10 Commandments of Scripture Interpretation
Skye Jethani's simple guidelines for engaging the Bible and avoiding unhelpful controversy.

I. You shall not make for yourself an idol out of Scripture.

This is a particular temptation among evangelicals who hold a very high view of Scripture. We forget that our highest calling is not to have a relationship with the Bible but with Jesus Christ about whom the Bible testifies. (John 5:39)

II. You shall honor the Scriptures as sufficient.

We have a common temptation to get "behind the text" or discover what "really happened." While archeology and other disciplines are incredibly important, we must not forget that what God has given in the Scriptures is enough for life and faith.

III. You shall remember the metanarrative and keep it wholly.

In my experience more Christians can recap the meta-narrative of the Star Wars saga than can recap the biblical meta-narrative. It's not enough to know the stories and events in the Bible. We must know how they fit together to tell a single story.

IV. You shall honor the Church as the recipient and the guardian of the Scriptures.

The books and letters in the Bible, with a few exceptions, were not written to individuals but to communities of believers. We must be careful not to read everything through the lenses of Western individualism. And we are wise to listen to how Christians in ages past have understood the teachings of Scripture.

V. You shall not neglect the context.

Proof texting (finding verses to make your point), isolating (removing a text from its surrounding material), and synchronizing (taking different gospel accounts of the same event and smashing them together) are all ways of abusing the text and landing on bad interpretations.

VI. You shall not ask questions the text does not want to answer.

Almost every nasty debate about Scripture results from forcing answers from the text it never intended to answer. Debates about creation in Genesis 1 and 2 fall into this category as do most other scientific issues. Avoid a "morbid interest in controversial questions" (1 Tim 6:4).

VII. You shall embrace both the form and content of Scripture as inspired by God.

When teaching the Bible we often retain the content or message but give little attention to the genre or style of the text. We lose something when we teach narrative as didactic truth, or when we ignore the poetic structure and beauty of a Psalm. And there's a reason God said "You shall not murder" rather than "You will love life." Do we see that?

VIII. You shall study Scripture for wisdom and not merely knowledge, and never for pride.

I'm really impressed that you've memorized 400 verses and took first prize in your Bible Quiz league. Now quit being such a jerk. (1 Cor. 8:1)

November 15, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 21 comments

Manohar Dave

November 18, 2010  11:17am

"For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring WORD OF GOD, for , All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the WORD OF THE LORD stands for ever. And this is the word that was preached to you." 1Peter 1:23 to 25. "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you posses eternal life. THESE ARE THE SCRIPTURES THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." John 5:39 . May God Bless you.

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November 17, 2010  3:58pm

I like VIII. LOL! We Christians in America are the most educated believers in history. No question about it. But I'm not sure we measure up well with what's happening in the Kingdom in the rest of the world. The way Neil Cole puts it is that we're educated beyond our level of obedience. Also, just a thought on the Berean thing. The Berean Christians aren't being compared to the Thessalonian Christians. It;s the Berean Jews being compared to the Thessalonian Jews. So, it's not so much an encouragement to be overly bookish but a pat on the back to honestly searching unbelievers.

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November 17, 2010  3:30pm

Great list - love it.

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Denis Hayes (Exeter, UK)

November 17, 2010  5:28am

Thank you, Skye. I found these points helpful and liberating. It is, of course, important to know the Bible of God... but even more so to know the God of the Bible! Blessings.

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November 17, 2010  3:13am

This is very helpful but I am always curious about statements like, "This is a particular temptation among evangelicals who hold a very high view of Scripture." This may be true about evangelicals at the seminary level but most evangelicals I know can't find the book of Amos without being given a page number. It seems more accurate to say that most evangelicals have NO view of Scripture.

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November 16, 2010  5:37pm

These guidelines are good for the most part. However the one on the honoring of the church needs to be honored only insofar as the writers agree with the scripture. Paul commended the Bereans because they studied the scriptures to insure that what Paul said was true. So have I found that many ones in the church have been wrong. I have found ones who have studied a subject out not in conformity with the Fathers and others, but was what the Bible said. Such an example as the genealogy of Jesus and the Biblical calender as well as prophecy. We can only be what God wants us to be with the Scriptures as we remember that we are to study to show ourselves as approved unto God not unto Men. 2 Tim 2:15. After all men have been wrong, but the Holy Spirit will open the Bible us as we study what the Bible says, and put every person to the test who gives us something from the Bible.

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skye jethani

November 16, 2010  4:03pm

Regarding #2. I believe that understanding original languages and historical context is very important in correctly interpreting biblical texts. But I've sat through a number of sermons or classes that are far more interested in what archeology or history or science has to say, and not enough about what the biblical text says. For example...did Moses and the Israelites cross the "Red Sea" or the "reed sea"? Interesting question and it carries some geographic importance...but I'm not sure I need to spend 20 minutes of a sermon on the point when the message God actually wants to communicate is right there in Exodus...not in some scholar's book about the geography of the Sinai peninsula. Some folks are more interested in talking about what they learned in books outside the bible than talking about the bible itself. That's the temptation that commandment 2 is addressing. Skye

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Rob Haskell

November 16, 2010  3:28pm

Thanks for this. I agree enthusiastically with the direction, but I don't think your point about not going behind the text works. The very meaning of biblical words is a historical and cultural meaning ("what it meant back then"), and we know that meaning by going "behind the text." (historical, archeological research) You could actually say that the text comes from behind the text. When we affirm the sufficiency of scripture we ought to be affirming that it's message (once understood) is sufficient in relation to other claims. We ought not be affirming that no extra-biblical information is needed in order to arrive at that meaning. That will just never work and it's taking an enormous body of knowledge for granted.

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November 16, 2010  10:43am

"To make it simple (and fun) I developed this short list of "commandments" to keep in mind when reading/teaching scripture." That's pretty good, Skye. Always a good idea to have a reminder/governor on teaching scripture. "I. You shall not make for yourself an idol out of Scripture." I take it to mean people who treat scripture as an enabler for their very human world-views, and rationalize their actions using the scriptures as support for their unmerciful/ungraceful/unforgiving spirit. Hence, the reason why a lot of self-professing "Christians" in the United States totally dig quoting the Laws of Moses and the OT in general to prove the sinful nature of man in others, but convienently forget the reason they are considered Christians in the first place...G-d's grace, mercy, and love. In short, what we were given by G-d, we should give freely to others...without conditions of merit or obedience to the Laws of Moses. However, unfortunately, a lot us just can't take that step of extending to others what was freely given to ourselves. Thus, scripture becomes an idol to bludgeon people we disagree with while fooling ourselves and a few others into thinking how righteous we are for speaking cruel and unloving truth to others. btw, I am guilty of this myself...I have a habit of ripping fellow believers a new one when they step out of line of the Gospel...I certainly don't show any love, nor mercy, and definitely no grace to my fellow believers...in fact, I find myself exhibiting more love, mercy and grace to non-believers...huh...hmm...I am the worst of hypocrits because I know what I am, and I don't struggle with it as much as I should.

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November 16, 2010  8:17am

Great list. Phenomenal. I have taught many of these myself (especially #1!)

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