16] at the beginning of his way,
    the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.

Wisdom is a personified, a literary technique to draw out qualities and characteristics; it also symbolically refers to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, before he came to earth. The apostle John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word.”

There is little doubt that verse 22 commences concerning the creation account of Genesis 1 by its use of the word “beginning.” In saying that Jehovah “made” or “created” wisdom at the beginning of his creation, wisdom emphasizes his age compared to the creation of the universe, including earth.


Anthropomorphism is the attribution of a human form, human characteristics, or human behavior to God to help us grasp God’s might, majesty, and activities. Therefore, the Bible speaks of God as having eyes, ears, hands, arms, fingers, feet, and a heart. – Genesis 8:21; Exodus 3:20; 31:18; Job 40:9; Psalm 18:9; 34:15.

Like other figures of speech, we do not take anthropomorphisms literally. If it were not for the figures of speech, our comprehending God would be like a man blind from birth trying to understand the description of scenery. This use of anthropomorphisms does not mean that the human authors invented God’s personality. We must remember that man was created in God’s image, not God in man’s image. (Genesis 1:27) The Bible writers were inspired by God, moved along by Holy Spirit. Therefore, their description of God is actually God’s description of himself. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:20-21) Instead of being man’s qualities in God, they are actually God’s qualities in man.


Anthropopathism is the attribution of human feelings to God. Zechariah 8:2 is a great example of this, “Thus says Jehovah of hosts: “I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.’”


Zoomorphism is the attribution of animal forms or characteristics to God or others.

Job 16:9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

He has torn me in his wrath and hated me;
    he has gnashed his teeth at me;
    my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.

Job believed felt as though God was some ferocious animal that was seeking to do him harm. Job saw him as gnashing his teeth at him, seeking to destroy him.


The apostrophe is a rhetorical passage in which an absent or imaginary person or an abstract or inanimate entity is addressed directly. Micah 1:2 reads, “pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let Jehovah God be a witness against you.” Here the earth is being called to the witness stand to testify against Israel and Judah and people everywhere.


Euphemism is a word or phrase used in place of a term that might be considered too direct, harsh, unpleasant, or offensive. An affair is a modern euphemism for adultery. At Numbers 5:12-31, In agreement with the Mosaic Law about jealousy, if a husband had alleged that his wife had committed infidelity, she had to drink bitter water. If she was guilty of adultery, God would make her thigh fall away, and her body swell. “Milgrom suggests that the ‘thigh’ may be a euphemism for the procreative organs (e.g., Gen 24:2, 9)[17] and thus refers to the physical inability to beget children.” (Cole 2000, 118)



Word Meaning: First, I would like to note that the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek readers have a small advantage over the reader who only knows English. The reader of the original languages can ascertain what the writer meant to convey by the words he used. In contrast, the English reader can only confirm what the translator meant by his English words that have been translated from the original languages. This is why a literal translation is preferred over the dynamic equivalent (interpretive) translations.

The primary purpose of the UASV is to give the Bible readers what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place.—Truth Matters! Their primary goal is to be accurate and faithful to the original text. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator.—Translating Truth!

In an attempt to understand any word within Scripture, one must keep some simple essential points in mind:

  • A word can have several meanings. For example, the English word “hand” can mean the thing at the end of our wrist, or a hand of cards, or a worker, and so on. It has over 24 different meanings. It is the context of a sentence that will establish which meaning was intended.
  • A word will only mean what the writer meant to convey by his use of it within the context of how he chose to use it.
  • Along with the above point is the fact that the writer is going to use words in such a way that his audience will understand. In other words, “house” is not going to mean a “river.” This may sound ridiculous at this point, but it will pay dividends when we begin looking at word meaning.
  • The range of meaning will be found in a lexicon, and the context will tell us which one the writer intended.

Etymological Fallacies: Some of this will be repeated again later in this chapter and other chapters, as repetition for emphasis. A word’s meaning must come from its use at the time of the writing. To find the origin of a word and its historical meaning throughout history will not add anything to its meaning. Moreover, the form of a word has nothing to do with its meaning. This would also mean that most compound words do not attribute to the meaning of a word by looking at the two separate words that have been combined. For example, the word “pineapple,” if broken apart into “pine” and “apple” add nothing to its meaning. Another fallacy would be to look at how a word is used centuries later, but in all likelihood, the word’s meaning will have been altered over time.  In 1611, the English word “let” meant to “stop” or “restrain.” Today it means “to allow.” (See 2 Thess. 2:7 KJV/ESV) The only time the history of a word may be some help is when there is no possible way of knowing its meaning at the time of use or with names. (Louw, 1982)[18]

Concordance: While the lexicon will give us the range of meaning, another approach is how a writer uses a word. We may look up a word that Paul has used and see where he has used it elsewhere. It is best if it is in the subject matter we are dealing with, or at least in the same book. However, one could go to the book of Romans to consider a word in Galatians if it is dealing with the same subject matter. One may even consider the New Testament as a whole or even the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament). However, the further removed we get from the writer and the area our word is found in, the more danger we are in, coming away with the wrong meaning. There is no reason to believe that just because Paul and Peter used the same word that they must have intended the same meaning by its use.

The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL


Most understand the word “prophecy” to be another word for prediction. The Hebrew, navi, and the Greek prophētēs (prophet), carry the meaning of one who proclaims God’s message and need not necessarily be foretelling of the future. He may very well be proclaiming moral teaching, an expression of a divine command or judgment, but they also mean a foretelling of something to come. Below, we will be considering the secondary meaning of prophecy, one that foretells the future, not the primary meaning. One who forth tells the will and purpose of God, i.e., a proclaimer.

Stein writes, “Within this literary genre we encounter certain assumptions (“game rules”) that the authors thought their readers shared. The prophets expected that their readers would interpret their prophecies according to the rules associated with this literary form. Unfortunately, some of these rules are not clear to us today, and this causes serious difficulties in interpreting this kind of literature.”[19]

The Prophetic Judgment of Nineveh

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which Jehovah has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that Jehovah has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

Jonah 3:4-5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And Jonah began to go into the city a journey of one day, and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” [the people of Ninevah repent] And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Jonah 3:10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God felt regret[20] concerning the calamity which he had declared he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Based on Deuteronomy 18:20-22, does Jonah 3:4-5 and 10 not prove that Jonah was a false prophet. No, both Jonah and the Ninevites were aware of a principle often overlooked by the modern-day reader. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel give the answer or the principle that readers of that time would have understood about judgment prophecy. Jeremiah explicitly explains the rule of judgment prophecies when he writes,

Jeremiah 18:7-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to tear down, and to destroy it; and if that nation which I have spoken against turns from its evil, I will also feel regret over[21] the calamity that I intended to bring against it.

The opposite is true as well,

Jeremiah 18:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 10 if it does evil in my eyes by not obeying my voice, then I will feel regret over[22] the good with which I had promised to bless it.

Yes, if one turns back from their evil ways, endeavoring to obey God’s Word, he will not receive the condemnatory judgment he deserves. That a repentant, evil person’s previous wicked deeds will not be held against them, God states,

Ezekiel 33:13-15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 When I say to the righteous one: You will surely keep living, and he trusts in his own righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous acts will be remembered, but he will die for the wrong that he has done. 14 And when I say to the wicked one: You will surely die, and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, 15 and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die.

Regardless of all that one has done throughout their life, it is their standing in God’s eyes at the time of the divine judgment, which God considers. Therefore, God goes on to say through Ezekiel,

Ezekiel 33:14-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 And when I say to the wicked one: You will surely die, and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, 15 and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die. 16 None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live.

Supposed Unfulfilled Prophecy

In the days when Micah was prophesying, c. 735-700 B.C.E., the king, the heads of the Jerusalem government, the religious leaders, the priests, and some prophets, were deserving of nothing but death. All were guilty of causing the life of their fellow countrymen, all for the sake of greed. They were guilty of false worship, bribery, lies, and wicked behavior. These leaders used false prophets, who were not true spokesmen of God. Therefore, the real prophet, Micah, shouted,

Micah 3:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain[23] of the house as a high place in a forest.

The destruction occurred in the late seventh-century B.C.E., just as it was prophesied. As we can see below, Micah 3:12 was quoted over a century later in Jeremiah 26:18.

Jeremiah 26:16-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man is not worthy of death; for he hath spoken to us in the name of Jehovah our God.” 17 Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spoke to all the assembly of the people, saying, 18 “Micah the Morashtite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah; and he spoke to all the people of Judah, saying: ‘Thus says Jehovah of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

19 Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear Jehovah and entreat the favor of Jehovah, and Jehovah changed his mind about the misfortune, which he had pronounced against them? But we are committing a great evil against our own souls.”

Is this another unfulfilled prophecy? Did not Jeremiah himself say, “Jehovah changed his mind about the misfortune, which he had pronounced against them”? Verse 19 of Jeremiah [chapter 26] “indicates that Micah’s preaching may have been instrumental in the revival under King Hezekiah (see 2 Kgs 18:1–6; 2 Chron. 29–31).” (Barker and Bailey 2001, 82) The New American Commentary authors go on to say,

Lamentations describes the awful fulfillment of this prophecy (see Introduction, p. 30).[24] It is ironic that those who thought they were the builders of Zion (v. 10) actually turned out to be, in a sense, its destroyers. The Lord, because of their breach of covenant, used King Nebuchadnezzar’s Neo-Babylonian army to raze Jerusalem and its temple. They were reduced to a “mound of ruins” (translating the Hb. word ʿîyyîn) similar to an archaeological tell and to Ai (see also comments on 1:6), foreshadowing the Roman destruction of a.d. 70. Jerusalem became a place suitable only for wild animals. And the temple mount that thronged with worshipers became as deserted as when Abraham almost offered Isaac there on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:2, 14). (Barker and Bailey, 2001, 82)

Yes, there is no reason to view Micah’s words as an unfulfilled prophecy. We have here a following of the above rule, with a qualifying clause, so to speak. As God said through Jeremiah, “If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would.” (17:7-8) However, “if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would.” In other words, the king, the governmental leaders, and the priests heeded Micah’s warning, repented, and were forgiven for a time, with the judgment prophecy lifted. However, they fell back into their former ways, even more grievously than before. Therefore, Micah’s prophecy was reinstated. It is as Jeremiah said in 26:19, “But we are committing a great evil against our own souls.” Therefore, Jeremiah was saying, Micah prophesied, the people repented, God forgave them, and now Micah’s words will be carried out because of the current generation of God’s people ‘committing a great evil against their own souls.’

As we can see from the above, judgment prophecies are based on a continued wrong course by those receiving condemnation. However, both the condemned and the one proclaiming the prophecy knew that the judgment would be lifted if they reversed course and repented. This was even expressed by Jonah himself. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to Jehovah and said, “O Jehovah, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (4:1-2) However, it is also true, if one goes in the opposite direction after having repented, returning to the sinful ways, the judgment will be reinstated.


Prophetic Language

The prophet is much like the poet in that he is given a license to express himself in nonliteral language. Generally, he is working with images that are far more effective than words themselves.

Matthew 24:29-31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The Coming of the Son of Man

29 But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet call, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The above cosmic terminology need not be taken literally. It is a part of the author’s toolkit, which enables them to make it clear that God is acting on behalf of humans. (See Dan. 2:21; 4:17, 25, 34–35; 5:21) The sun will not be darkened, the moon will not stop giving its light, the stars are not going to fall from the heavens, nor will the heavens be shaken. What is being communicated here is that following the tribulation, when God will judge humans, the righteous will receive life, and the unrighteous will be cut off from life. (34-45) While we do not take cosmic terminology literally, we do discover its meaning, and this is what we are to take literally.

Acts 2:14-21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and declared to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day;[25] 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel

17 “‘And it shall be in the last days, God says,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 and even on my male slaves and on my female slaves
    I will pour out some of my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
    before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’[26]

In all occurrences, prophecy proclaimed in Bible times had meaning to the people who heard it; it served for their guidance and each generation up unto the time of its fulfillment. Usually, it had some fulfillment in that time, in numerous instances being fulfilled during the days of that very generation. In looking at Peters’s quote from Joel, it must be asked; did they see those cosmic events on Pentecost? Yes, the cosmic terminology is expressing that God was acting on behalf of those first Christians. A new era was being entered, and God did pour out His Spirit, and sons and daughters did prophesy, both in proclaiming a message and in the foretelling of further events. However, let us delve even deeper into prophecy and how they are to be interpreted. Before moving on, let us briefly offer what we have learned this far:

  • Judgment prophecies could be lifted and set aside if the parties affected repent and turn away from their former course.
  • On the other hand, if God has promised blessings, that person or group disobeys him and does evil, he will not do what he said he would do.
  • Then again, if one has repented, turned around, and a judgment prophecy has been lifted, it can be reinstated if that person or group returns to their former evil ways.
  • Prophets have a license to use prophetic language, cosmic terminology that evidences that God is working or acting within humanity.
  • While we do not take cosmic terminology literally, we do discover its meaning, and this is what we are to take literally.

Interpreting Prophecy

If we are to understand and interpret prophecy correctly, we must first grasp the figurative language, types, and symbols. We have already dealt with figurative language and typology, all having been dealt with herein.

We will follow the same interpretation process here that we would elsewhere, grammatical-historical interpretation, which attempts to ascertain what the author meant by the words that he used, which should have been understood by his original readers. (Stein 1994, 38-9) It was the primary method of interpretation when higher criticism’s Historical-Critical Method was in its infancy back in the 19th century (Milton Terry) and remains the only method of interpretation for true conservative scholarship in the later 20th century into the 21st century.



Genesis 4:23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

23 Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice,
    You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech,
For I have killed a man for wounding me;
    and a boy for striking me;

Dr. Wheeler’s Website[27]

Poetry reminds us of the Western form of balanced lines, regular stress, and rhyme. If one were able to read Hebrew, they would see Hebrew poetry contains almost no rhyme. Hebrew manuscripts do not differentiate poetry from prose in such a clear-cut way. Hebrew poetry has three main features: parallelism, rhythm, and the grouping of lines into larger units called stanzas. Hebrew poetic lines are short; many are no more than two or three words, making the total result one of forceful power.

A little over thirty percent of the Old Testament is poetry. The only books that have no poetry are Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, and Malachi. Some of the books keep it to a minimum of a few verses or a chapter or two. (Exod. 15:1–18, 21; Lev. 10:3; Deut. 32:1–43; 33:2–29; Josh. 10:12–13; Ruth 1:16–17, 20–21; 2 Kings 19:21–28; 1 Chron. 16:8–36; Ezra 3:11; Jonah 2:2–9) On the other hand, some of the books are almost all poetry, such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song, Isaiah, Lamentations, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah.

The Principal Forms of Parallelism

The most significant recognized component in Hebrew poetry is parallelism, or rhythm that is attained by logical thought, not by rhyme, as in English; it has been termed “sense rhythm.” Ponder the two lines of Psalm 24:1:

24 The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
    the world and those who dwell therein,

This form is known as synonymous parallelism, which means that line two repeats part of line one, using different words, but expressing similar thoughts. The important aspect is in the phrase, “the earth is Jehovah’s.” Both the “earth” and the “world” are poetically synonymous, which is also true of “the fullness thereof” and “that dwell therein.” Let us look at one more at Psalm 49:3:

My mouth will speak wisdom,
    the meditation of my heart will be understanding.

On the opposite end is the form antithetic parallelism, exactly as the name implies; respectively, each line states opposing thoughts. Psalm 37:21 illustrates this:

21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
    but the righteous is gracious and gives;

Then there is synthetic parallelism. In this form, there is no repeating a similar thought or an opposite. Instead, it builds on the previous thoughts. Psalm 19:7-9 is an instance of this:

The law of Jehovah is perfect,
    restoring the soul;
the testimony of Jehovah is sure,
    making wise the simple.
The precepts of Jehovah are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of Jehovah is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;

Synthesis is the result of a combination, creating a new unified thought, which is what we find in Psalm 19:7-9, with the second line completing the thought. In what way is “the law of Jehovah perfect”? In that, it ‘restores the soul.’ How is “the testimony of Jehovah sure”? In that, it ‘makes the simple on wise.’ Only by the second line does the reader know in what sense to apply the first line.

Various Other Forms of Parallelism

Emblematic parallelism incorporates the use of simile or metaphor. Notice Psalm 103:12:

12 As far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

In stair-like parallelism, two or more lines may be used to repeat and advance the thought of the first. Luke 4:18-19 is an example of this:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news[28] to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set free those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

The introverted parallelism is an idea that is connected around a middle idea often spanning several verses. Observe this example from Psalm 135:15-18:

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
    they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
    nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
    as will all those who trust in them.

Poetry Contrasted with Prose

Prose is writing or speech in its normal continuous form, without poetry’s rhythmic or visual line structure. It is ordinary or matter of fact, without embellishment. Those writing in the poetic form are not expecting their words to be taken literally. In addition, the author using poetry is not concerned with being exact or scientifically accurate. His agenda is to stir up emotion from his readers. Read the prose account of Deborah and Barak in Judges Chapter 4 and the same account in Judges Chapter 5 in poetic format. As you compare the two, take note of the liberties that the poetic side can take, meant to heighten your emotions, and not be interpreted literally.



Idioms are fixed expressions with nonliteral meaning: a fixed distinctive expression whose meaning cannot be deduced from the combined meanings of its actual words. A drop in the bucket is a tiny part of something big or whole. All in the same boat is when everyone is facing the same challenges. An ax to grind is to have a dispute with someone. Field day is an enjoyable day or circumstance. Method to my madness is strange or crazy actions that appear meaningless but, in the end, are done for a good reason. Idioms are by far the most difficult of all literature to interpret and translate.

Many idiomatic expressions were meant literally in their original use. Still, sometimes, the attribution of the literal meaning changed and the phrase itself grew away from its original roots, typically leading to folk etymology. For instance, the literal “spill the beans” (meaning to reveal a secret) apparently originated from an ancient method of voting, wherein a voter deposited a bean into one of several cups, indicating the candidate they favored. If jars were spilled before the counting of votes was complete, one might see which jar had more beans and could claim which candidate might be the winner. Over time, the ‘bean jar’ voting method fell out of favor, but the idiom persisted and became figurative.

Other idioms are deliberately figurative. For example, “break a leg” is an ironic expression to wish a person good luck just before giving a performance or presentation. It may have arisen from the superstition that one ought not to utter the words “good luck” to an actor because it is believed that doing so will cause the opposite result.[29]

Idioms can present unique problems to translators because they are difficult to decide whether they should be rendered literally or be interpreted for the reader. An example would be the English expression bite your tongue. This expression in any other language would be taken literally to mean the act of biting one’s tongue, thus resulting in the infliction of pain to the tongue. Yet, most American English-speaking communities understand that the phrase actually means to ‘refrain from speaking.’

Between the Devil and the deep blue sea is equivalent to our between a rock and a hard place.[30] Both mean that someone is in a serious dilemma of two very undesirable choices. Have you ever had to tell someone, ‘look, you are beating a dead horse,’ meaning the continuation of the discussion is futile? On the other hand, how about, ‘listen, you are preaching to the choir,’ means we are trying to convince our listener of something that he probably holds to as firmly as we do. Below are Biblical examples of Hebrew idioms in a literal translation wherein the idiom was rendered literally. A dynamic equivalent translation presents the same verses using more of an interpretive translation philosophy for the modern-day reader.


Dynamic Equivalent

Psalm 10:15 (UASV)

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; search for his wickedness until you find none.

Psalm 10:15 (NCV)

15 Break the power of wicked people. Punish them for the evil they have done.

Genesis 6:8 (UASV)

8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of Jehovah.

Genesis 6:8 (CEV)

8 But the Lord was pleased with Noah,

Psalm 25:1 (UASV)

1 To you, O Jehovah, I lift up my soul.

Psalm 25:1 (CEV)

1 I offer you my heart, Lord God,

Isaiah 60:16 (UASV)

16 You shall suck the milk of nations;  you shall suck the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, Jehovah, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Isaiah 60:16 (CEV)

16 You will drain the wealth of kings and foreign nations. You will know that I, the mighty Lord God of Israel, have saved and rescued you.

Ezekiel 3:7 (ASV)

7 But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel is hard of forehead and hard of heart.

Ezekiel 3:7 (CEV)

7 But the people of Israel will refuse to listen, because they have refused to listen to me. All of them are stubborn and hardheaded,

What must be understood is that all societies, past and present, have figures of speech that are commonly used to express meaning, just as those in Bible times. Moreover, figures of speech convey a meaning that is no different and should be taken literally. This is not to say that we take the figurative speech literally, but when someone says that this is a figure of speech, he does not mean that its meaning is ambiguous (can contain more than one meaning), it is specific and has one intended meaning just as other forms of speech do. In addition, once one understands what is meant by the figurative speech, this is what is taken literally.[31] Take, for example, ‘off the top of your head,’ ‘by the skin of his teeth,’ and ‘the handwriting on the wall.’ These are all English examples of idioms. All of them have just one meaning in the context of their use, and what is meant by the idiom is, to be taken literally.

Deuteronomy 6:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as Jehovah, the God of your forefathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. [a fertile land, a land of plenty]

How Should the Idiom be Translated?

Figures of speech as well as the subcategory idiom[32] add something to a language that could really be said no other way to get that color and depth. The idiom of “a land flowing with milk and honey” is so descriptive that even the most zealous dynamic equivalent translations dare not alter it:

Jeremiah 31:29 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

29 In those days they shall no longer say:

“‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ [Lit., “got blunted (dulled)].”[33]

Jeremiah 31:29 The Message (MSG)

29 “When that time comes you won’t hear the old proverb anymore,

        Parents ate the green apples,
        their children got the stomachache.


Jeremiah 31:29 New Living Translation (NLT)

29 “The people will no longer quote this proverb:

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste.’

Jeremiah 31:29 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

29 No longer will anyone go around saying,

“Sour grapes eaten by parents
leave a sour taste in the mouths
    of their children.”

The above UASV leaves the Hebrew idiom “teeth are set on edge”; this means an irritating or upsetting experience. In the days just before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, this was a common saying, in which the sons were saying the father’s wickedness put them in this predicament, ‘setting their teeth on edge.’ In this, they were trying to shift the blame to the fathers.[34] The dynamic equivalent translations attempted to modernize the idiom in the Receptor Language translation, English in this case, and substitute it in place of the Hebrew idiom. This process is one option, but one can see that even with the use of more modern terms, the meaning is still the same, though perhaps easier for some readers to understand. With this in mind, one can see how this option can be helpful yet still leave open the possibility of distorting the meaning of the idiom. A second option is to interpret the idiom and place that interpretation in place of the idiom as depicted in the following example:

Isaiah 13:18 (RSV) (literal)

 “. . . they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb” (RSV)

Isaiah 13:18 (NEB) (interpreted)

“. . . [they] have no pity on little children.”

Either of these two options should be used only as a last resort, and only if a misunderstanding is the result. The Bible is meant to be studied by the student. It is best to stay with what was written as the translator may alter the meaning of God’s Word by choosing to replace ancient idioms with modern-day language. One must realize that languages aside from the original can distort the idiom intact. For example, Luke 2:51 reads, “. . . his mother kept all these things in her heart.” In Nigeria’s Kilba language, this would be understood as “to bear a grudge about something.” Thus, for them, it has been rendered: “his mother went on thinking about these things.”[35]

As for Bible translation, every effort should be made to maintain the literal wording of idioms unless it will adversely affect the understanding of the message for the modern-day reader. If so, it can be rendered by the interpretation (adding any alternative possibilities in a footnote). Or, it can be rendered by the use of a modern-day idiom that carries a similar meaning, such as in the example of equivalents used earlier, “between the Devil and the deep blue sea” and “between a rock and a hard place.”


Jesus is by far the most effective teacher of all time, and hyperbole is one method he often used. Hyperbole is a deliberate and obvious exaggeration used for effect, e.g., “I could eat a million of these.” The objective is to add emphasis and importance to what is being said. Moreover, like other special literary forms, hyperbole imprints a mental picture in our mind, one that is difficult to forget.

A Better Understanding of Hyperbole

There are actually two different types of exaggerations: (1) the first being an overstatement, but possible, and (2) hyperbole, which is a statement that is impossible. Our concern can recognize either of these when we see them. Let us look at a few examples.

Matthew 7:1-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For with the judgment you are judging you will be judged, and by what measure you are measuring, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Try to picture what is being emphasized. You have a person who is continuously and aggressively judging others, who goes up to a brother that is seldom critical to offer advice on not being critical. A brother with a log’s worth of criticalness to him is advising a brother who has a mere straw of criticalness. Is this not a beautiful way to illustrate how a brother, who has immense problems in a particular area, should be slow to offer advice to another brother, who seldom offends in this area? Below Jesus is rebuking some Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders.

Matthew 23:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

This was the foremost way to use hyperbole. Take note of the fact that he is contrasting a small gnat with a huge camel, which represents the largest animal known to his audience. One religious magazine stated, “It is estimated that it would take up to 70 million gnats to equal the weight of an average camel!” Jesus was also very much aware that the Pharisees strained their wine through a cloth sieve to avoid ceremonial uncleanness by accidentally drinking a gnat. However, they were quite eager to gulp down the figurative camel, it also being unclean. (Leviticus 11:4, 21-24)  How? The Pharisees were very quick to follow the minor points of the Mosaic Law but set aside the weightier laws, like “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23) This one point makes using hyperbole all too clear and exposed them for the hypocrites they were.

Matthew 17:20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

20 And he said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus could have simply said plainly that they need more faith, but that would have not made the impact this figurative comment did. He only stressed the need for a little faith very effectively, pointing out that a small amount of faith can move mountain-like objects.

Matthew 19:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24 Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Try to picture a camel fitting through the eye of a sewing needle. It is impossible, not difficult, but impossible! Of course, this does not mean that rich people are excluded from the kingdom of God. The context is about people who love money more than kingdom interests. It is the love of money that makes them ineligible. Jesus’ colorful, vivid idioms have an effect so powerful that literally hundreds of millions of people have used them over the last 2,000 years.

Psalm 22:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my me;

There is the Scriptural basis for the conviction that Jesus died of a broken heart. Psalm 22 is prophetic of Christ Jesus at the time of his death. A broken heart could certainly be seen in the words of verse 14. The strength of his body had been destroyed, becoming like water pours out on the ground. He had lost his strength, causing his heart to melt away within him like wax. We get the picture, as it is painted for us in this exaggerated language. The words here are impossible if viewed in a literal sense.

Lamentations 2:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 11Mine eyes do fail with tears, my heart is troubled; My liver is poured upon the earth, because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, Because the young children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.

 Jeremiah revealed his own private internal distress at the incomparable suffering experienced by Jerusalem, specifically over infants and babies dying from hunger in the streets or in their mother’s arms. Words of grief, such as “I am in torment” (lit. “my bowels are burning”; cf. Lam 1:20) and “my heart [lit. “liver”] is poured out on the ground” Here again, this is hyperbole, as the literal words are an impossibility.

1 Kings 1:40 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

40And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.

As can be seen from the above, hyperbole is quite readily recognizable. To read them is to tell yourself instantly that this is impossible and meant to make a special point. This is not to say that throughout church history, there have not been those who have taken Jesus’ words literally, “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) Some identifying markers will help us to identify these exaggerated and hyperbolic statements.

Rules for Recognizing Hyperbole[36]

  • Hyperbole is literally impossible. The laws of physics just do not permit it. (Gen 22:17)
  • The statement made is at odd with something said elsewhere. (Luke 14:26; Mark 7:9–13; 10:19)
  • The statement made is at odds with the actions of the person elsewhere. (Matt 10:34; Mark 14:43–50)
  • The statement made is at odds with the teachings of the Old Testament. (Luke 14:26; Exod. 20:12; Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5)
  • The statement made is at odds with the teachings of the New Testament. (Matt. 5:42; 2 Thess. 3:10); (Matt. 7:1; 1 Cor. 5:3; 6:1-6)
  • The statement is an exaggeration, and not meant to be taken literally, as to fulfillment. It was fulfilled, but not literally, if we are not seeing hyperbole in our interpretation. Below Jesus is talking of the destruction of Jerusalem that is to come decades later in 70 C.E. If we view his words literally, there is no fulfillment because many of those huge stones are still there today. However, if we view it as hyperbole, there is fulfillment. He was merely talking about a horrendous destruction, which actually came to pass.
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The parable is a comparison or similitude, a short, simple, usually fictitious story drawn from a moral or spiritual truth. The parable as a teaching tool is effective in at least five ways: (1) They capture and grip our attention. (2) They stimulate the thinking ability. (3) They stimulate feelings and reach the sense of right and wrong of the heart. (4) They assist in our ability to recall. (5) They are always applicable to human life in every generation. The primary reason the Bible writers use parable is to teach. However, they assist in other ways as well.

  • Understandinga parable will sometimes force the student unwilling to buy out the time, to abandon the pursuit of an answer. Their interest is mere surface and not a matter of the heart. – Mt 13:13-15
  • Parablescan give the hearer a warning and a reprimand, yet there is no room to retaliate against the speaker because the hearer is left to discern the application himself. “And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” – Mt 9:11-13.
  • The parable can be useful in giving correction to another, helping to sidestep prejudice. This was the case when the prophet Nathan had to counsel King David on his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. – 2Sa 12:1-14
  • Parableshave the ability to expose a person as to whether he or she is truly a servant of God. Jesus said, “He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54, ESV) By this, Jesus was able to remove those who were not there because of their love for him. (John 6:60-66)

The parables of the Bible contain more than one facet. At times, they may have a prophetic meaning. This may apply to the generation listening and others to the distant future, as the time of the end.

Barriers to Understanding Parables

These misconceptions can affect our ability to arrive at a correct understanding. The first is the error of viewing them as good stories that teach a moral lesson. For instance, many scholars simply view the parable of the Prodigal Son as a piece of fine literature. In addition, some scholars consider the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as an illustration of reward and punishment after death.

Further, even though the parables have been drawn from real life and the natural things around us, they are not real-life events. The misconception can come from the start of the parable itself: “Once upon a time,” “A man had,” “There was a man,” “A certain man was.” (Jg 9:8; Mt 21:28, 33; Lu 16:1, 19) Matthew and Mark had this to say about Jesus and parables, “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.” (Matthew 13:34; Mark 4:33, 34) The second barrier to understanding the parables is attempting to make every detail of the parable fit symbolically or worse still allegorically by an arbitrary application or interpretation.



A narrative is a story or an account of a sequence of events, generally in the order in which they happened. The narrative is the literary form found most often in God’s Word, with the Old Testament being 40 percent narrative and the New Testament 60 percent narrative. Biblical narrative involves such people as Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samson, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Paul, and hundreds of others, in such books as Genesis, Exodus, Joshua to Esther, Matthew to Acts, in addition to large portions of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Prophets. The following texts provide ample support that even the narrative Scriptures can offer us a principle, implication, or an extended meaning that we can learn from the Biblical accounts.

2 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 All Scripture [γραφή graphē] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

2 Peter 3:15-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures [γραφή graphē], to their own destruction.

Here you can see that the Apostle Peter is equating Paul’s letter as inspired of God, their being Scripture, just like the Old Testament.

Romans 15:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not be desirers of evil things, as they desired them. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

The above statements offer a sound hermeneutical reason for the Christian to use Old Testament Scripture, including the narrative. In Romans 15:4, that which was written was written “for our instruction,” while in Paul’s Corinthian letter, the information was written, “as a warning to us.” Thus, the Old Testament and the New Testament are written as 2 Timothy 3:16 brings out, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

The Interpretation of Biblical Narrative

The Bible student accepts that certain accounts throughout human history were selected by Jehovah God to be in His inspired Word. The reason for this selection was not simply to tell the history of humans. No, we are looking for an interpretation of those events. Interpretation is not just a matter of knowing and retelling a Biblical account; the Bible does that on its own. Unlike the law or the New Testament letters, deriving the meaning out of the narrative deals with what is not explicitly stated but that which is understood in what is expressed.

Contextual Analysis

A biblical narrative is a biblical account like the death of Nadab and Abihu found at Leviticus 10:1-10 or the fall of man in Genesis 3:1-6. Nevertheless, there are larger biblical narratives like the conquest of Canaan at Joshua 5:13–12:24. However, within that larger biblical narrative, there are many smaller biblical narratives, for instance, the circumcision of the new generation of Israelites that entered Canaan at Joshua 5:1-9, the first Passover in Canaan at Joshua 5:10-12, the first commander of Jehovah’s army at Joshua 5:13-15, the fall of Jericho at Joshua 6. Therefore, as we can see, we have one large biblical narrative that covers Joshua 5:13–12:24, in essence, 8 chapters, yet having many smaller biblical narratives within those 8 chapters. Thus, the reader needs to appreciate that the smaller biblical narrative they may be investigating for meaning is a part of a larger biblical narrative that needs to be considered. This is known as the “hermeneutical circle.” In other words, the reader is attempting to understand a small biblical narrative but does so in light of the larger biblical narrative, even the whole Bible book. As you understand the smaller narratives, you will better understand the larger narratives. In short, the best approach is using a reliable study tool, such as a Bible handbook or commentary.

Below in Mark 1:1-8, one will find that Mark has left some clues for understanding his narrative. The student could do extra research on the italicized portions of the text in relation to John the Baptist’s messenger. However, he will notice that the author, Mark has other ideas as to who is the focus of attention here, and he addresses this straightaway in verse 1, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” After that, the underlined portions show the emphasis of this narrative. Mark wants the reader of his book to know that Jesus is the long-awaited Christ, the Son of God. John only serves the function of getting us to the main point of who Jesus is. Like the parable above, John is like the extra in a movie. His only role is to move the narrative along. 

Mark 1:1-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, [the Son of God].[37]

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet;[38]

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,[39]

the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

John came, baptizing in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism[40] of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the territory of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and he was eating locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, saying, “the One stronger than I is coming after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untieI have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[41]

The fact that Jesus is the primary character is made clear in our other narratives throughout the book, the larger narratives. Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee (1:14–6:6), Jesus’ Galilean ministry expanded (6:7–9:50), Jesus’ ministry in Perea (10:1-52), Jesus in and around Jerusalem (11:1–15:47), and the events after Jesus’ death (16:1-8). The smaller biblical narratives further confirm this. Jesus the revolutionary (2:18-3:6), Jesus’ authority rejected (3:7-35), the mystery of Jesus (4:1-34), Jesus’ faith in God (4:35-41), and so on.

The author of a Bible book offers clues as to what he intends the reader to get out of his inspired message. One such way is how he opens and closes the books. The example below from the book of Deuteronomy ends with a summary of Exodus through to Deuteronomy. This conclusion closes the Pentateuch and opens a new chapter with the upcoming book of Joshua.

Deuteronomy 34:9-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as Jehovah had commanded Moses. 10 Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face, 11 for all the signs and wonders which Jehovah sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, 12 and for the mighty hand[42] and for all the great wonders which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Throughout the Bible, certain people are accepted as being trustworthy when they have something to say: Persons such as Jehovah, Jesus, a patriarch, an author of a book, prophets, the apostles, and such. The secondary characters need to be given preferential testimony that what they say can be trusted.

Joshua 1:2-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea[2] toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid, and do not be dismayed, for Jehovah your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua, the new leader of Israel, was commanded by Jehovah to draw his strength and courage from Jehovah Himself. Jehovah made clear that success was contingent on Joshua’s obedience to the Law of Moses. Therefore, it would be wise to meditate on that law to succeed in conquering the Promised Land.

We are not leaders of a nation, nor are we about to conquer a land of wicked people or to take over a land that has been promised to us. However, what pattern can we find in the text? Are we a leader in a congregation; are we the leader over our family? Are we looking to conquer Satan’s evil system of things and make it into a Promise Land after Armageddon?

If we are to succeed in our Joshua moment, we must draw courage by our personal relationship with Jehovah God. We must be obedient to His Word, the Bible, meditating on it continuously. Here are some patterns . . .

  • Spend more time meditating on God’s Word as we listen to recorded sermons.
  • If we are to conquer our ministry in a new way, then be strengthened by recognizing and acknowledging God’s presence in your life.
  • If we are taking the lead in the church, success depends on the strength drawn from the presence of God and meditating on His Word constantly.


An epistle is a letter written by the apostle Paul or James, Peter, John, or Jude and included as a book of the Bible. The New Testament is predominantly letters, with 21 out of the 27 books coming in the form of a letter. The Apostle Paul has 14 if Hebrews is to be counted as his. The other 8 are known as general epistles. Both James and Jude are brothers of Jesus and have one letter each. The Apostle Peter wrote 2 letters, with the Apostle John writing the last three around 98 C.E.

While it is true that the New Testament letters served as a substitute for the person, they were authoritative substitutes. Many times, the beginning of the letter, offer the authority by which it was written:

Galatians 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Paul, an apostle not from men nor by a man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead,

Ephesians 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God,

To the holy ones who are at Ephesus[43] and faithful in Christ Jesus:

2 Peter 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 Simon[44] Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have acquired a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and the Savior Jesus Christ:

Form of Ancient Letters

The letters of the New Testament can be divided into three sections: (1) the greeting or address (salutation), (2) the body, and (3) the conclusion (greeting, some final instructions, and a doxology). Within these sections, we will likely find the following, but not all letters contain all three.

(1) The address or greeting includes the identity of the writer and the recipients, the thanksgiving, and a prayer.

(2) The body of the letter includes a variety of elements that differ widely from letter to letter. The closest we can get to similarity is the author’s genuine concern of the recipient and the recipient’s need to apply the lessons therein.

(3) The conclusion includes a final blessing, a greeting (which can encompass a list of a few people to many), wishing them peace, and some final thoughts.

The letters of the New Testament were situational. In other words, they were written to convey important information related to circumstances that were going on with the recipient, be it a person or a congregation. For example, the letters to the Thessalonians were written to resolve issues. The letter to the Colossians addressed doctrinal problems. James was written to confront the congregation about their behavior.

From Writers to Recipients

While the Roman Empire had an efficient postal service, it was only available for government use. Those writing the New Testament letters used friends to carry the letters to their designated places. In the book of Acts and Paul’s letters, there are over 100 coworkers mentioned. A lot is known about several of them. Likely we are familiar with the activities of Apollos, Barnabas, and Silas. On the other hand, we would probably find it more difficult to say much about Archippus, Claudia, Damaris, Linus, Persis, Pudens, and Sopater.

The Interpretation of New Testament Letters

This is not for the Bible scholar; it is for the Bible student. In essence, we are all Bible students. We have families, work, congregational responsibilities, a ministry, and many other things tugging at our time. Therefore, we are not going to suppose that the reader of this book has 50 hours a week to spend on an in-depth study of any Bible book. Therefore, let us use this chapter to offer the faster approach.

We will need several items: (1) a good study, (2) at least three good Bible handbooks, (3) a Bible dictionary, (4) and one word dictionary, (5) a notepad and pen, (6) a book on Bible backgrounds, and (7) a book on Bible difficulties. These items should be in any Christian library anyway.



Laws are binding or enforceable rules: a rule of conduct or procedure recognized by a community as binding or enforceable by authority. A piece of legislation: an act passed by a legislature or similar body. Legal system: the body or system of rules recognized by a community enforceable by an established process. Control or authority: the control or authority resulting from the observance and enforcement of a community’s system of rules. Divine will: the principles set out in the Bible, especially the Pentateuch, said to be the divine will. Hebrew body of law: the code of law of the ancient Hebrews, beginning with the Ten Commandments, believed to have been set down by Moses and contained in the Pentateuch.

The Law of Moses or the Mosaic Law encompasses the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers Deuteronomy). At times, they are just referred to as the Law. However, in an extended sense, the whole of the Old Testament is known as the Mosaic Law. The Jews, though, consider the Law to be divided into three sections: (1) the Law of Moses, (3) the prophets, and (3) the Psalms.

Source of Law

Isaiah 33:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

22 For Jehovah is our judge; Jehovah is our lawgiver;
    Jehovah is our king; he will save us.

Those who love God feel safe and secure under his sovereignty. He gladly accepts the responsibility of protecting his servants, and we recognize him as the sovereign of the universe. Unlike imperfect human governments, God possesses a perfect balance of love for what is right and just. In the hands of the Son, the Kingdom of God is no burden to those that worship him. Instead, God ‘teaches us to profit even in this imperfect age, and he leads us in the way we should go.’ (Isa. 48:17) We draw great comfort from the words of the Psalmist, who said, “Jehovah loves justice, and does not forsake his holy ones; they are preserved forever: But the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.” – Psalm 37:28

Delegating Authority

Matthew 28:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.

“To delegate” means somebody who is chosen to represent or given the authority to act on behalf of another person, group, or organization. The Father has given the Son All authority in heaven and on earth. In turn, Jesus has delegated authority to husbands as “the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” (Eph. 5:23) Those taking the lead in the Christian congregation, e.g., the pastors or elders (overseers), we are told obey our leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” (Heb. 13:17) We could go on, as the wife is given authority over the children (Eph. 6:1), the imperfect governments are given authority over humanity at present, “for there is no authority except from God.” – Romans 13:1

The Purpose of the Law

Galatians 3:19-24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 19 Why, then, the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!  For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would indeed have been from the law. 22 But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them who believe.

23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor[45] to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

The purpose of the Mosaic Law was to highlight the need of a ransom sacrifice, as the law made their transgressions manifest. It served as protection (Eph. 2:14); it served as a barrier between Jew and Gentile until they could get to the real teacher, Jesus Christ.

What Laws Are Christians Obligated to Keep?

The Mosaic Law is made up of more than 600+ laws. Are Christians obligated to keep these laws? It might be best to look at whom the Mosaic Law was given to, as we already saw the purpose of the Law.

Deuteronomy 5:1-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the regulations and the judicial decisions that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. Jehovah our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our forefathers that Jehovah made this covenant, but with us, all of us alive here today.

Psalm 147:19-20 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 He declares his word to Jacob,
    his regulations and judgments to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
    they do not know his judgments.
Praise Jah!

Hebrews 10:1-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

10 For the law has but a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form[46] of the things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Christ Is the End of the Law

Jesus was the long-awaited Savior, as was clearly stated by the angel Gabriel at Jesus’ birth. (Luke 2:8-14) Therefore, when Jesus came and offered his life as a ransom sacrifice, the Law was removed. “We are no longer under a tutor,” Paul explained. (Gal. 3:25, NASB) This removal was a relief to the Israelites, who became Christians, because the Law had made their transgression manifest, as Paul said, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:10-14) Paul also said elsewhere, “Christ is the end of the law,” and “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom. 10:4; 6:14) Some say that the Law is divided into two parts: The Ten Commandments and the rest of the laws.

Was the Mosaic Law Separated into Two Different Parts?

When Jesus referred to the law, did he give the impression that there were two separate parts?

Matt. 5:17, 21, 23, 27, 31, and 38: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Take note of what Jesus said thereafter… “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder’ [Ex. 20:13; the Sixth Commandment]’ … if you are offering your gift at the altar [Deut. 16:16, 17; no part of the Ten Commandments] … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ [Ex. 20:14; the Seventh Commandment].’ It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ [Deut. 24:1; no part of the Ten Commandments]. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth [Ex. 21:23-25; no part of the Ten Commandments].’”

As you can see, when Jesus referred to the Law, he did not differentiate between what is known as the Ten Commandments and other parts of the Law. To him, the Laws encompassed all 613 laws, including the Ten Commandments.

Romans 7:6-7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

In Romans 7:6-7, Paul informs his readers that the Jewish Christians have been “released from the law.” Immediately after that, he cites an example of what they were released from, which is the 10th commandment, showing that the Ten Commands are included in what they were released from.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, which was being brought to an end, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be even more with glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, by much more will the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had been glorified has not been glorified in this case, on account of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, by much more that which remains is in glory.

Notice that Paul references what was “carved in letters on stone,” and it was said that “the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face” at the time it was delivered. Obviously, this is talking about Exodus 34:1, 28-30, which is dealing with the giving of the Ten Commandments. And it says here that these were “brought to an end.”

The Law for Christians

Jesus introduced a ‘new covenant, making the first one obsolete.’ Jesus himself said, ““This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” ‘What had become obsolete and grew old was ready to vanish away’ after Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Heb. 8:7-13; Lu 22:20; Matt 20:28) Paul says of the new covenant,

Hebrews 8:10-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.

Many of the laws under the new covenant were carried over from the Mosaic Law. This should not be a surprise, as they are of the moral code of the Creator, and were not in place for a particular purpose, like other aspects of the Mosaic Law, they will be binding for eternity. Thus, while the Mosaic Law covenant was nailed to the cross, Christianity adopted its fundamental laws and principles.

Read the Ten Commandments at Exodus 20:2-17, and then compare them with

  • “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Matthew 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:20-22)
  • “Guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 10:14)
  • “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be your name. [honored, not treated in a worthless way].” (Matthew 6:9)
  • “Children, obey your parents.” (Ephesians 6:1-2)
  • Do not murder, (Rev 21:8; 1 John 3:15)
  • Do not commit adultery, (Heb. 13:4; 1 Thess. 4:3-7)
  • No stealing, (Eph. 4:25, 28)
  • No lying and coveting (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Lu 12:15; Col. 3:5)

Even though Christians are not obligated to keep a weekly Sabbath, we can learn something from the Israelites having kept it. What? We need to give some of our time, specifically for serving God and setting aside the world’s pursuits. The difference for Christians is, this spiritual rest takes place all seven days of the week, in our meetings, in our prayers, in our family time, in our Christian functions, in our alone time, and in our evangelism. This is even more efficient than what the Israelites had to follow.

As Christians, we “fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) In the four Gospels, Jesus also gave many commands and instructions, and by obeying them, we are “fulfill the law of Christ.” One thing Jesus stressed more than all else was the need to love. (Matt. 22:36-40; John 13:34-35) Jesus said,

Mark 12:29-31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

29 Jesus answered, “The foremost [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[47] 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”[48]

Paul echoed this,

Galatians 5:13-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

He also wrote,

Romans 13:8-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves someone else has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,”[49] and if there is any other commandment, are summed up in this statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[50] 10 Love does not work evil to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

The Mosaic Laws were, with its 613 laws, a righteous law code. It served its purpose. However, even though we are not bound by that law, it should be studied meticulously because the principles behind those laws are God’s moral code. Therefore, these are precious to our knowing the mind and heart of God, i.e., how he feels, thinks, and believes about things, and they will serve us well in making our life decisions. Every verse of the Bible has meaning for us today; there is a lesson to be learned in some way.

1 John 5:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

Our love for God is shown by our obedience to him. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (John 15:10). Obedience will not always bring us joy and happiness, so a reflective assertion arises: his commandments are not burdensome. This is undoubtedly the opposite of what most Christians believe. Assuredly, God’s commands are not always the easiest path to follow. In fact, often, it is easier to disobey God than to obey him. His commands are not burdensome when the heart is right. What God asks of us are not unreasonable. The obligations that he demands are not exceeding our ability. He is not oppressive. And those who attempt to keep his commandments do not lament about how hard they are.

In conclusion, again, the meaning of every text is what the author meant, and it does not change over time. God personally chose the time, the place, the language, and the culture into which his Word was inspirationally penned. Who are we to disrespect that because we wish to appease the modern man or woman, who may be offended? Their offense is nothing more than self-centeredness, refusing to wrap their minds around the idea that the Creator of all things chose the setting, language, and time in which his Word was introduced to man. One of the last bastions of literal translation philosophy. The chief principle that supersedes all others is accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy! We must also realize that there are additional extensions to what they meant that they were not aware of at the time. When Paul says, “do not be getting drunk with wine” (Eph. 5:18), it would be another 1,400 years before whiskey would be distilled, yet Paul meant whiskey too. The command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14), would also include lust. (Matt 5:28) Some extensions or connections are also included in what the author meant, but the objective is not to go beyond the sense of what the author meant into what I feel, I think, I believe.



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[1] Greenlee, J. Harold. The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group.

[2] Robert L. Thomas; F. David Farnell, The Jesus Crisis” (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 1998).

[3] PHILO JUDAEUS: Early Jewish interpreter of Scripture known for use of allegory. Also known as Philo of Alexandria, he lived about the same time as Jesus (about 20 B.C. to A.D. 50). A member of a wealthy Jewish family in Alexandria, Egypt, He was well educated in Greek schools and used the Greek OT, the Septuagint, as his Bible. Philo’s writings, particularly his commentaries on the Scriptures, influenced the early church. A literal interpretation was all right for the average scholar, but for the enlightened ones such as himself, he advocated an allegorical interpretation.—James Taulman, “Philo Judaeus”, in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., 1293-94 (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[4] Philo of Alexandria and Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, 802 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).

[5] Philo of Alexandria and Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, 793 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995).

[6] We are faced then with the fact that we possess two separate and distinct methods of interpretation. One is defined by hermeneutical guidelines and is objective in nature. The other is subjective in nature but finds its authority not in the science that drives it, but in its source—inspiration from God. If you have inspiration, you do not need historical-grammatical hermeneutics. If you do not have inspiration, you must proceed by the acknowledged guidelines of hermeneutics.―Page(s): 6, Inspired Subjectivity and Hermeneutical Objectivity by John H. Walton Master’s Seminary Journal March 01, 2002.pdf

[7] NT authors never claim to have engaged in a hermeneutical process, nor do they claim that they can support their findings from the text; instead, they claim inspiration.―Page(s): 6, Inspired Subjectivity and Hermeneutical Objectivity by John H. Walton Master’s Seminary Journal March 01, 2002.pdf


[8] Kaiser Jr., Walter C.; Silva, Moises (2009-08-12). Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Kindle Locations 2100-2104). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[9] The NT typologists did not get their typological correspondence from their exegetical analysis of the context of the OT. Hermeneutics is incapable of extracting a typological meaning from the OT context because hermeneutics operates objectively while the typological identification can only be made subjectively.―Page(s): 6, Inspired Subjectivity and Hermeneutical Objectivity by John H. Walton Master’s Seminary Journal March 01, 2002.pdf


[10] Dogs were considered ceremonially unclean by the Jews.


[12] The Companion Bible: The Authorized Version of 1611 with the Structures and Critical, Explanatory, and Suggestive Notes and with 198 Appendixes. Kregel Publications. 1 August 1994. p. 25.



[15] Recreation: (παλιγγενεσία paliggenesia) (palin, “again,” plus genao, “to give birth”) This is a period in which the already existing world (earth) and soul (person) begins anew, starting over, being refashioned into God’s originally intended purpose. This is a renewal of the world during the second coming of Christ, after abyssing Satan and the demons, bringing in a new age that will restore the earth to its original purpose. – Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 3:21; 20:1-6.

[16] MT (יהוה קָנָנִי) “Jehovah created me” AT LXX (Κύριος ἔκτισέν με) SYR “The LORD created me” VG Dominus possedit me “The LORD created me”

[17] Milgrom, Numbers, 41.

[18] Louw, J. P.: Semantics of the New Testament Greek. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1982, pp. 23-31.

[19] Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 90.

[20] Feel regret over (nacham). The Hebrew verb (נִחוּם nichum) translated “be sorry,” “repent,” “regret,” “be comforted,” “comfort,” “reconsider” and “change one’s mind” denotes repentance or a change of mind or feel regret over, a change of attitude or intention. God is perfect and therefore does not make mistakes in his dealings with his creation. However, he can have a change of attitude or intention as regards how humans react to his warnings. God can go from the Creator of humans to that of a destroyer of them because of his unrepentant wickedness and failure to heed his warnings. On the other hand, if they repent and turn from their wicked ways, he can be compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love; and he will “reconsider” the calamity that he may have intended. (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; Joel 2:13) This is not really of God changing his mind per se but rather his altering circumstances once persons with free will brought those altered circumstances about, so God could carry out his will and purposes. Second, draw comfort in the fact that we can be certain that God will never change his standards of love and justice regardless of what created beings do with their free will. Nevertheless, just as any of us might change our mind about someone who has altered the way they treat us, God does change in the way that he deals with humans to changing circumstances, situations, and conditions. There are also times when God has changed his commands, his laws, his instructions according to the situation and needs of his people. We should not be astonished by this because God has foreknowledge, and he is well aware of situations that will come where he is going to have to change or alter circumstances.

[21] See the previous footnote.

[22] See fn 173.

[23] That is, the temple mount

[24] Cf. Lam 1:1, 4, 6, 18–19; 2:2, 6, 9–10, 20; 5:17–18, etc.

[25] That is, 9 a.m.

[26] A quotation from Joel 2:28-32


[28] Or the gospel


[30] Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was written by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen, and recorded by Cab Calloway in 1931.

[31] Figure of speech is different from literal in that it contains a nonliteral sense of a word or words (e.g., a cup of mud does not mean a cup of wet dirt, but a cup of coffee); it is similar in that the figurative meaning (a cup of coffee) is to be taken literally, and there is only one intended meaning.

[32] Figures of speech: nonliteral expression or use of language: an expression or use of language in a nonliteral sense in order to achieve a particular effect. Metaphors, similes, idioms and hyperbole are all common figures of speech. Idiom: fixed expression with nonliteral meaning: a fixed distinctive expression whose meaning cannot be deduced from the combined meanings of its actual words.

[33] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1031.

[34] Timothy M. Willis, Jeremiah/Lamentations, College Press NIV commentary. (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 2002), 253-55.

[35] Katharine Barnwell, Bible Translation: An Introductory Course in Translation Principles. (Dallas, TX.: SIL International. 1986), 19.

[36] Dr. Steins chapter on Hyperbole in his book A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible was very helpful.

[37] Son of God (υἱοῦ θεοῦ) is absent in א* Θ 28c al by either a human error in copying or an addition by the copyist adding to the title – B D W al (e.g., Rev. 1:1). Because of the strong witnesses and the fact that “Son of God” is a theme throughout Mark, it could have been original; thus, it is retained in brackets.

[38] Some manuscripts that carry no textual weight have in the prophets; however, the first part of Mark’s quote is actually from Malachi 3:1, the second portion from Isaiah 40:3, which makes it easy to see why some copyist would have altered “Isaiah the prophet.” Comfort suggests that Mark’s attributing all of it to Isaiah may have been because his Roman audience would likely be more familiar with Isaiah. Regardless, Mark does not acknowledge any Deutero-Isaiah.

[39] In fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, John the Baptizer appeared as the messenger who prepared the way for the Father by way of the Son who had been given all authority in heaven and on earth, to get the Jews ready for the coming of Jesus Christ.—Matt. 11:10-11; 28:18-20; Mark 1:1-4; Lu 7:27-28.

[40] John was known as “John the Baptist” or “the baptizer” (Matt. 3:1; Mark 1:4), which inform us that baptism (water immersion) came through John and that his ministry and baptism came from God, as opposed to originating with John himself.

[41] Prior to that time, no one had been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

[42] That is, mighty power

[43] Three early MSS (P46א B*) do not contain at Ephesus

[44] Two early MSS read Simeon

[45] Lit pedagogue; Gr paidagogos. The tutor in Bible times was not the teacher but rather a guardian who led the student to the teacher.

[46] Lit image

[47] Quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4–5, which reads, “Hear, O Israel! Jehovah our God is one Jehovah! You shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

[48] Quotation from Leviticus 19:18, which reads, You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am Jehovah.

[49] A quotation from Ex. 20:13-15, 17; Deut. 5:17-19, 21

[50] A quotation from Lev. 19:18


4 thoughts on “APPENDIX 5 How to Interpret the Bible

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  1. I am very interested in the new UASV Translation. I just have one comment. I prefer translations that capatilize ALL references to the diety. What was involved in the decision NOT to capitalize Diety references in the UASV?

    1. Choosing to capitalize personal pronouns in Scripture creates unnecessary difficulties at times. Note what the Pharisees say when speaking to Jesus (in the NASB), “We wish to see a sign from You.” Thus, the meaning here would be that the Pharisees regarded Jesus as deity when that is not the case. Some feel that it is honoring God to capitalize the personal pronouns. However, God has honor and authority purely because he is God. The Scriptures are filled with ways we are actually called to honor and worship God; we do not need to create others to show our reverence for God. We are not dishonoring God if personal pronouns referring to him are not capitalized. For those that choose to capitalize all personal pronouns referring to God, it is simply a matter of preference or style, not because the Scriptures obligate them to do so. Suppose we want to show respect, reverence, honor, and praise to God. In that case, it isn’t through capitalizing personal pronouns that refer to him, but rather by personal Bible study, obedience to the Word of God, our service, church attendance, and carrying out the great commission to make disciples. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) When we look at the ancient manuscripts, there is no effort made to differentiate the personal pronouns that refer to God. Sir Frederic Kenyon, in his book Textual Criticism of the New Testament, says, “Capital letters, which are occasionally used in business documents to mark the beginning of a clause, do not occur in literary papyri . . .” Some might not even be aware that the translators of the highly valued King James Version always capitalized personal pronouns referring to God. It is a bit ironic that those translations that capitalize the personal pronouns referring to God out of reverence and respect remove the Father’s personal name some 7,000 times in the Old Testament.

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