Fundamentals of Interpretation

What are the most important hermeneutical principles we should follow?

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When I have opportunity to teach in the classroom, or in church settings, or even with my own family, the sort of the basic principles for interpreting Scripture, I always go back to five fundamentals. The first is "clarity," understand that God wants us to understand his Word. He wants us to know him. He has communicated in languages that we can understand. The second is "unity," that we lean into the Bible expecting it all to be one consistent story, not expecting to find contradiction. Complementarity and different emphases, yes, but it's all going to fit together. Clarity and unity. Third is "grace," to understand that the pattern of Scripture is to show us our need of God, how he has met that need, how he has provided for us ultimately in Christ, and how we are to respond to his provision. And then, after that, we'd move to "context," the sense that, while all of Scripture is one coherent whole, when we look at any part we can better understand it if we see how it connects to other parts. So, context, how does it connect to history, culture? How does it connect to other passages around it? And then finally, a principle that I'm stealing from Augustine way back when in church history, the principle of "charity." He emphasized that all of Scripture is designed to help us to love God and love neighbor. And if we're not using the Bible in ways that helps us grow in love for God and neighbor, then we're misusing Scripture. So, there are lots of things we could say about important principles for interpreting the Bible. But I think if we get those five down, they'll never mislead us or take us astray.

Answer by Dr. Jimmy Agan

Dr. Jimmy Agan is Associate Professor of New Testament and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary.