Guidelines for Reading the Bible

Suggested by Dr. William Smith
in his 'Dictionary of the Bible

1.  Consider the times, places, and circumstances of the sacred writers.

2.  Become familiar with the geography of Scripture.

3.  Discern as far as possible the normal, literal, and primary meaning.

4.  Beware of mystical interpretation; not every passage is spiritualized.

5.  Seek the literal before the spiritualized meaning.

6.  The true spiritual sense of a passage is to be highly valued.

7.  Avoid novel interpretations.

8.  Allow for idiomatic and figurative expressions, especially when an absurdity would follow from departing from the literal sense.

9.  Distinguish between plain and figurative language.

10.  Do not carry a metaphor too far.

11.  Consider the whole context of a passage before any conclusion is drawn from a single verse.

12.  Consider as best as possible to whom a passage is written, by whom it was written, and for what purpose it was written.

13.  Compare spiritual things with spiritual by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament and when it does, accept that interpretation without seeking another.

14.  Explain what is difficult by what is plain and easy to understand.

15.  Never expect to fully understand all that is in the Scriptures. A wise, humble, devout, and consistent study of the Scriptures will add to personal understanding.

16.  When words and phrases are obscure and difficult to understand, do not force an interpretation and pretend to have understanding.

17.  Realize that a word can have different meanings in different passages.

18.  Learn the great concepts behind the important words of the Bible: faith, repentance, redemption, justification, sanctification, grace, and righteousness. 19.  Consider the personality of the author, the condition and character to whom he writes, the errors which are opposed, and the truths which are established.

20.  The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old. Carefully compare them with each other.

21.  Be aware of the fact that the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament illustrate each other.

22.  Be aware of the fact that the Epistles of the New Testament are a Divine commentary on the four Gospels. Hebrews is the Divine commentary on the Jewish rituals.

23.  Read the whole book that is to be studied in one sitting prior to any formal study.

24.  Do not form an opinion from a small part of a passage.

25.  Be content to remain without clear understanding rather than accept error over a difficult passage.

26.  Remember that no doctrine will disagree with something that is taught in another portion of Scripture.

27.  Interpret all that is said of the Lord God in a way that is consistent with infinite perfections.

28.  Do not force types and allegories on any portion of Scripture.

29.  Do not force a parable to bear a spiritual meaning it does not teach.

30.  Do not force a parable to bear a literal meaning it does not teach.

31.  Remember that the whole of a truth is sometimes put for a part, and a part is sometimes put for the whole.

32.  Remember that general terms are sometimes limited, particular terms are sometimes used for general, and definite numbers are often put for indefinite numbers.

33.  Remember that sometimes things represented by the hyperbole are magnified or diminished beyond or below their limits.

34.  Remember that negatives are often used for a strong affirmation of the contrary, such as “not guiltless,” for “exceedingly guilty” and “shall not be moved” for “shall be firmly established.”

35.  Remember that questions are often used for strong affirmations or negations (Jer. 5:9; Mark 8:36).

36.  Read the poetic books by the nature of the Hebrew verse.

37.  Do not interpret prophecy or history by speculation or conjecture.

38.  Remember that the sacred writers often changed persons and tenses.

39.  Remember that some truths are set forth in the form of absolute and universal statements that are to be interpreted under certain limitations and conditions. For example, “all” does not always mean “all without exception” (cf. Luke 2:3). 40. Remember that one principle or duty is often used to teach an universal gospel duty (as found in Ephesians 5:18).

40.  Promises made to particular persons in Scripture may be applied to all true believers.

41.  Never separate gospel duties from holy promises nor gospel promises from holy duties.

42.  Remember that whatever we read in the Bible is to be read as God’s Word to us as individuals.

* As cited in Appendix Two, The New Covenant in Christ: A Survey of the New Testament, Dr. Stanford E. Murrell