Some Guidelines for Biblical Interpretation

(1) As conscientiously as possible, seek the balance of Scripture, and avoid succumbing to historical and theological disjunctions.

(2) Recognize that the antithetical nature of certain parts of the Bible, not least some of Jesus’ preaching, is a rhetorical device, not an absolute. The context must decide where this is the case.

(3) Be cautious about absolutizing what is said or commanded only once.

(4) Carefully examine the biblical rationale for any saying or command.

(5) Carefully observe that the formal universality of proverbs and of proverbial sayings is only rarely an absolute universality. If proverbs are treated as statutes or case law, major interpretive—and pastoral!—errors will inevitably ensue.

(6) The application of some themes and subjects must be handled with special care, not only because of their intrinsic complexity, but also because of essential shifts in social structures between biblical times and our own day.

(7) Determine not only how symbols, customs, metaphors, and models function in Scripture, but also to what else they are tied.

(8) Thoughtfully limit comparisons and analogies by observing near and far contexts.

(9) Many mandates are pastorally limited by the occasion or people being addressed.

(10) Always be careful how you apply narratives.

(11) Remember that you, too, are culturally and theologically located.

(12) Frankly admit that many interpretive decisions are nestled within a large theological system, which in principle we must be willing to modify if the Bible is to have the final word.

From Carson, D. A. Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible? Modern Reformation 5:3 (May/June 1996): 18–22. Updated 2003.

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