STUDYING AND INTERPRETING THE BIBLE
Jon Gary Williams
Since the Bible is God's message to man, it is necessary that it be understood. However, to properly understand the Biblical message it is essential to study and interpret the scriptures. But how is this done? Is man at liberty to apply to the word of God whatever system of study and interpretation he wishes?
In order to comprehend the sacred scriptures and derive from them the meaning God designed, it is necessary to approach them in the correct way. This study will help in the search for gaining an understanding of the eternal word of God.
The scriptures are to be handled properly.
2 Timothy 2:15 Why is this important?
They are the only source of religious authority. 2 Timothy 3:16,17
They can be misused. 2 Peter 3:15-17; 2 Corinthians 4:2
Warnings are given not to tamper with them. Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6; 2 John 9; Revelation 22:18,19
Things that hinder proper understanding.
Desiring to satisfy self or others.
Making the Bible the "property" of the "clergy."
Using the Bible to "prove" preconceived views.
Making the Bible a book of mystery.
Making the actual book (the paper and ink) something "holy."
Attempting to harmonize the Bible with pseudo-science.
Looking at the Bible only out of curiosity.
Foundation helps for proper understanding.
Believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God.
Desire and expect to understand.
Desire to apply its message.
Lead a spiritually pure life.
Pray for understanding.
A reliable translation and comparative translations.
A concordance, a Bible dictionary, commentaries, etc.
Use common sense - good reasoning.
Observe basic rules of grammar.
basic principles of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting languages).
1. The Nature Of The Bible
Though penned by men, the Bible is not an admixture of human and divine. Such a view is a denial of true inspiration.
The Bible claims to be inspired by God. 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:3 (cf. Matthew 24:35 - Its lastingness implies its divine origin.)
It does not contradict itself.
It was meant to be understood.
God wants man to understand it. Ephesians 3:1-5; 5:17
God's word is truth and man is to know the truth. John 17:17; 8:32
Searching and studying the scriptures is essential. Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 2:15
2. Unsound Methods Of Interpreting
Interpretation is limited to only a few people.
A person has to be "plugged into" God.
An enlargement of the mystical method.
Says that just about anyone can possess this power.
All the Bible is to be understood figuratively.
Makes the Bible vague.
All the Bible is to be understood literally.
Makes the Bible rigid.
Interpretation is restricted to the hierarchy (clergy).
Makes the Bible the property of the "church."
Demands a rejection of all Biblical miracles.
Used by liberal critics and modernists.
All statements made in the Bible are inspired.
Demands that every word in the Bible contains truth.
Dogmatic method.(My way is the ONLY way!)
Assuming a belief to be true, one then searches the Bible for support. (Deductive reasoning.) This is the most widely used method in modern denominations.
3. The Inductive Method - The Only Correct Method
Using this method one gathers specific information about a given topic and from this draws a general conclusion.
Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 11:26 From these passages we can conclude why we are to partake of the Lord's supper.
Acts 8:38,39; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12 From these passages we can conclude why we people are to be immersed in baptism.
Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:15 From these passages we can conclude that the church is described in different ways.
4. Essential Questions
Who is doing the speaking? (Is it an inspired person?)
Who is being spoken to or about? What were their customs? history? Problems?
For what time was it intended? Is it meant only for a limited time, or it is universal in application?
What type of writing is it?Is it narrative? prophetic? Instructive?
What kind of language is being used? Is it literal? figurative?
5. The Importance Of Making Proper Distinctions
Distinguish between the two covenants - old covenant and new covenant.
The Bible makes this distinction clear. John 1:17; Hebrews 1:1,2
The old covenant was removed. Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 8:7,13
The new covenant was established. Hebrews 10:9
We must know the covenant to which were are responsible. Gal.3:24-27; Rom.7:4
Distinguish between the three different dispensations - Patriarchal, Mosaical and Christian.
God has required of men different things in these different periods.
It is a serious mistake not to make this distinction
Was Moses to build an ark?
Was Noah to keep the passover feast?
Were Old Testament Jews to partake of the Lord's supper?
Are Christians to burn incense?
Distinguish between things permanent and things temporary.
Some things are permanent in nature.
Worshiping only the true God. Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10
Moral attributes. Exodus 20:13-17
The message of salvation. Matthew 28:18-20
Some things are temporary in nature.
The physical priesthood. Hebrews 7:12,23,24 (cf. 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6)
Use of animal blood. Hebrews 9:12
Miraculous gifts. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
Distinguish between custom and principle.
Some things are matters of custom.
Washing feet was a social custom. Jesus washed the disciples' feet to illustrate humility. John 13:4-17
Kissing was used as an expression of greeting, hence, "holy kiss." Romans 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:26
Some things are matters of principle.
Dressing modestly. 1 Peter 3:3,4
Respecting civil authority. Romans 13:1,2
Distinguish between things essential and things incidental (circumstantial).
Some things illustrate matters that are essential.
Baptism. Acts 8:38,39
Partaking of the Lord's supper. Acts 20:7
Some things illustrate matters that are incidental.
Where baptism is done. Mark 1:5; Acts 16:13-15
Where to partake of the Lord's supper. Acts 20:8,9
6. Respecting The Context
The interpretation of a text must harmonize with the context. "A text taken out of context, is a pretext."
It is important to consider what goes before and/or after the text under consideration.
Passages are sometimes misapplied because the contexts in which they are found are ignored.
Some have misused Colossians 2:21, "touch not, taste not, handle not," as a proof text against drinking, when the context shows it refers to false doctrines.
Some have misused the word "fire" in Matthew 3:11, applying it to the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:3), when the context shows it refers to punishment. (see vv.10, 12)
Some have misused Acts 16:31, "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved," to teach salvation by faith only, when the context shows that more than faith is involved in man's salvation. (see vv.33, 34)
Some have misused 1 Corinthians 15:29, "baptized for the dead," to teach that living people can be baptized for dead people, when the context shows that it was dead bodies under consideration. (see vv.35, 37, 38, 40, 42-44) Paul was showing how futile it was to be baptized, if the body that was baptized would never be raised from the dead. (see vv.30-32)
7. Let The Bible Explain Itself
The Bible is often its own best commentary.
Passages may be better understood by comparing them with other passages which deal with the same subject.
Mark 9:1, "kingdom of God come with power," is made clearer by comparing it with Acts 1:8.
Acts 2:21, "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," is made clearer by comparing it with Acts 22:16.
Matthew 26:26-28 addresses the institution of the Lord's supper, while Acts 20:7 tells the day on which this communion was observed.
Passages may be complimented by the added information of parallel passages.
Matthew 4:1 states that Satan left Jesus after tempting him, while Luke 4:13 states that this was only "for a season."
Matthew 24:15 speaks of the "abomination of desolation," while Luke 21:20 identifies this with the "armies" which would compass Jerusalem.
Matthew 27:5 speaks of Judas hanging himself, while Acts 1:18 tells more detail about this gruesome scene.
Never force a meaning on a passage which makes it contradict plain passages on the same subject.
Some have made I Corinthians 7:15 mean that people can remarry if deserted by their husband or wife. However, this contradicts what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 - that a person can remarry only if their mate has been guilty of fornication.
Some have used Revelation 20:1-4 to mean that when Jesus returns he will reign on earth. However, this contradicts I Thessalonians 4:16,17 which explains that Jesus will come no closer than the clouds.
Some have used Romans 8:1 to teach that once people are saved they can never be lost. However, this contradicts plain passages which show that saved people can be lost. (see John 15:1,6; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:4; Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 5:8; Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:12; 4:1; 10:29; James 5:12,19,20; 2 Peter 1:10; 2:1,2,15,20,21; 3:17; Revelation 3:16)
8. The Language Of Scripture
The Bible was not written in some special "heavenly language" or "God talk." There is no special, Divine language God has reserved for communicating with man.
The language of scripture is the language of man. God chose human language as the medium through which to record his will for man. This is logical since human language is the natural means of man's communication.
The language of the Bible is no different than that found in other literature, except that its message was recorded by inspiration. 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1:20,21
Since the language of the Bible is no different than the language of other literature, it should be studied as any other book. The only difference is that the Bible is due much greater respect.
Human language is made up of words and sentences. Words and sentences are vehicles on which thoughts travel.
The way one understands these vehicles will determine the thoughts received. An incorrect understanding will produce an incorrect thought.
It is essential to bring out the true meaning and use of the words and sentences of the Bible.
Interpretation, not interpolation.
Exegesis, not eisegesis.
9. Different Types Of Writing
The literature of the Bible is made up of different types of writing.
Narrative (history) - characterized by plain language relating the facts at hand.
Instructive (teaching) - characterized by language imparting command or admonition.
Prophetic (predictive) - characterized by language foretelling future events.
Poetic – highly figurative, descriptive, with some license to embellish
10. The Expression Of Scripture
The Bible expresses itself in two ways.
Literally - the exact, ordinary, primary use of a word or statement.
Figuratively - the representation or symbolic use of a word or statement.
Failure to observe the difference between literal and figurative language makes it impossible to properly understand the scriptures and leads to confusion.
Literal language should not be made figurative. (To support their theory, theistic evolutionists interpret the literal days of Genesis one as figurative days.)
Figurative language should not be made literal. (To support their doctrine, premillennialists interpret the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 as a literal 1000 years.)
Identifying literal language.
Note: In the scriptures literal language is the rule, not the exception. (Except in those books that are prophetic in nature.)
Passages should be understood literally unless their is something in the context that suggests or requires a figurative meaning.
Identifying figurative language.
Note: In the scriptures figurative language is the exception, not the rule. (Except in those books that are prophetic in nature.)
Passages are to be understood figuratively, if:
They are said to be figurative. Matthew 13:18 - "parable"; Galatians 4:24 - "allegory"; 2 Peter 2:22 - "proverb" John 2:18-22 - by "temple" Jesus was referring to his body.
A literal interpretation involves an impossibility. Matt.8:22 - the "dead" burying the "dead" involves an impossibility; Matthew 26:26-28 - the emblems being the actual "body" and "blood" of Christ involves an impossibility.
A literal interpretation contradicts plain passages on the same topic. John 1:29 - to interpret "lamb" literally contradicts passages identifying Christ as a person.
They are statements made in "mockery." I Kings 18:27 - Elijah speaking to the prophets of the pagan god, Baal.
A literal interpretation demands actions that are wrong. Matthew 18:8,9 - it is not right to literally cut off one's limbs and pluck out one's eyes.
The purpose of figurative language.
Figurative language is used for the purpose of emphasizing a thought. Luke 13:32 - Jesus, speaking of Herod, said, "Go tell that fox."
It is also used to enhance and clarify. Matthew 13:31 - Jesus described the kingdom as "a grain of mustard seed."
Figurative language should not be pressed beyond proper limits. For example, it would be improper to make all the details of parables mean things they were not intended to mean.
In Luke 10:34, in the parable of the good Samaritan, the "oil and wine" have no special meaning.
In Luke 15:5, in the parable of the lost sheep, the man's "shoulders" have no special meaning.
Guidelines for understanding figurative language.
Sometimes figurative language is explained in the context itself.
John explained the meaning of the figurative language used by the Lord regarding destroying and rebuilding the temple. John 2:19-21
After relating the parable of the sower, Jesus then explained its meaning. Matthew 13:3-9; 13:18-23
After Jesus spoke of the "rivers of living water" the context explains he was speaking of the Holy Spirit. John 7:37-39
Sometimes figures of speech are explained by comparing them with literal passages on the same subject.
In Mark 10:38,39 Jesus mentions the word "cup." In Matthew 26:38,39 this is shown to refer to suffering.
The "fruit" bearing spoken of by Jesus in John 15:1-8 is clearly described in many other passages. Romans 1:13; 6:22; Galatians 5:22,23; Colossians 1:10; James 3:18
Sometimes various moral attributes are suggested by the figures.
In Acts 8:32 Jesus is compared to a "sheep" and a "lamb" denoting his quality of meekness.
In Matthew 23:27 Jesus spoke of the scribes and Pharisees as "whited sepulchres" denoting their hypocrisy.
Some figures of speech are explained by inspired interpretations.
In Psalms 41:9 David spoke of one who would "lifted up his heel." In John 13:18 Jesus interpreted this and applied it to the betrayal by Judas.
In Joel 2:28 the prophet said that the Spirit would be "poured out." In Acts 2:16ff Peter interpreted this and applied it to the coming of the Holy Spirit in miraculous measure, beginning with the apostles' baptism in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Words used in a figurative manner sometimes have different meanings.
In Matthew 16:6 the word "leaven" refers to the spread of evil doctrines of the Pharisees. However, in Matthew 13:33 it is used of the spread of the kingdom of heaven.
In John 10:27 the word "sheep" refers to followers of Christ who attend to his voice. However, in Isaiah 53:6 it refers to the wayward condition of lost man.
In Romans 13:4 the word "sword" refers to the punishment of evildoers. However, in Ephesians 6:17 it refers to the word of God.
11. Figurative Language (Figures Of Speech)
There are over twenty different figures of speech found in the Bible. Some of them are expressly named, such as parable and proverb; on the other hand many are not named, such as metaphor and simile.
The parable is one of the best known figures of speech in the Bible. It is found several times in the Old Testament and was used by Jesus as his greatest teaching tool.
A parable is a comparison - from the Greek words PARA (meaning "beside") and BALLEIN (meaning "to throw"), hence, to throw or put beside. It is a story in which something real in life is used as a means of presenting a truth or moral thought.
In parables the actors are always humans and they do nothing which could not actually be done. The events of all parables either did happen (they are historical) or could happen. They never involve impossibilities.
Purposes of parables.
To reveal a moral lesson or truth. Matthew 13:34,35
The parable of the hidden treasure tells the value of the gospel. Matthew 13:44
The parable of the goodly pearl illustrates the value of salvation. Matthew 13:45,46
The parable of the unmerciful servant teaches the great lesson of forgiveness. Matthew 18:23-35
The parable of the good Samaritan represents active benevolence. Luke 10:30-35
To conceal and preserve truth. Jesus sometimes used parables to keep the truth from those who would abuse it. Matthew 13:13
To expose the errors of wrong doers. Sometimes people were drawn into agreeing with the truth of a parable before realizing it applied to them. 2 Samuel 12:1-7 Matthew 21:33-45
A fable is a tale designed to illustrate a particular point. Though similar in nature to the parable, the two should not be confused. While the parable either did happen or could happen, the fable employs fiction.
The actors in fables are non-human and are incapable of doing the things attributed to them. The fable gives human qualities to animals and plants.
There are only a few fables recorded in the scriptures.
II Kings 14:8-10
The simile is a comparison made in a brief statement wherein an aspect of one thing is used to represent an aspect of something else. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed.” Matthew 13:31 Here the kingdom of heaven is shown to be, in one respect (rapid growth), like a mustard seed. (cf. v.32)
The simile can be easily spotted because of its "sign" of comparison: "as, like, like as, like unto."
The simile is often found within larger figures of speech. (See again the parable of Matthew 13:31)
The Bible contains a great many similies.
1 Thessalonians 5:2
2 Peter 3:8,10
The similitude is sometimes a series of similes found in the same context or sometimes a prolonged, extended simile.
The Bible contains several examples.
2 Timothy 2:3,4
The word metaphor comes from a word meaning to "carry beyond." The metaphor is a word or phrase that is carried beyond its usual setting.
The metaphor is like the simile, but without the sign of comparison. For example, "he is like a rat" is a simile, while "he is a rat" is a metaphor. Note: The simile states "he is like" a rat, but the metaphor more forcefully states "he is" a rat.
Old Testament examples of metaphors.
Genesis 49:9 "Judah is a lion's whelp"
Genesis 49:17 "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path"
Ezekiel 36:26 "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh"
New Testament examples of metaphors.
Matthew 5:13 "Ye are the salt of the earth"
Luke 13:32 "Go tell that fox"
John 1:29 "Behold, the lamb of God"
John 8:12 "I am the light of the world"
John 10:7 "I am the door of the sheep"
Matthew 26:26-28 "this is my body...this is my blood"
Galatians 4:19 "My little children, of whom I travail in birth"
The proverb is most often thought of as a "wise saying." It is a statement containing a valuable truth or lesson. It has sometimes been called "a truth couched obscurely." Some proverbs are more obscure than others.
The proverb makes comparisons or contrasts between things.
While most proverbs are short (usually one or two lines) they can be found much longer. Proverbs of greater length the Jews referred to as "odes." (cf. Proverbs 31:10-31, the "virtuous woman")
Old Testament examples of proverbs.
1 Kings 20:11
New Testament examples of proverbs.
2 Peter 2:22
Irony is a type of ridicule which exposes the errors of others by seeming to approve or defend them.
A modern example of irony might be: A man watches as his wife, who is learning how to drive, backs their car over the garbage cans. She asks: "Am I doing it right, Herman?" He responds: "Couldn't have done it better myself!"
Old Testament examples.
Judges 10:14 "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen, let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation."
Job 12:2 "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you."
1 Kings 18:27
New Testament examples.
Acts 2:13 "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine."
1 Corinthians 4:6-16
Sarcasm is similar to irony, but is stronger. While irony is ridicule, sarcasm adds a degree of contempt.
Sarcasm comes from a word meaning to "tear flesh." It is a cutting, but with words. It is defined by Webster as: "A keen, reproachful expression; a satirical remark uttered with some degree of scorn or contempt; a taunt, a gibe; a cutting jest."
Hyperbole comes from a Greek word meaning to "throw beyond." It is defined: "An exaggeration of the facts in order to give emphasis; an expression which represents something as much greater or lesser than it actually is."
The hyperbole is not intended to mislead, but rather to call attention to something by intentional exaggeration.
Old Testament examples.
New Testament examples.
This is a figure of speech which employs a rhetorical question. A question is asked, not to receive an answer, but to make a point.
Old Testament Examples.
Job 38:3-7, 16, 18, 22
New Testament examples.
1 Corinthians 1:13, 20
1 Corinthians 9:1, 5
1 Corinthians 12:29,30
Apostrophe comes from two Greek words meaning to "turn from." It is defined: "A turning away from the real thing and speaking to something imaginary." It is a statement made to something that cannot hear.
Old testament examples.
2 Samuel 18:33
New Testament examples.
1 Corinthians 15:55
Prolepsis is a figure of speech in which things are spoken of as existing before they actually do. It is described as "an intentional error in chronology."
A few modern examples: "President Lincoln, at age eighteen, was very interested in politics." Obviously, Lincoln was not president at age eighteen, but he is intentionally referred to in this way. "In 1000 A.D. Indians inhabited America." America was not known by this name in 1000 A.D., but we intentionally speak of it in this way.
Genesis 12:8 states that Abraham came to the city of "Bethel." Yet, we read that this city was not named "Bethel" until later. Genesis 28:19 However, it was many years later when Moses wrote the book of Genesis by which time it was called "Bethel."
"And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living." Genesis 3:20 At that time she was not the mother of anyone, but, by the time Moses wrote Genesis she was, indeed, the "mother" of the human race.
Mary, a sister of Lazarus, anointed the feet of Jesus. John 12:3 However, in John 11:2 this is spoken of as having already occurred. This is explained when we understand that John wrote his gospel many years after the fact.
In Matthew 10:4 Judas is said to have betrayed the Lord. However, this did not take place until later. Matthew 26:48,49 It must be remembered that when Matthew wrote his gospel the betrayal was past history.
The allegory is a figure of speech in which the main subject is described by another (secondary) subject which resembles it in some ways. The main subject is kept out of view, however, the reader recognizes it by the resemblances. In some instances allegories are interpreted by the writer.
Eccl.12:2-6 In this allegory Solomon exhorts young men to seek after God before the time of old age.
Matthew 9:16,17 When Jesus was asked why his disciples did not keep the Jewish customs (implying they were disorderly) he used an allegory to explain that it was not appropriate to demand an unnatural, man-made practice.
Romans 11:17-21 Here an allegory is used to describe the Jew's departure from God and the Gentile's acceptance of God.
Ephesians 6:13-17 Here Paul uses pieces of armor worn by Roman soldier to describe the spiritual armor of the Christian.
Galatians 4:21--5:1 This allegory illustrates the superior nature of the New Covenant over the inferior nature of the Old Covenant.
Personification is a figure of speech in which something abstract or inanimate is attributed with life and will.
Ps.114:3,4 The sea, mountains and hills are attributed with life.
Prov.8:1--9:6 Wisdom and understanding are given human qualities.
Isa.55:12 Hills and trees are said to sing.
Jer.46:9,10 Chariots are said to rage and the sword is said to devour.
Hab.3:10 Mountains and the deep (sea) are said to have human attributes.
Matt.6:34 Here, thought is ascribed to an inanimate day.
Jam.1:26 Here it is implied that the tongue has independent power.
Parallelism is a figure of speech in which different words or phrases in some way correspond and compliment each other, helping to emphasize a thought. Sometimes they are almost identical (synonymous) and sometimes they are contrasting (antithetic.)
Gen.4:23 "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, harken unto my speech"
Gen.31:36 "What is my trespass, what is my sin"
Prov.1:8 "My son, hear the instructions of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother"
Prov.3:13 "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding"
Isa.2:3 "let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob ...out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem"
Isa.59:2 "your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you"
Lk.1:46,47 "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in my God"
Eph.1:3 "blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"
II Pet.1:11 "The everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ"
Isa.1:3 "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider"
Isa.1:18 "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool"
Prov.11:1 "A false balance is abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight"
Prov.11:12 "He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor, but a man of understanding holdeth his peace"
Prov.15:1 "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.
Metonymy is one of the most widely used figures of speech in the Bible. It is the use of one word in place of another - one word used while another is intended. Modern-day examples might be: "She keeps a good table" means she serves good food. "She has a warm heart" means she has kind affection. "He likes Shakespeare" means he likes the writings of Shakespeare.
Metonymy of cause. In this figure the cause is stated when the effect is intended.
Parents are put for their children. Gen.9:27
Authors are put for their writings. Lk.24:27
Instruments are put for their effects. Ps.5:1 Matt.18:16
Metonymy of effect. In this figure the effect is stated when the cause is intended.
Bread is put for seed Eccl.11:1
Life and good and death and evil are put for the ways that lead to these two results. Deut.30:15
Metonymy of adjunct. In this figure one thing is mentioned while something else associated with it is meant.
The container is put for the thing contained. Gen.6:11 Ps.105:38 Lk.22:20
The thing contained is put for the container. Matt.2:11 Matt.25:10
The possessor is put for the thing possessed. Matt.25:35 Acts 9:4
Sin is put for the sin-offering (or sacrifice). II Cor.5:21 Heb.9:28
Time is put for things which happen. I Chron.12:32 Jn.12:27
An aspect of the natural world is put for a subject. Rom.3:30 Eph.5:8
A part of the body is put for another part. Lk.2:19 Acts 8:22
A sign is put for the thing signified. Gen.49:10 Ps.46:9
The word "name" is mentioned when the person is intended. Ps.105:1 Prov.18:10 Rev.3:4
This figure of speech is widely used in the Bible. A proper understanding of it helps in arriving at the correct meaning of many passages. Synecdoche is described as: "A figure in which a portion of the total is used to represent the total, or the total is used to represent a portion of the total."
The whole is put for a part of the whole.
Lk.2:1 "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."
Acts 24:5 "For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world..."
A part of the whole is put for the whole.
Acts 17:30 "And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent."
Man is a three-fold being, "spirit, soul and body." I Thess.5:23 These are parts of the total person. However, one of them may be used to represent the total person.
Gen.46:27 "...all the souls of the house of Jacob..."
I Pet.3:19 "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison."
I Pet.3:20 "...wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water."
God's plan of salvation for the sinner is made up of faith, repentance, confession and baptism. Together they make up the whole. However, on occasion only one of these is used when the whole plan is intended.
Acts 16:31 "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved..."
Acts 11:18 "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."
I Jn.4:2 "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God."
Acts 22:16 "And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins..."
Time (the whole of time) is put for a part of time.
Gen.13:15 "For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever."
Gen.17:13 "...and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."
Lev.25:46 "...they shall be your bondmen for ever..."
I Kings 8:13 "I have surely built thee a house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever."
The plural is put for the singular.
Gen.8:4 "And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat."
Gen.21:7 "And she said, who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck?"
The singular is put for the plural.
Ex.20:8 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Isa.1:3 "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib..."
A definite number is put for an indefinite number.
I Sam.1:8 "...am I not better than ten sons?"
I Cor.14:19 "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding...than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
Rev.20:2 "And he laid hold on...Satan, and bound him a thousand years."
A general term is put for a specific term.
Mk.16:15 "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
Acts 2:17 "...I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh..."
Rom.3:20 "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified..."
A specific term is put for a general term.
Matt.6:11 "Give us this day our daily bread."
Acts 2:46 "...and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”
11. Figurative Language (Figures Of Thought)
In addition to numerous figures of speech, the scriptures covey ideas to us by figures of thought. The difference is that while figures of speech concentrate on specific words or phrases, figures of thought are more generic in scope, dealing with broad ideas. They are found in three categories - types & anti-types, symbols and antitheses.
Types & Anti-types
The word "type" comes from a Greek term meaning to strike, as the type of a typewriter strikes the paper. This is a figure in which a mark or impression of one thing is left on another. It represents a likeness of something or someone to come. It involves real people, places, things or events. The type is always inferior to that which it represents - the anti-type. There are at least five groups of this figure.
People as types
Adam, a type of Christ. I Cor.15:21,22, 45-47 Rom.5:17-19
Melchisedec, a type of Christ. Heb.5:6-10; 7:14-17, 21
Moses, a type of Christ. Acts 3:22,23
Elijah, a type of John the Baptist. Mal.4:4,5 Matt.17:10-13 Lk.1:17
Things as types
The brass serpent, a type of Christ. Jn.3:14
The spotless lamb, a type of Christ. Jn.1:29 I Pet.1:19
The tabernacle, a type of the Christian system. Heb.9:1-12, 23,24
Events as types
The destruction of the world by water, a type of the final destruction of the world. II Pet.3:5-7, 10-12
Noah's physical salvation, a type of our spiritual salvation. I Pet.3:20,21
Jonah's three days in the great fish, a type of Christ's three days in the tomb. Matt.12:40
Israel crossing the Red Sea, a type of New Testament baptism. I Cor.10:1-11 (see Acts 7:38 - "church in the wilderness")
The nation of Israel coming out of Egypt, a type of Christ as a young child coming back from Egypt. Matt.2:15
Offices as types
The high priest, a type of Christ. Heb.4:14,15
The regular priest, a type of all Christians. I Pet.2:9 Rev.1:6
Institutions as types
The sabbath, a type of the Christian's ultimate rest. Heb.4:8,9
The law written on stone, a negative type of the law written on the heart. II Cor.3:3 (see Heb.8:10)
A symbol is a sign or emblem which represents something. For example, the lion is the symbol of courage and the lamb is symbolic of meekness. While in the type there is a likeness drawn between the type and anti-type, in the symbol there is no likeness with that which it represents. Likewise, while the type represents something to come, the symbol may represent either something to come or something present. There are several categories of symbols.
Physical symbols (miraculous)
The burning bush. Ex.3:2-6
The pillar of cloud and fire. Ex.13:21,22
Physical symbols (non-miraculous)
The rainbow. Gen.9:13-15
Bread and fruit of the vine. Matt.26:26-28 I Cor.11:23-26
People and places as symbols
Jezebel. I Kings 16ff Rev.2:20
The dreams of Joseph. Gen.37:5-11
The dreams of the butler and baker. Gen.40:5-19
The dream of Pharaoh. Gen.41:1-7
The dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Dan.2:31-35
Peter's vision. Acts 10:11-16
Apocalyptic symbols - beasts, angels, dragon, harlot, bow, colors, serpent, rod, stars, smoke, sun, moon, lamb, lion, locusts, trumpets, et. al.
Antithesis is from two Greek words meaning "to set against." It is the contrasting of two ideas by means of a parallel arrangement of words. In the antithesis there is a comparison of opposing thoughts in the same context. The lesson of the antithesis is always obvious. Modern examples are : "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." "An old young man will be a young old man." "He that lieth down with dogs will rise up with fleas." Many of the Biblical proverbs are antithetical in nature. Following are several New testament examples.
Matt.5:21,22 "Ye have heard that it hath be said by them of old times...but I say unto you" (see vv. 27,28; 31,32; 33-35; 38,39; 43,44.)
Matt.25:46 "these shall go away into everlasting punishment...the righteous into life eternal"
Matt.26:41 "the spirit indeed is willing...the flesh is weak"
John 1:17 "the law came by Moses...grace and truth came by Jesus Christ"
Rom.2:7-10 "eternal life...indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish" "doeth evil...worketh good"
Rom.6:17,18 "servants of sin...servants of righteousness"
I Cor.15:42-44 "corruption...incorruption" "dishonour...glory" "weakness...power" "natural body...spiritual body"
II Cor.3:5-11 "letter...spirit" "ministration of death...ministration of the Spirit" "ministration of condemnation...ministration of righteousness" "done away...remaineth"
Gal.2:19,20 "I am dead to the law...I might live unto God" "I am crucified with Christ...I live"
Phil.1:23,24 "having a desire to depart and be with Christ...abide in the flesh is far better"
Phil.3:13 "forgetting those things which are behind...reaching forth unto those things which are before"
Col.3:2 "set your affections on things above...not on things on the earth"
I Thess.5:3 "they shall say, Peace and safety...then sudden destruction cometh upon them"
Heb.1:1,2 "time past...these last days" "our fathers...us" "prophets...his Son"
Jam.4:4 "friendship with world...enmity with God" "a friend of the world...the enemy with God"
Rev.3:17 "rich and increased with goods...wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked"
The word prophecy comes from two Greek words which mean "to speak before." Prophecy is language which applies to events yet to come. Biblical prophecy was spoken (or written) by inspiration. II Pet.1:21 II Tim.3:16,17 (cf. I Tim.4:1)
The role and importance of Biblical prophecy.
Fulfilled prophecy helps in understanding the unfolding of history. The prophecy related in Daniel chapter two and its later fulfillment is an example.
Fulfilled prophecy helps in understanding the fulfilling of the providential plan of God. One of the best known examples is the fulfilling of the prophecy (promise) given to Abraham. Gen.12:1-4 Gal.3:8
Fulfilled prophecy helps to confirm the credibility and inspiration of the scriptures. The Bible contains many of fulfilled prophecies pertaining to known history and science.
The nature of prophecy.
Often prophecies were not understood by the prophets, illustrating the fact that they were obscure and pertained to things in the distant future. This prevented any deliberate attempt of false, human fulfillment. I Pet.1:10-12
Sometimes they were understood by the prophets who delivered them. Dan.9:1,2
Prophecy was guarded by God. He gave stern warning regarding false prophets and false prophecies. Deut.13:1-5; 18:20-22 Jer.14:14,15 Ezek.13:1-7
Principles which help in studying biblical prophecy.
The fulfillment of prophecy is often stated to be a fulfillment. Matt.1:22; 2:5,17; 3:3; 4:14
While most prophecies were fulfilled long-term, some were fulfilled short-term. Acts 11:27,28
Some prophecies have a short-term as well as long term fulfillment. Isa.22:20-22 & Rev.3:7
Some prophecies have a primary as well as a secondary meaning. Ps.8:3-6 & Heb.2:6-9
Biblical prophecies often contain figurative language - primarily symbols, parables, allegories and metaphors. (In such cases the basic rules of interpreting figurative language should be observed.)
Most long-term prophecies of the Old Testament pertain to the first coming of Christ and his kingdom. Deut.18:15,18,19 & Acts 3:22 Dan.7:14 & Heb.12:28
Note: With the exception of those prophecies which may allude to the end of time (e.g. Dan.12:2,3) all Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.
Most New Testament prophecies pertain to the second coming of Christ and to things associated with it. I Cor.15:51,52 I Thess.4:15-17 II Pet.3:10-12
The only sure interpretation of a prophecy is an inspired interpretation. cf. Acts 2:16 (Note: Since there were no inspired men after the writing of Revelation, for this reason extreme care should be taken when interpreting this book.)
13. Deriving Biblical Authority
Through the pages of the Bible God reveals how man is to serve him. The Old Testament was penned by Moses and the prophets as they were guided by the Holy Spirit. Matt.22:40; II Pet.1:20,21 Likewise, the New Testament was penned by men who were guided by the Holy Spirit. Jn.14:26; 16:13 This is God's authoritative word and is not to be tampered with in any way. It is not to be added to or taken from. Deut. 4:2; Prov.30:6; Rev.22:18,19
While the Old Testament was the authority for the Mosaical system, the New Testament is the authority for the Christian system. It supplies the Christian with everything necessary to faithfully serve Christ. II Tim.3:16,17 (cf. II Pet.1:3; Jude 3) The New Testament is heaven's final will to man and is not to be transgressed. II Jn.9 How man is to serve God has been revealed in three different ways - commands, examples and inferences. These are the only ways authority for doing things can be derived from the scriptures.
Authority for doing things is sometimes determined is by direct commands. Understanding the nature of commands helps to grasp how they convey authority.
Different ways to view commands.
Moral and religious commands.
Moral commands have to do with man's relationship with his fellow man. For example, stealing and bearing false witness are regulated by moral commands. Ex.20:15,16 How a husband treats his wife is, likewise, regulated by a moral command. Eph.5:25
Religious commands have to do with man's relationship with God. Worshipping God is a religious command. Matt.4:10 Not forsaking the assembly is a religious command. Heb.10:25
Positive and negative commands.
Positive commands enjoin responsibilities. The Lord's supper is commanded. I Cor.11:24,25 Prayer is commanded. I Thess.5:17
Negative commands prohibit wrong-doing. Lying is prohibited. Col.3:9 Speaking evil of others is forbidden. Jam.4:11
Universal and limited commands.
Universal commands are for all people. Killing is wrong for anyone. Ex.20:13 Loving the world is wrong for anyone. I Jn.2:15 Abstaining from fleshly lusts is enjoined on all people. I Pet.2:11
Limited commands are given to particular people. The apostles were told to wait in Jerusalem. Lk.24:49 Timothy was told to bring certain items. II Tim.4:13 Christians in Rome were told to greet some brethren. Rom.16:3
Temporary and permanent commands.
Temporary commands have duration. Some commands cannot be observed today. Examples are: The command to keep the sabbath. Ex.20:8 Failing to observe restrictions on speaking in tongues. I Cor.14:27,28
Permanent commands remain binding. Repentance and baptism are permanent commands. Acts 2:38 Partaking of the communion is an unchanging command. I Cor.11:26 The command for women not to usurp authority is permanent. I Tim.2:12
Generic and specific commands.
A generic command places on man a general obligation which may or may not contain the exact way it is to be fulfilled. The apostles were told to "go," but they were not told how to go. Mk.16:15 Christians are to partake of the Lord's supper on the first day of the week, but the time and method are not specified.
A specific command declares the way a generic command is to be carried out. While the apostles were told to "preach" they were also told what to preach - the "gospel." Mk.16:15 Partaking of the Lord's supper is commanded and the elements to be used are specified. Matt.26:26-28
It is this category of Biblical commands (generic and specific) to which special attention should be given.
Generic commands which contain required specifics.
Ark (generic) - "gopher wood" (required specific)
Baptism (generic) - "water" (required specific)
Preach (generic) - "gospel" (required specific)
Worship/praise (generic) - "sing" (required specific)
Lord's supper (generic) - "bread and fruit of the vine" (required specifics)
Law of exclusion. A required specific is exclusive. That is, it excludes all other specific ways of doing a thing that hold the same relation to the generic command.
Ark - What type wood? "gopher" - excludes pine and oak
Baptism - What element? "water" - excludes oil and wine
Preach - What message? "gospel" - excludes man-made doctrines
Worship/praise - How? "sing" - excludes mechanical instruments
Lord's supper - What type food? "bread and fruit of the vine" - excludes steak and beans
Law of expediency. In some instances a general command may not specify how a certain thing is to be done. Such cases fall in the realm of opinion and could be carried out in any way that is expedient.
Ark - What tools? hammer, saw - optional specifics
Baptism - The place? baptistery, lake - optional specifics
Preach - What means? chalk board, radio - optional specifics
Worship/praise - What method? song books, parts - optional specifics
Lord's supper - What containers? cups, plates - optional specifics
Authority for doing things is sometimes found in examples.
An example is defined as: "An action or attitude which represents Christian conduct in doctrine or practice."
Examples are patterns left by the early Church recorded in the New Testament. They illustrate how Christianity was lived. They are valuable models left for Christians of every generation to follow.
There are two types of examples. (Note: While all examples establish authority, not all examples are binding.)
Some examples illustrate essential matters. That is, they have background requirements or guidelines and are, therefore, binding.
Some examples illustrate optional matters. That is, they have no background requirements or guidelines and are, therefore, not binding.
Examples illustrating required matters.
Baptism on Pentecost, Acts 2:41 background requirement, Matt.28:19
Philip preaching, Acts 8:5 background requirement, Mk.16:15
Baptism a burial, Acts 8:36,39 background requirement, Rom.6:4
Communion on the first day of the week, Acts 20:7 background requirement, Heb.10:25; I Cor.16:2; I Cor.11:20
Resisting human demands that oppose God, Acts 4:13-20 background requirement, Acts 5:29 (cf. II Tim.4:2)
Examples illustrating optional matters.
Acts 13:4 - traveling by boat ➔ no background requirement
Acts 20:7 - preaching until midnight ➔ no background requirement
Acts 20:8 - assembling in an upper room ➔ no background requirement
Acts 19:8 - preaching three months in one place ➔ no background requirement
Acts 19:9,10 - teaching in a school ➔ no background requirement
Acts 16:13 - teaching on a river bank ➔ no background requirement
Authority is sometimes established by inferences.
What are necessary inferences?
They are unstated conclusions drawn from given information.
They are necessary because they are the only logical inferences that can be made.
Examples of necessary inferences.
Acts 8:35,36 What is inferred that Philip preached?
Mk.9:1 What is inferred regarding the time of the coming of the kingdom?
Heb.10:25 Is anything inferred as to a place to worship?
Heb.9:22 & 10:4 What can be inferred about the kind of blood God requires?
Acts 19:3-6 What is inferred regarding John's baptism?
God's word is authoritative. He demands that it be followed. It cannot be added to or taken from. Care must be taken not to distort it in any way. Rev.22:18,19 (cf. I Cor. 4:6) There are two things especially that need to be observed.
Do not treat required matters as though they were optional. This is liberalism - or failing to do what God said do.
"Baptism is not essential to salvation."
"Immersion is not necessary."
"The Lord's supper is not required every Sunday."
"It is not essential that only men serve as elders."
"The Bible is not our only guide."
"Congregational singing is not necessary."
Do not treat optional matters as though they were required. This is legalism - or binding where God has not bound.
"A dedicated church building is essential for worship."
"It is necessary to tithe in giving."
"Having a song leader is necessary."
"It is essential to have one cup at the communion."
"Caring for orphans must be done individually, not by the church."
"It is necessary to have only one class, not divided classes."