Hermeneutics, SocalSem

Biblical Interpretation

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: from Roy B. Zuck’s classic book, Biblical Interpretation

Professor Thomas A. Rohm, MDiv, D.D.

A good principle to follow in Bible study: try to never pass over words you don’t understand; do not assume because you think you have a general idea of the meaning of something, you are in possession of reliable knowledge of that something…
NKJ Acts 8:26-35 Now an angel (created spirit being, a messenger of the Lord) of the Lord spoke to Philip (probably the apostle), saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza (37 mi. strip of land in Israel bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt, now home to Palestinians).” This is desert.  So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia (modern Nubia, i.e, Africa), a eunuch of great authority under Candace (probably a dynasty title, a government head like “Pharoah”) the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 53:7-8 LXX). Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE READING?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
IT IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION TO SAY THAT PHILIP’S QUESTION TO THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH IS THE ESSENCE OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION – His question revealed his need for help in interpreting the Scripture. He needed the Scripture explained.


BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION = HERMENEUTICS – the science [principles] and art [task] of interpretation, by which the meaning of the biblical text is determined.
NET Notes {netbible.org} 66 sn The term eunuch normally referred to a man who had been castrated, but this was not always the case (see Gen 39:1 LXX, where Potiphar is called a eunuch). Such castrated individuals were preferred as court officials in the East, although Judaism opposed the practice. The Mosaic law excluded eunuchs from Israel (Deut 23:1), although God certainly accepted them (Isa 56:3–5; Wis 3:14). This individual was a high official, since he was said to be in charge of all her treasury. He may or may not have been a eunuch physically. He appears to be the first fully Gentile convert to Christianity, since the Samaritans mentioned previously (Acts 8:4–25) were regarded as half-breeds.


The Three Steps to Biblical Interpretation…

1. OBSERVATION – What does it say?
Observation is basically reading. It is gathering information. It is recording information. “The basis for all real thinking is the ability to withhold judgment until all the facts are in.” – Babbitt’s Law Become a “detective” of Scripture. Observe carefully. Gather clues. Make knowledgeable conclusions (and “educated guesses,” emphasis on educated).                              
Be a Detective, Socalsem
2. INTERPRETATION – What does it mean?
Interpretation is the most difficult step; it takes effort and time. Cutting your effort and time short in this most important area can only lead eventually to error. Interpretation is studying, analyzing, and meditating on the information gathered in observation. To interpret meaningfully, you need books (or electronic devices). NKJ 2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent (Σπούδασον [spoo-dahd-zo] be eager to do your best) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (ὀρθοτομοῦντα [or-tho-tah-moun-ta] cut a path in a straight direction [an orthodontist straightens teeth]) the word of truth.
Paul was a tentmaker. It is likely that he was using an expression that tied in with his trade. When Paul made tents, he made them out of animal skins, probably goat skins that had been dyed and cut according to patterns. Every piece would have to be cut straightly to fit together properly. If one piece wasn’t cut straightly, the whole wouldn’t fit together properly. It’s the same with Scripture. If one doesn’t interpret correctly, the different parts, the whole message won’t come through correctly. In Bible study and interpretation, the Christian should always strive to “cut it straight.” He should always be as accurate as possible. This is God’s Word! (2 Timothy3:15-16)
3. APPLICATION – How does this information apply to me? (It may not apply to me.)
Bible study is an intellectual pursuit. But Bible study must go beyond that to include spiritual discipline, in which we seek to put into practice what we read and understand. NKJV James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.


  1. It is essential for understanding and teaching properly. Without methodical study, how can you ever know? How can you ever teach someone else?
  2. Bible interpretation is as a step beyond observation. Most people wrongly go from observation to application. In observing you probe; in interpreting you mull. Observation is discovery; interpretation is digesting. The one is to explore; the other is to explain. Interpretation is the step that moves us from reading and observation the text on to applying it and living it out,
  3. Bible interpretation is essential for applying the Bible properly. Application is widely misunderstood and abused, or left out of the process altogether. That is particularly sad because biblical interpretation without bringing about change of life is a dry intellectual exercise.
  4. Because there are many false prophets spreading false information today. Without effective study, how can you tell what is authentic and what is counterfeit?


NKJ Acts 17:11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
I hope you will join me this summer in an exciting and enjoyable 14-week class dealing with the proven practices of Biblical Interpretation and Methods of Inductive Bible Study that is guaranteed to begin to noticeably lift you above assumption to genuine, reliable knowledge of God’s incomparable Word. “You will understand what you are reading.” It is not an exaggeration to promise, you won’t believe how much you’ll learn!

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