Understanding how to read and study
and apply your Bible.

Proper use of Scriptures.

This material is adapted from a widely accepted book, by Walter Henrichsen and Gayle Jackson, entitled Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (published by Zondervan, 1990). This material is not only for Bible school students or those entering full-time ministry, it is for all believers. Much, if not all, of the error that is now accepted in the church would be found out for what it is if all believers would consistently use these principles.

6 General Principles of Interpretation.

    Rule 1: Work from the assumption that the Bible is authoritative.

    Rule 2: The Bible interprets itself; Scripture best explains Scripture.

    Rule 3: Saving faith and the Holy Spirit are necessary for us to understand and properly interpret the Scriptures.

    Rule 4: Interpret personal experience in the light of Scripture and not Scripture in the light of personal experience.

    Rule 5: Each Christian has the right and responsibility to investigate and interpret the Word of God for himself.

    Rule 6: Church history is important but not decisive in the interpretation of Scripture. (Scripture is the final authority).

5 Grammatical Principles of Interpretation

    Rule 1: Scripture has only one meaning and should be taken literally.

    Rule 2: Interpret words in harmony with their meaning in the times of the author.

    Rule 3: Interpret a passage in harmony with its context and interpret words in relation to their sentence and context.

    Rule 4: When inanimate objects are used to describe living beings, or an expression is out of character with the thing being described, the statement may be considered figurative. (i.e. "I am the door." or "Watch out for dogs")

    Rule 5: A prophet's words are to be understood in their usual, literal and historical sense, unless the context or manner in which they are fulfilled clearly indicates they have symbolic meaning. (Contrast Malachi 4:5-6 with Matthew 11:13-14)

3 Historical Principles of Interpretation

    Rule 1: Since the Bible was given in a historical context, it must be understood in light of Biblical history.

    Rule 2: Though God's revelation in the Scriptures is progressive, both Old and New Testaments are essential parts of this revelation and form a unit.

    Rule 3: Historical facts or events become symbols of spiritual truths only if designated so by Scriptures. Turning all historical facts into allegories detracts from a literal interpretation of the Bible and serves to change its intended meaning.

3 Theological Principles of Interpretation

    Rule 1: A doctrine cannot be considered biblical unless it sums up and includes all that Scriptures say about it.

    Rule 2: When two doctrines taught in the Bible appear to be contradictory, accept both as scriptural in the confident belief they will resolve themselves into a higher unity.

    Rule 3: A teaching merely implied in Scripture may be considered biblical when a comparison of related passages supports it.

3 Foundation Principles of Application

    Rule 1: Application must be focused on pleasing God rather than pleasing others.

    Rule 2: Every problem a person has is related to his or her concept of God.

    Rule 3: Surrender is the beginning of application and attitude is as important as action in obeying God's commands.

3 Principles on Personal Responsibility

    Rule 1: In areas of life not directly addressed by Scriptures, we must develop personal convictions to govern our behavior.

    Rule 2: Each person is individually responsible for applying the Scriptures to his or her own life.

    Rule 3: We must be teachable, willing to admit that we are wrong and change direction. If we have wronged someone, we must seek to make it right when it is within our ability.

3 Principles on Our Perception of God's Word

    Rule 1: We obey out of love, not fear of punishment.

    Rule 2: Knowledge carries with it both privilege and responsibility.

    Rule 3: There is no such thing as a nonessential command, all Scripture is to be obeyed.

4 Principles on the Product of Disobedience

    Rule 1: Although there is no distinction between sins, there are different consequences.

    Rule 2: Disobedience adds to confusion when adverse circumstances come.

    Rule 3: We must refuse to yield to what we know is wrong. Satisfying the drive will only momentarily alleviate the hunger and will stimulate a desire for more.

    Rule 4: Culture cannot serve as an excuse for not obeying God's commands.

4 Principles on The Life of Application

    Rule 1: Circumstances (outcomes good or bad in our view) do not indicate God's approval or disapproval.

    Rule 2: We must resist the temptation to judge others as less spiritual when they do what the Lord has directed us personally not to do.

    Rule 3: Our conduct, good or bad, will affect the generations to follow.

    Rule 4: Moral excellence comes from obedience.

2 Principles on People in the Process of Application

    Rule 1: We must maintain an accountability relationship with a group of people who will exhort us to faith and good works.

    Rule 2: Godly counsel is helpful in the quest for obedience, but it should never be used to avoid personal responsibility.


When the church forbids what God allows;
it soon allows what God forbids.

J. Gresham Machen,
Founding president of Westminster Seminary