What is the best Interpretation of Scripture?
What is the Best Interpretation of scripture?
What is the best Biblical Interpretation?
As anyone begins studying the Bible, they will eventually come across the concept of different forms of interpretation. Because these different forms of interpretation may cause some confusion and cause people to desire to know which one is best, in this blog and video I go over each type, give examples and negatives of each, and say which one is best.
I briefly mentioned in my book “Legalism: The Manifestations of the Religious Spirit” that in total, there are 4 different forms of interpretation: Literal, symbolic, metaphor, and allegory.
Now clearly, the literal form is the most common and most recognized. In this form of interpretation, everything in the Bible is considered having occurred happened literally and in a historical sense. The literal form is best used for children and most new believers. This form of interpretation is the easiest to understand, but can only go so deep.
Some of the drawbacks and negative sides of the literal form is that some people cannot accept the Bible in the 100% literal form, and thus they need a deeper interpretation to understand. For example, those who have scientific minds and/or were not raised in a church environment. Even some children who have scientific minds are unable to comprehend the Bible in a literal sense. This is simply due to the Bible not being written in a 100% literal form. There are countless examples in scripture that simply cannot be looked at and considered to be taken in a literal form.
To name a few examples in scripture that cannot be taken in a purely literal form are Joseph’s dreams, some of David’s psalms, the dreams of Daniel, the visions of Ezekiel, and parts of Revelation.
Let’s look at Joseph’s dreams, in Genesis 37:5-10:
5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”Genesis 37:5-10
Click above if you need a dream interpreted
If we were to look at this in a purely literal form, we would say that his brothers and family were grain, the stars, moon, and sun. Which we know is clearly not the case. In this case, Joseph’s family was seen in a symbolic sense. Which brings us to the second form of interpretation: symbolic. Symbolic, which means (per Google): serving as a symbol, or involving the use of symbols or symbolism. Now Joseph’s dream did end up playing out in a literal sense, but his dream was symbolic in nature.
Servicing as a symbol, or involving the use of symbols or symbolismGoogle
As one continues to study and deep dive into scripture, different forms of interpretation are needed to show, portray, and express deeper meanings. The literal sense of interpretation can be good for life lessons. Which is good and fine, but eventually you will need to move past the literal viewpoint of scripture.
The literal interpretation can only go so deep, and the literal interpretation is typically known as the “surface level” teaching of scripture.
A symbolic representation of anything in life can increase the hidden meaning of anything being spoken about. Not to mention, by adding a symbolic representation to anything you’re speaking about, people can use that symbol for anything.
The negative aspect of the symbolic viewpoint typically is learning to understand what the specific symbolisms mean and what they’re tied to. This can be quite difficult because each symbolism can mean something different to everyone. Although there are “universal” symbolisms tied to things across the world, a symbolism in scripture to one person, could mean something else to someone else.
For instance: a sheep. To someone who knows that sheep are dumb, someone reading scripture will automatically attribute the sheep in a story in scripture to people who are dumb. In another case, someone who sees sheep as people who are being led by a shepherd (Jesus), they will automatically attribute those sheep as people being led by Jesus.
Given the two above examples: someone who reads scripture and has a very symbolic mindset, will read the stories in the Bible and have to switch meanings out in their head according to the meaning of the story being portrayed and how Holy Spirit speaks to them. This ties in with the allegorical meaning, which will be talked about later.
Keep Joseph’s dream in mind as we will explore this dream further soon.
The third form is a metaphor which means (per Google):
a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Or a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.Google
Now let’s take one of David’s psalms and use it as an example of a metaphor. Psalm 49:15
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,Psalm 49:15
For He will receive me. Selah.
Now if you read that entire chapter of Psalm 49, you will see that the chapter is focused on basing your trust on riches. So why would David ask God to save his soul from hell? If you looked at this scripture in a literal sense, you would say that David’s soul is in hell, which doesn’t make sense since he’s clearly still alive in this point in time.
What David is saying here is a metaphor; a figure of speech. Here in scripture, David was seriously down and low and probably felt like he was in “hell”, or a really bad time in life. So David was asking God to pull him out of this really bad time in life.
Much like symbolisms, metaphors can be used to deepen the message that someone is trying to portray. They can also be a “play on words” to reveal something to us that we didn’t see or realize before.
A negative aspect of the metaphor is much like the symbolism, if someone has a purely literal mindset, someone who reads a metaphor won’t necessarily understand what’s going on or they will think that the scripture is speaking literally and not in metaphoric sense.
Finally, last but definitely not least, the fourth is the allegorical form. Which means (per Google):
a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. A symbol of something.Google
The allegorical form of interpretation is the deepest level of understanding one can use. Because of this though, it is common for people to not understand or even see the deeper meaning/s or what is being portrayed or the lesson given. Jesus spoke a lot in allegory. Many, if not all, of his parables were all allegory. Yes, it is possible that the parabolic stories He told were based on real stories and events, but we don’t know that. So we typically only read His parables in a literal form and not allegory.
Going back to Joseph’s dream, what’s interesting in his dream is that in his dreams he saw his parents as the Sun and the Moon and his brothers are stars, along with him and his brothers being shown as sheaves of grain. This could be really opened up into a seriously deeper topic, but to keep on topic, he was seeing his dream in an allegorical viewpoint; a story or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.
This meaning that Joseph’s family would one day bow before him. What’s very fascinating is that his family UNDERSTOOD what his dreams meant…at least on the surface level: that he would rule over them.
Let’s go back to the sheep part we were discussing in the symbolic part of this blog. In one story or even a dream, you can have multiple forms of interpretation. Reading stories of a shepherd and sheep in scripture, you can easily divide this into multiple things. First, the story as a whole is allegorical. Then second, the different aspects and characters in the story are symbolic. Like Jesus is symbolic of the shepherd and the sheep are symbolic of people or you and me.
Looking at the entire story, it’s using allegory to reveal a deeper meaning to it. Many times, every part of the story is allegory for something else. Thus, once we take the different pieces of the story, and assign those pieces to something else, we get a deeper meaning/lesson behind the story.
Now that we’ve gone over all four types of interpretation and gone into good detail and example of all four, which one is best? The answer? All of them. All of them are good. In life, everyone is at a different stage of learning and understanding, so to throw one out, you are making it more difficult for others who are on a different level. You’re also making it more difficult to the understand the lessons.
Unfortunately, in today’s world many people are unable to think or understand past the literal form of interpretation, which causes a lot of dissention between the literalists and the people who understand and even “speak” the other interpretations fluently. Additionally, people have been so conditioned to believe that the only legitimate interpretation of scripture is the literal form and that the others are considered wrong or bad.
Some people only have faith and trust in the literal sense to the point that their faith and trust is in scripture and not Jesus or God. But if they knew that by studying the other forms, their faith and understanding of God’s Word would significantly increase.
I encourage everyone to ask God to reveal the deeper meanings of scripture to you and bring you to a deeper level.