Basic Rules in Bible Interpretation...

There are several ground rules in Bible interpretation that must be followed before anyone even attempts to study Holy Scripture. I will show but a few important ones.

The first rule is:

‘In what sense am I interpreting a particular verse’?

Is it to be taken literally, or figuratively, or is it a parable? For more on this please read ‘The Senses of Scripture’, elsewhere on this website.

The next rule I will mention is:

‘The Law of First Mention’.

When something is mentioned in Scripture the first time, the same meaning for that verse holds true for subsequent verses. An example of this law is in Genesis 17:5, where GOD gave authority to Abram by changing his name to Abraham, and making him ‘The Father of a Multitude of Nations’.
Next is in Genesis 17:15-16, where GOD gave authority to Sarai, by changing her name to Sarah, and making her ‘The Mother of all Nations’.
Then there is Matthew 16:18. GOD changed the name of Simon to Peter, and gave to him the authority of the Church, and supremacy over all of the other Apostles.
The ‘Law of First Mention’ functions here, to show that authority is given when the persons names are changed by GOD.

Another rule is:

‘How many times something is mentioned’.

If it is mentioned three times or more, it is certainly to be taken literally.
In John chapter 6, Jesus emphasized nine times, “This IS My Body”.
He also said it in Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19. And if that isn’t enough, St. Paul said it again in 1Corinthians 11:24.

‘THIS IS MY BODY’ falls not only under this rule, but also under the ‘Rule of First Mention’, doesn’t it, starting with Matthew 26:26?

‘THIS IS MY BODY’ also must follow the ‘Senses of the Bible’. These verses are literal. There is nothing said in these chapters to indicate any other sense.

How can anyone deny that Jesus meant what He said, when He said it so many times?
How can anyone break three basic rules of Bible interpretation, by saying ‘It is only a Symbol, or a representation of His Body’?

Of course everyone is aware of this next rule:
‘You must take into account the meaning of the words, in the languages written by the authors at the time, and not neccessarily the English translation of them today’.
For example, the word ‘brethren’ had many meanings, only one of which is ‘brother’. It meant cousins and other kin, as well as friend, comrade, fellow believer, etc.

Lets not make the bible any harder to understand. If you follow these simple rules in the inductive bible study. 1. Select a Passage (Usually 3-10 verses, dealing with the same topic.)

Why do you want to study this passage?

  1. Observe the passage by asking questions

Who is writing or speaking and to whom?
What is the passage about?
When does this take place?
Where does this take place?

Also the word brother can be taken as literal blood brothers as well as cousin and relatives. For example Jesus had real brothers (Matt 12:46 named in Mk 6:3) and sisters
This is probably this easiest way to get a true understanding from the bible along with your pastor, priest and good commentaries. I recommend Warren Wiersbe’s commentaries of the bible. On the inductive bible study check the website for more info

This is not what I was looking for but maybe you can now see my point <<<<<There are some who claim that Jesus was not an only child, that Mary had children in addition to Jesus. Whether Jesus was an only child or whether He had a dozen siblings really matters not a whit to them except that it attacks the Catholic Church in what they consider to be the weak area, Marian doctrine. They will cite such biblical passages as:

"…his mother and his brethren stood without . . . " (Matthew 12:46, KJV),
“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses and of Judah, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3, KJV),

“For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:5, NIV),

“…with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:14, KJV),

". . . and the Lord’s brothers . . . " (1 Corinthians 9:5, NIV); or

“But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25, NIV).

The Church teaches us that Mary was perpetually a virgin and this is what we affirm every time we recite the Confiteor (Penitential Rite) “. . . and I ask the blessed Mary, ever virgin . . .” The perpetual virginity of Mary has been defended by the Church since the 4th century when St. Athanasius wrote in his Discourses Against the Aryans (A.D. 358-362): “He took true human flesh from the Ever-Virgin Mary.” Pope St. Siricius defended the teaching in 392, and the fifth ecumenical council (Constantinople II) in 553 gave Mary the title “perpetual virgin.”

Why the difference? It comes with the fact that almost twenty centuries have passed since the books of the Bible were written and customs have changed, along with the fact that some people read into the texts meanings which were not intended. First century customs cannot be interpreted with twentieth century values.

In the first case, what was the custom for calling someone your brother, sister, or using the collective term of brethren? In Genesis 14:14 (KJV) Lot is called Abraham’s brother but Genesis 11:27 tells us that Lot was the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother. This shows that the terms were used to include cousins; but they were not even limited to close relatives (see Deuteronomy 23:7 and Jeremiah 34:9 for examples). Why was this? Neither Hebrew nor Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus and the Apostles) had a special word for cousin. Instead, the words brother, sister, brethren were commonly used. The writers of the New Testament, although writing in Greek, were raised in the Hebrew tradition and kept to this tradition as they were writing primarily to other Jewish Christians. Acts 2:46 illustrates that these Jewish Christians went to temple in addition to worshiping together.

Now let’s go back to Mark 6:3 where the ‘brothers’ of Jesus are named and consider James and Joses. Compare the descriptions of the women at the foot of the cross in Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40 and John 19:25. From this we find that Mary the mother of James and Joses must be the wife of Cleophas. No one has ever suggested that the Blessed Virgin remarried, especially since Jesus entrusted her care to John. Similar arguments can be made for the other ‘brethren’.

Let’s go on to Matthew 1:25 and find the meaning of ‘until’ (or ‘till’ in some translations). “He knew her not until she brought forth her firstborn son” doesn’t necessarily mean that he knew her after the event took place. For example, in 2 Samuel 6:23 we find the line “Michal the daughter of Saul had not children until the day of her death.” Does this mean that she had children after she died?

Sometimes someone will assert that since Jesus is referred to as the “firstborn,” others must have followed. This shows a misunderstanding of the use of the term. Under Mosaic law, the “firstborn” son was to be sanctified (Exodus 34:20). This doesn’t mean that the parents had to wait until a second son was born. The first boy born was termed “firstborn” (the one who opened the womb) even if he was an only child.

Finally, let’s look at the Annunciation itself (Luke 1:28 and following). Mary’s response “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (KJV) makes no sense unless she had taken a vow to remain perpetually virgin. At this point in her life, Mary is betrothed, which is by Jewish custom, married to Joseph; although they have not yet taken up residence together, an event that took place after the marriage feast. The angel Gabriel has just told her that she will have a son, not that she is already pregnant. If she were planning to have relations with Joseph after the marriage feast, the likely result would be a child. Only if she had taken a vow of perpetual virginity does her response make sense. Some say that such a vow would result in an ‘unnatural’ marriage. Is it ‘natural’ to have a true virgin give birth? Is it ‘natural’ to have angels announce the birth of your child? Is it ‘natural’ to raise the Son of God in your family? All these events are supernatural.

Was Jesus an only child? In the biological sense, yes. In the spiritual sense, Romans 8:15-17 tells us that we are adopted children of God and coheirs with Christ if only we suffer with Him. Malachi 2:10 says “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” Suffice it to say that Jesus has millions of ‘brethren’.

Correct! Only those who interpret the Bible incorrectly don’t believe this, because it destroys their credibility and puts into question the authenticity of their beliefs.

“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses and of Judah, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?”

This verse is crystal clear evidence for Jesus’ only-sonship. “Son of (mother’s name)” was not a usual form of geneology in Jesus’ time - unless someone was an only child. Than it was used. So Jesus is here called an only child of Mary. Further, his foster father, Joseph, is indirectly referred to by referencing to Jesus’ work as a carpenter. The son took after his father’s work in Jesus’ time, so, since Joseph was a carpenter, Jesus was as well. Moreover, since Joseph is not named, it would seem that he was dead by this time, which would make Mary a widow. Hence, the term “brother” is a literal translation of the Aramaic for “cousin”, because there is no actual word for cousin in Aramaic.

Just thought I’d through in the Catechism’s perspective:


109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.75

110 In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. "For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression."76

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. "Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written."77

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.78

112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.79

The phrase "heart of Christ" can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.80

113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church"81).

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  1. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85
  1. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89

You know God’s Word doesn’t change from time to time. It is the same yesterday today and forever. My point is not to make learning the bible any harder. Interpreting the scripture is one part of it. Thats why the example of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. The bible is clear on that. It is simple. Be a Berean and search the scriptures. Don’t go by just what the Church teaches.

To whom might these “ground rules” apply? Not to SOLO Scriptura adherents, surely?


What website?

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