This study quotes heavily from the college textbook titled "Methodical Bible
Study: A New Approach to Hermeneutics" by Dr. Robert Traina.
- Interpretive questions
- "Interpretive questions are those questions arising from and based on the
observations of terms, structure, general literary forms, and atmosphere whose answers
will result in the discovery of their full meaning. In fact, they frame in question form
the various phases of interpretation, namely, definition, reasons, and implications."
The interpretive question is the intermediate step between observation and
interpretation. It's how you get from what you see to what you understand it to mean. It
can be part of our observation while at the same time moving us naturally towards
interpretation. When we "observe" someone's writing, we often ask ourselves
questions about why they wrote it. Those questions are part of the interpretive process.
If we never question what we see, our understanding is limited, even shallow and
Here's a method I've used to make observations and ask questions for interpretation.
Feel free to come up with your own way to observe. The key is having some way to record
what you see and what you ask. I chose Eph.1:1 as an example of how to observe and ask
questions for interpretation.
This is not complete nor exhaustive; it's just an example. The first time I wrote the
questions, it took too many pages. I cut the questions back because it's an example. Let
your curiosity go when you observe and ask questions about a verse of Scripture. You want
to find everything possible. Don't leave any thought unasked or unanswered. Those final
questions could be the key to unearthing great truths!
V. 1 -- The Apostle Paul is the writer of this letter. He starts the letter off with
his name. He says he is an "apostle" of Jesus Christ by the will of God."
He is writing the letter to "the saints in Ephesus." He calls them "the
faithful in Christ Jesus."
V. 1 -- Why does Paul begin the letter with his name? Was that a standard way of
beginning letters during that time? What does the name "Paul" mean? Was that
always Paul's name. What's his background? Where was he born? How did he become an
important figure in the New Testament? When did Paul write the letter? Where was he when
he wrote the letter? What's an "apostle?" Why did Paul start off this letter by
telling people what he was? Is there some significance to that? Does he start all his
letters by telling people he's an apostle? If not, why not? What does it mean to be an
apostle "of" Jesus Christ? What did Christ's apostles do? What was their purpose
in the early church? Why did Paul emphasize that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ
"by the will of God?" What's the significance of that? Was he trying to prove
something to someone? If so, why? Was this a standard thing for him to say to churches? If
not, where did he use and where did he not use it in other letters? What's the
significance of that? Where is Ephesus? Had Paul been there before? How did he know these
people? What's the meaning of the word "saints?" Is that what Paul usually
called Christians in different cities? Is a "saint" a particular kind of
Christian or is it any Christian? Why did he call them faithful? How were they faithful?
Are some Christians faithful and others not?
This process of observing and asking questions takes time, but it's the only way to be
sure you've seen everything. If you are not careful in the early stages of Bible study,
you could reach the wrong conclusions and develop a flawed theology. That's what our world
is having to deal with now: flawed ideas about God, His will and the way He works with
people. God is often blamed for things that are really the fault of someone's poor Bible
Interpretive questions may be classified as term-al, structural, form-al, or
atmospheric. Here are examples of each:
Term-al --- In John 17:1 Jesus asks the Father to glorify His Son.
What is meant by the term glorify in this context? What is involved in Jesus' being
glorified? "Every non-routine term should be similarly subjected to explanatory
questions; for unless this is done, terms will become ends in themselves instead of means
to an end, symbols through which to grasp realities."
Structural --- Verses 8-9 of Isaiah 55 employ the structural relations
of ideological contrast and comparison. "What is meant by contrasting God's ways and
thoughts to man's? Wherein are God's ways and thoughts actually different from man's?
Wherein do the heavens and earth differ, and how is this difference similar to that
between God's thoughts and ways and man's?" The answers will depend on noting the
structural relation between verses 8-9, and those that precede, verses 6-7, and asking the
proper structural questions based on your observation.
Form-al --- This is an investigation of the definitive question as it
relates to the observation of general literary forms. Our questions are about the precise
definition of literary forms. If something is written in the poetic form, our questions
include: "What is meant by the poetic form? What are its characteristics? What
distinguishes it from other forms? Wherein does this portion consist of poetry?"
Atmospheric --- The purpose is to "find the meaning of the terms
used to describe the underlying tone of passages and to discover wherein the passages
reveal the mood described to them."
We have three primary phases: the definitive or explanatory questions--what does this
mean?, the rational questions--why is this said and why is it said here?, and
implicational questions--what does this imply?
Along with that are four subordinate questions: the identifying question--who or what
is involved?, the modal question--how is this accomplished?, the temporal question--when
is this accomplished?, and the local question--where is this accomplished?
You should have several questions for interpretation for every verse of Scripture you
study. It's a lengthy, time-consuming process, but it's the only way to be sure your
interpretations are correct. If you hurry through the basic stages of Bible Study, you
could come to wrong conclusions and improper applications.
Now, let's move on to Interpretive Answers. I will list the main subjective and
objective elements necessary to understand this process.
- Subjective Determinants
- Spiritual Sense --- "There is a moral and spiritual factor residing in the
individual which inevitably enters into the process of interpretation. And, although it is
intangible, it is just as real and probably more important than those elements which are
objective and tangible ... In view of this, Biblical exposition should never be conceived
as purely mechanical or intellectual.
"Spiritual sense is made possible by the
presence of certain characteristics. Among them are teachableness, sincerity, and an
intimate knowledge of God. The more one possesses these, the more profound will be one's
insight into Biblical truth. For they make possible receptivity to God's Spirit, who,
having motivated and guided the experience of Scriptural authors, is also their best
Common Sense --- "Its significance lies in the fact that due to their attitude
toward the Scriptures, many are overcome by a peculiar outlook which causes them to leave
their common sense outside the door when they enter the sanctuary of Biblical
interpretation. As a result they look for trick or magical explanations. They are not
content to accept the obvious meaning of the text; they must find something sensational in
it. Imagery is taken literally, and literal statements are construed figuratively."
What we need throughout the study of Scripture is common sense.
- Experience --- "...the peculiarities of one's own experience are invariably
reflected in the interpretive process ... Each person, then, comes to the Scriptures with
a unique experience, and that experience cannot but influence his exposition of Biblical
statements ... It may be assumed that if Biblical statements are true, they will
correspond with the facts of human existence and experience. If, then, certain
interpretations contradict the observable data of life, then one ought at least to
question them, if not discard them. One finds that such a comparison of Biblical
interpretations with experience often serves as a helpful corrective to erroneous
- Objective Determinants
- Etymology, Usage, Synonyms, Comparative Philology, and Kind of Terms ---
terms includes two factors: their root meaning and their derivative significance. Because
of the importance of this item, I use many language aids in my study of the Bible. They
will help you also in the areas of usage, synonyms, comparative philology, and kind of
terms. Here are some of the language aids I find helpful and recommend to you:
Old Testament Word Studies, William Wilson Commentary on the Old Testament, C.F. Keil
& F. Delitzsch The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Edward Goodrick & John Kohlenberger
III The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, Samuel Bagster A Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament , Joseph Thayer Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Kenneth Wuest Word
Studies in the New Testament, Marvin Vincent Word Pictures in the New Testament, A.T.
Robertson An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, C.F.D. Moule Greek-English Dictionary of
the New Testament, Barclay Newman Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Fritz
Rienecker & Cleon Rogers New Testament Greek, J. Greham Machen A Manual Grammar of the
Greek New Testament, H.E. Dana & Julius Mantey The Greek New Testament, Guy Woods The
Text of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament
Words, W.E. Vine The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr
- Signification of Inflections --- This is the study of inflections as used in the
original language. You will understand this better when you study Greek and Hebrew.
- Implications of Contextual Relations and Interrelations --- This is the study of how
terms, phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs relate to each other in the sense of
context. The student must always be on guard unless "he forget to utilize some
important structural connections in the process of exposition. For such an oversight will
eventuate either in erroneous interpretation or at least incomplete interpretation. "
- Connotations of General Literary Forms --- Literary forms have a serious bearing on
exegesis (interpretation ).
- Import of Atmosphere --- "At times the faithful application of the factor of
atmosphere is significant in determining the correct answers to interpretive questions ...
It should be noted that atmosphere is often closely related to an author's purpose and
- Author's Purpose and Viewpoint --- "The proper approach to any work of art in order
to guarantee impartial and therefore accurate interpretation is to stand in the shoes of
the author himself, to adopt his mentality and peculiar point of view."
- Historical Background --- "Because the books of the Bible were written in a
specific historical setting, and because they were addressed to those who lived in a
concrete historical situation, it is imperative that one utilize their historical
background if one is to recreate the message of their authors." Historical background
includes "the date, place, and occasion of writing; the identity of the author and
the recipients; the characteristics and problems of the readers; contemporary literature,
customs, and beliefs; the social, political, geographical, and spiritual environment of
author, recipients, and characters, together with their background." You will find
hundreds of good reference books on these subjects at Christian and some secular
bookstores with an indepth religious book section.
- Psychological Factor --- Look for emotions, desires, hopes, motives, thoughts, and
attitudes in your study. ..."see beyond the symbols to the reality, namely, the
experience of which Scriptural literature is but the product and the means of
- Ideological Implications --- "Scriptural literature contains many implications
which are never explicitly stated. And what is even more significant, some of its
implications are more basic and important than those ideas and facts which are overtly
expressed. For example, the Scriptures assume at the very outset the self-conscious
existence of God. Nowhere in Genesis 1 is there a statement to the effect that God is, and
yet this fact is logically necessary for all else. Without it creation would be
impossible. Thus when one examines the rational foundation of the term 'create' (bara'),
one discovers that it presupposes much more than it outwardly asserts or than is
explicitly stated elsewhere in the chapter. And if one were to overlook its implications
in its interpretation, one would fail to see that which is even more fundamental than what
it distinctly expresses."
- Progress of Revelation --- "In the exegesis of the Scriptures, it must be realized
that the Divine self-disclosure which they embody partakes of the element of progression.
Not only is this true in regard to the movement from the Old Testament to the New
Testament, but also in regard to the revelation found within the two Testaments. The
process of revelation found in the Scriptures is never static; rather it is dynamic...it
is moving, and moving steadily from the lower to the higher, from the lesser to the
greater, from the partial to the total, from the temporary to the final."
- Organic Unity --- "The essential harmony of the books of the Bible was one of the
determinative principles in the formation of the canon. And the more one studies them, the
more one becomes convinced of the reality of their fundamental oneness.
- Inductive View of Inspiration --- "Sound Biblical exegesis is not possible apart
from proper allowance for the dual nature of the Scriptures. For they themselves attest
the fact that they consist of Divine revelation realized through human instrumentation. It
should be remembered, therefore, that the Divine inspiration which accounts for the
experience which produced the Scriptures did not occur in a vacuum. God operated through
human agents who had certain mental abilities and certain other talents, whose religious
experience was of a certain quality, who lived in a certain environment which involved
certain geographical, social, political, economic, and religious factors, and who had a
certain heritage. And these specific historical factors inevitably had their influence on
the writing of Biblical literature."
- Textual Criticism --- "Because we do not posses any of the original Scriptural
documents, it sometimes becomes necessary to employ textual or lower criticism in order to
ascertain the true reading of the text. Three basic steps are followed in this process.
First, the manuscript evidence is collected, investigated, and evaluated. In its
evaluation there is a tendency to assign the greatest weight to older manuscripts. Second,
when the evidence from the manuscripts is not decisive, the reading which best fits into
the context is chosen. And third, if neither manuscript evidence nor the contextual factor
is decisive, then the unusual reading is favored. This is done because there would be
little occasion to alter the text so as to make possible an unusual reading, whereas it is
understandable how a copyist might change it for the purpose of clarification or to make
it harmonize with the seeming demands of reason."
- Interpretations of Others --- "An investigation of the views of others serves two
purposes: first, it confronts one with certain interpretive factors which may have been
overlooked or misapplied; and second, it reveals the exegetical conclusions which others,
many of whom are experts, have made when they have utilized the available data. Both of
these functions are important, but it is the latter which is of primary interest at this
Interpretive Integration and Summarization
"After the important interpretive questions raised in connection with a particular
unit are answered, there remains the problem of integrating the various answers so as to
arrive at the main message of the passage. Sometimes this is at least partially
accomplished in the replies to the questions of exposition, since some of them may be
integrative in nature."
Here are some of the techniques you can use to integrate and summarize the exegesis of
- "It is sometimes helpful to list the main truths which have been found in a unit of
Scripture. In so doing it may be well to attempt to distinguish between the outstanding
truth or truths and those which are subordinate."
- "One may state the major theme of a passage by the use of a descriptive title or
- "If one is dealing with a segment, especially in narrative literature, it may be
beneficial to utilize analytical or interpretive paragraph titles. "
- "The employment of an outline is frequently of assistance in integrating and
summarizing a passage of Scripture. The outline used may be either topical or logical,
depending on the nature of the passage."
- "The paraphrase may profitably be used in this capacity."
- "The chart is also a helpful means of integration and summarization."
- "One may use the essay form in this connection. One or several paragraphs may be
written on a unit. There are certain basic integrative questions which may be used as
guides. The following are two of them: "How does the structure of the passage reveal
its main purpose and message? What are the major contributions of a passage to the larger
structural unit of which it is a part?"