If you seek [Wisdom] as for silver and search for skillful and godly Wisdom as for hidden treasures (searching for it like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,) then you will understand the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:4-5, Amplified/The Message)
Theologian/author, R.C. Sproul, states, “If we can identify the author’s chief purposes as well as their intended audiences, this goes a long way in helping us understand their teaching with greater accuracy.” (This is part 2 of a 3-part series.)
Think about it – if, while rummaging around in their attic, a New England resident came across a letter written hundreds of years ago, would it not help give priceless insight if they knew who wrote it, to whom it was written, and for what purpose?
The basic principles of biblical interpretation are commonly called “Hermeneutics.” And it can be somewhat involved. But the basics pointed out above by Sproul are a wonderful place to start in realizing deeper insight as a result of a more comprehensive understanding of a given passage.
For instance, Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always!” carries deeper impact when you realize Paul was, himself, in prison solely as a result of his own faith when he wrote it. Equally, Peter’s triumphant words, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…” makes even greater sense when you realize he was writing to believers who had recently been disenfranchised, ostracized and “scattered” because of their faith in Christ.
Interestingly, Matthew wrote his gospel account specifically to the Jews, explaining why you can find more references to the Old Testament in his account than in Mark’s, Luke’s and John’s. Based on Colossians 4:14, scholars believe that the gospel-writer, Luke, was a physician. So it makes sense that, only in Luke’s gospel account, are we told of Jesus’ bout with hematidrosis, a stress-induced phenomenon where tiny capillaries in our sweat-glands burst, mixing with our sweat, making our sweat look like blood. “And being in anguish, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, “context” is vital. Anyone can cherry-pick various verses, take them out of their context, and make it mean whatever they want it to mean. Cult leaders are known for this. Systematic Theology (I address this subject at length is Part 3) is the discipline by which we learn to “interpret Scripture in light of Scripture.” In other words, God will never contradict Himself. Whatever we find in one part of His Word will be in agreement with the rest of Scripture. Context is vital. This is why Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)
Most Study Bibles include excellent introductions to every book in the Bible addressing authorship, audience, and purpose.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick