James Gunn

Having now examined several necessary elements in the study of The Holy Bible, we prepare ourselves for what is the main objective of Bible study, the interpretation of Holy Scripture, whether this be for our own profit and enjoyment or for the help of others through us.

Interpretation may be considered in two parts; first, the diligent inquiry into the true meaning of the Word of God, and secondly, the explaining to others the actual meaning that results from this inquiry.

That there are dangers into which students sometimes fall must surely be obvious and, for the safety of all, some of these might well be mentioned.

Application For Interpretation:

This danger is frequently, but not exclusively, met with among persons of a very practical mind. We do not state this in any critical manner, nor do we ignore the fact that genuine Christianity is extremely practical. The Holy Spirit reveals His own method of teaching through the particular structure of many of the epistles. He states doctrine first and then emphasizes duty. There is the possibility of emphasizing duty at the expense of doctrine, or to make a practical application of Scripture without first of all discovering its primary meaning. For example, sometimes the promises, precepts and predictions which belong to Israel in the Old Testament are directly applied to the Church. Thank God for the Church in both of its aspects, the universal and local, but if in our thinking we enrich the Church at the expense of Israel, we wrest the Scripture to our own confusion. What literally belongs to Israel must be considered in that connection and what belongs to the Church must be examined in that relationship. In this regard, we must study to shew ourselves approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, (2 Tim. 2:15).

A threefold effort is involved in the work of interpretation; we must interpret literally, according to the strict meaning of each word, phrase, clause and paragraph; we must interpret consistently, for the right interpretation of the Scripture is not merely the placing upon Scripture the meaning that may please the student but, rather, every interpretation must conform to the general teaching of the entire Bible, “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20). We must interpret doctrinally; the interpretation of any Scripture, whether in the Old Testament or in the New, must be in the light of the revealed doctrine of the New Testament.

Allegorizing instead of Interpreting: This has also been called spiritualizing. Students of an imaginative mind must ever be on their guard against this danger. There are those who believe that the great Augustine was the originator of such an illogical and destructive method of interpretation. By this system Scripture can be given any sense that is the product of a fertile mind. One or two examples may elucidate the point. A brother who had been delivered from Romanism, publicly read the words of Christ, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19). “Brethren,” he said, in his comments, “This is our task, to pull down the temple of Romanism and afterward the Lord Jesus will raise up His true temple, the Church.” What an assignment he gave to his audience! Another brother, after reading from Acts 28:3, stated that this gathering of the bundle of sticks by Paul was typical of the Lord gathering His people together in local church fellowship. How ridiculous! The sticks were gathered together alright, but to be burned. Thank God, such is not the final disposition of God’s beloved people. The attentive student of the Scripture will shun that which is fanciful.

Speculation Beyond Interpretation:

Here we have another unfortunate mistake into which some have unconsciously slipped. To spiritualize suggests a failing to acquire a strictly literal understanding of the text, but to speculate is to add to what has been clearly written, it is a going beyond actual interpretation. It is the danger of the dogmatic mind. During the early months of World War II an effort was made by some to encourage and comfort the saints but, alas, much that was said was based upon speculation. Some in their zeal assured God’s people that Italy would never join with Germany and fight against Britain because, they affirmed, Italy belonged to the Old Roman Empire, and Germany did not. In their judgment Italy and Britain finally must be one, and both alike separated from Germany. Well, whatever the final scenes may be as revealed in the prophetic Word, it is now patent that much of what was said was speculation, a reading into the Scriptures something that God had not intended.

The careful researcher must learn to approach his problem without partiality toward any particular system of thought and without prejudice against any method of investigation. In other words, he must engage in his work with a perfectly open mind, ever searching for ultimate values. Those who would search into the deep things of God, explore the hidden treasures of God’s Holy Word, do well to maintain a similar attitude.

It has been said that there is but one interpretation of Scripture but many applications of Scripture. In general this is true although in certain specific instances this may need to be modified. To this helpful rule we might add a few suggestions. Let us set up this standard before us: one interpretation, any Spirit-directed application, scanty allegorizing, and silenced speculation.