Scripture interprets Scripture
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
The above is an essential means of understanding and interpreting the Bible accurately. Of course, it isn’t the only means in that much is to be gained from being thoroughly immersed in Scripture and making use of good commentaries, Bible dictionaries and lexicons and learning about culture, the original languages and context. We must pray and seek the Lord’s help in this matter. If this primary principle is ignored however, biblical interpretation quickly denigrates into a free for all. People start saying “It means this to me’ or “I prefer that interpretation”. In other words individuals will start reading into the Bible what they want to believe, rather than establishing what it actually means and then applying it.
Various study Bibles help to facilitate this effectively. One example is the Thompson Chain Reference Bible where you follow related texts on related themes or words and through that, gain a more thorough understanding of what the text is saying within the immediate context of the particular book and within the framework of the entirety of the Bible. Many Bibles have extensive references in the margin or in the footnotes relating to similar words, themes or passages. Again, this spares one from reading a verse or passage in isolation.
The inscriptions before the respective Psalms save us from imposing our personal opinion and give us insight into the context and application. For example the backdrop to Psalm 51 is when Nathan had confronted King David concerning the death of Uriah and adultery with Bathsheba.
Isaiah 37 and 2 Kings 19 are exactly congruent in content. This reminds us that prophecy is rooted in actual history and that prophetic writings weren’t written in a vacuum and we should also consider the writer and the events and context of when that was written.
It is no coincidence that the New Testament authors so frequently either quote or teach on events from the Old Testament. Our Lord quoted most frequently from Deuteronomy, Paul cited many of the prophets in Romans and Jude makes mention of numerous biblical events within the space of a single chapter.
We can also look at what we could call a group of interrelated texts. Therefore to study Abram and Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-24, reading Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5-7 would be greatly beneficial in expounding the Genesis passage more fully. Similarly, but in a slightly different way, Hebrews sheds much light on Leviticus and 1 John picks up on several themes from John’s Gospel and shows us how we can apply these truths in Christian living.
I have no doubt that much confusion regarding the book of Revelation occurs by throwing the above principle out the window by assigning the meaning purely by allegory throughout the whole book or limiting the fulfilment of events only to the immediate (c.f. Rev. 1:19). Revelation is intertwined with Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah in terms of quotes, themes and events. If we ignore the building blocks, the interpretation will likely be off centre.
More positively though; when we carefully and systematically examine these many related texts, an increasingly consistent and rewarding pattern emerges. Considering that all Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, when we uncover how Scripture comments on other areas of Scripture, we can remove our predetermined bias from the equation and allow Scripture to speak for itself. When we do this in preaching, the Gospel has free course and penetrates the minds and hearts of those listening. As William Cowper wrote ‘God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain’.