The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
The Seven Rules of Interpretation and Translation
The Academic Study of the Bible and its Textual Content

"And so we have the prophetic word made sure, to which you do well topay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the daydawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this firstof all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's owninterpretation." (2 Peter 1:19,20 NAS)

A translation is to be judged, above all, by how accurately andclearly it conveys the meaning of the original text. What was the original meaning of a particular text? Different translations give different answers to this question.

The Transmission of the Text

The books of the Bible were written centuries before the invention of printing. They were written out by hand and copied by hand. The original manuscripts have long since disappeared, and we must determine the original text from the copies that have been preserved.

Due to human error, it is difficult to copy accurately. Down through the centuries, scribes made mistakes and then their errors were copied by others. But while one copyist was introducing an error, other copyists were presumably copying the same text accurately. Thus, unless all known manuscripts of a text are copies of the same corrupted manuscript, the original text will be preserved amidst all the errors.

By carefully comparing all available ancient manuscripts, and studying the variant readings at each point in the text, Bible scholars endeavor to reconstruct the original meanings and intent.

This is a complicated and vexing task. It is not easy to decide which manuscripts are more reliable than others, or which variant readings are copyists' errors or forgeries. Scholars disagree on these questions, and the various translations on the market reflect that disagreement.

When two interpretations are claimed for a particular text, the construction most in agreement with all the facts of the case should be adopted.

Consider the vastly different meaning of these verses, the only difference being the placement of the comma, the adding of a letter, the spacing of a letter or the changing a single word:

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
"I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise."

"God, (grant) me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
"God, (grants) me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is (a part) of it."
"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is (apart) of it."

Thou shall not kill.
Thou shall not murder.

We can't have a "sure word" about the meaning of Scripture (or anything else) unless we have a sure method to interpret the words.

The following seven rules are the center of all grammatical interpretation. They have been accepted and used by scholars from Socrates to the present and they are equally applicable to legal, historical, and other such language.

Here are the seven rules:

1) The rule of DEFINITION: What does the word mean? Any study of Scripture must begin with a study of words. Define your terms and
then keep to the terms defined. The interpreter should conscientiously abide by the plain meaning of the words. This quite
often may require using a Hebrew/English or Greek/English lexicon in order to make sure that the sense of the English translation is understood. A couple of good examples of this are the Greek words "allos" and "heteros". Both are usually translated as "another" in English - yet "allos" literally means "another of the same type" and "heteros" means "another of a different type."

2) The rule of USAGE: It must be remembered that the Old Testament was written originally by, to and for Jews. The words and idioms must
have been intelligible to them - just as the words of Jesus when talking to them must have been. The majority of the New Testament
likewise was written in a milieu of Greco-Roman (and to a lesser extent Jewish) culture and it is important to not impose our modern
usage into our interpretation. It is not worth much to interpret a great many phrases and histories if one's interpretations are shaded by pre-conceived notions and cultural biases, thereby rendering an inaccurate and ineffectual lesson.

3) The rule of CONTEXT: The meaning must be gathered from the context. Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. Many passages will not be understood at all, or understood incorrectly, without the help afforded by the context. A good example of this is the Mormon practice of using 1 Cor. 8:5b: "...for there be gods many and lords many..." as a "proof text" of their doctrine of polytheism. However, a simple reading of the whole verse in the context of the whole chapter (e.g. where Paul calls these gods "so-called"), plainly demonstrates that Paul is not teaching polytheism.

4) The rule of HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The interpreter must have some awareness of the life and society of the times in which the Scripture was written. The spiritual principle will be timeless but often can't be properly appreciated without some knowledge of the background. If the interpreter can have in his mind what the writer had in his mind when he wrote - without adding any excess baggage from the
interpreter's own culture or society - then the true thought of the Scripture can be captured resulting in an accurate interpretation. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present."

5) The rule of LOGIC:
Interpretation is merely logical reasoning. When interpreting Scripture, the use of reason is everywhere to be assumed. Does the interpretation make sense? The Bible was given to us in the form of human language and therefore appeals to human reason - it invites investigation. It is to be interpreted as we would any other volume: applying the laws of language and grammatical analysis.

"What is the control we use to weed out false theological speculation? Certainly the control is logic and evidence... interpreters who have not had the sharpening experience of logic...may have improper notions of implication and evidence. Too frequently such a person uses a basis of appeal that is a notorious violation of the laws of logic and evidence." (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Boston:W. A. Wilde, 1956)

6) The rule of PRECEDENT: We must not violate the known usage of a word and invent another for which there is no precedent. Just as a judge's chief occupation is the study of previous cases, so must the interpreter use precedents in order to determine whether they really support an alleged doctrine. Consider the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12 who were called "noble" because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what Paul taught them was true.

7) The rule of INFERENCE: An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact. It is a logical consequence. It derives a conclusion from a given fact or premise. It is the deduction of one proposition from another proposition. Such inferential facts or propositions are sufficiently binding when their truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. Competent evidence means such evidence as the nature of the thing to be proved admits. Satisfactory evidence means that amount of proof which would ordinarily satisfy an unprejudiced mind beyond a reasonable doubt.

Learning these seven rules and properly applying them will help keep any interpreter from making errors and will hopefully alleviate many of the disagreements unfortunately present today.

Return to The Nazarene Way main menu

The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
 Email us at:
Join our Essene Holy Communions email list
Sign our Guest Book!