Wayne Grudem on How to Interpret the Bible, part 1

Dr. Wayne Grudem (bio) has been lecturing through his text on Systematic Theology during his Sunday School class at Scottsdale Bible Church. I jotted down the following notes while listening to his first lecture on mp3 on basic Bible hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible). 

Lecture Notes

 (outline is mine; notes do not necessarily follow Dr. Grudem’s Outline)   

  1. Read to Understand
    1. The Bible is meant to be read (not decoded) and understood by ordinary readers.
    2. Reading for understanding is a natural skill that we all have
    3. It should be read and read and read – The parts make more sense when the whole is understood.
  2. A passage means what it meant to the ORIGINAL author
    1. A passage cannot mean what the human author could never have meant for it to mean
    2. There are no secret codes for interpretation (see 5c)
  3. A passage means what it meant to the ORIGINAL hearers
    1. The message of a passage is the message the author meant to pass on to his original hearers
    2. MY NOTE: This assumes the message is properly understood

      e.g. Jesus’ illustration of ‘living bread’ misunderstood by literalist Jews (Jn 10) 

  4. Tools for understanding the Bible
    1. Meaning of Words and Sentences (Grammatical) – use word study tools
    2. Context (Literary) – understand the literary context of a passage
    3. Background (History and Culture) – very helpful, but extensive knowledge is not essential
    4. Knowledge of the Whole Bible (see Longdon Baptist Confession below)
  5. The meaning of a passage is OBJECTIVE!
    1. A passage has a SINGLE meaning – see London Baptist Confession below
    2. Every interpreter must find this single meaning, not their own subjective meaning
    3. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s Help and guidance


London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, Chap 1, Para 9

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.”

 In summary, Dr. Grudem teaches that reading and understanding (in this case the Bible) is a skill we all have. We need to be cautious about schemes that attempt to find special or hidden meanings in scripture that take special “skill” to find or that the original author/hearers could not have understood. Word studies, contextual studies, and background studies are very helpful, but not essential tools for understanding. We should use whatever limited time and skill we have to study any individual passage of scripture and pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us in the way of truth. 

Link to class


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