Biblical Interpretation: How Should We Read the Bible?

This thread is for discussions about how we as Christians should read the Bible.

What methods and perspectives are good for understanding the Bible?
Are there methods that are better than others?
Are some methods intrinsically faulty or inappropriate for Biblical application?
What if any are the dangers and pitfalls of particular methods?

These questions are intended to generate conversation, not to limit the conversation.


Here are some working definitions:

Form Criticism is a method of biblical criticism that classifies units of scripture by literary pattern (such as parables or legends) and that attempts to trace each type to its period of oral transmission.[1] Form criticism seeks to determine a unit's original form and the historical context of the literary tradition (Wikipedia)

Textual criticism (or lower criticism) is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand.[1] Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document's transcription history.[2] The ultimate objective of the textual critic's work is the production of a "critical edition" containing a text most closely approximating the original. (Wikipedia)

Rhetorical criticism is an approach to criticism that is at least as old as Plato. In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates examine a speech by Lysias to determine whether or not it is praiseworthy. Rhetorical criticism analyzes symbolic artifacts (including words, phrases, images, gestures, performances, texts, films, and "discourse" in general) to discover how, and how well, they work: how they instruct, inform, entertain, move, arouse, perform, convince and, in general, persuade their audience, including whether and how they might improve their audience. In short, rhetorical criticism seeks to understand how symbols act on people. (Wikipedia)

Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals. Though the two activities are closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been, theorists. (Wikipedia)

Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that attempts to formulate an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, science and ethics. Inherent to a system of theological thought is that a method is developed, one which can be applied both broadly and particularly.


These are the types of things up for discussion, in conjunction with scripture.


Hi. The official theological term for methods of biblical interpretation is "exegesis", though sometimes people call it "hermeneutics." Great detail is found here:

Also, (though I'm not a Methodist) I would like to point out the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is:
1) Scripture - interpret scripture using other scriptures
2) Tradition - interpret scripture according to church traditions
3) Reason - interpret scripture using reasoning, logic
4) Experience - interpret scripture using personal experiences, which make a passage "real" to a person

Finally, I would like to contrast "sola scriptura" and "prima scriptura". The viewpoints both arose during the Protestant Reformation.

Sola Scriptura - make decisions based solely on the bible.
Prima Scriptura - give the bible primacy in all decisions.

These are different because those espousing "sola scriptura" believe things such as "where the scriptures speak, we speak; where the scriptures are silent, we are silent." This, however, can be problematic for areas where the scripture makes no explicit references such as contraceptives, abortion, etc. (Though it can be argued that implicit references were made in the scriptures.) Most churches either conduct or deny implicit interpretations across the board. As a classic example, the Church of Christ does not use musical instruments during worship because they believe there are no explicit references to musical instruments in the New Testament.

On the other hand, those espousing a "prima scriptura" view would accept the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Furthermore, they would have no problem accepting church traditions, so long as the traditions do not contradict scripture. Also, they would have no problem with advances in science and medicine, so long as those scientific advances do not contradict the scriptures or church precedent. In addition, they would be open to exercising the gift of prophecy, "hearing the voice of God" and other charismatic experiences, so long as such the claims do not contradict the bible's teaching. Also, Protestant Christians who agree to "prima scriptura" have no problem doctrinally agreeing with the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed. They would see such creeds as inspired but secondary in importance to the holy scriptures. (By now, I'm hoping its blatantly obvious where I stand ...ahem... the prima scriptura camp.)

Finally there are other ways to cross-section the scriptures, such as dispensationalism versus covenant theology versus olive tree theology, and etc.

Grace be with you-