General Principles For Understanding The Holy Bible

In a previous article, Foundational Principles For Understanding The Holy Bible, we saw some very basic points for a proper grasp of the written Word of God. Let us now go beyond the basics.
General Principles For Understanding The Holy Bible
Source - Image owned, uploaded and copyrighted 2015 by the author, Peter P. Macinta (BrotherPete).

Laying a foundation for understanding the Holy Bible{1} is a very good start, but we should not stop there. There are other things that must be considered, otherwise we will run into misunderstandings and even error.

1. Context

A. To fully understand a verse or passage we have to consider its context. Look at the words of the verse or passage itself, considering all the words in relation to each other. For example, does Matthew 4:1 say that Jesus went into the wilderness or did the Spirit lead Him? Scripture is often misquoted because its actual wording is forgotten or disregarded. Did

you know Isaiah 44:8 states, “There is no God?” It sure does, but those four English words do not support atheism, because that short statement is found in this context, the entirety of verse 8, “Fear not, neither be afraid: have not I told you from that time, and have declared it? You are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

B. Consider the verses before and after it (its immediate context). Some Bibles indicate where paragraphs begin by using indentation, the paragraph symbol, or some other marker. Also take into account what I might call the “flowing context.” Verse and chapter numbers were not part of the original and ancient texts, but were added later. In a number of non-Biblical works today there are times successive chapters indicate a complete new focus and even a disconnect from the previous chapter. This is not the case for the Holy Bible. For example, in the first year of my salvation I was baffled that Christ told certain disciples in Matthew 16:28 they would not see death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. I knew they died, and the fulness of the Kingdom of God has not yet come. However, someone pointed out that I should keep reading, because in Matthew 17:1-7 Jesus is transfigured before them and speaks with Elijah and Moses--indeed a glimpse of His coming Kingdom.

C. The entire book in which the passage or verse occurs should come under consideration, including what might be some natural divisions in a book. Here is an example from Ecclesiastes 3:18-21: "I said in my heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows the spirit of man that goes upward, and the spirit of the beast that goes downward to the earth?"

If we just read that without finishing the whole book of Ecclesiastes we would get the impression we are no different than an animal and our spirit does not return to God. However, the proper conclusion is given near the end of the book, in Ecclesiastes 12:7, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Much of Ecclesiastes, written by the Holy Spirit through Solomon, is a look at life on earth without much regard for our Creator. Earthly living without regard for God certainly is vanity.

The principle of context is one of the most neglected principles of interpretation. It's neglect has given rise to the defamation of the Holy Bible and many cults and errors, some of which are dangerous.

2. Unity of Scripture

Though the Holy Bible is comprised of over 50 separate books (certain sets of Old Testament books are one book or were considered as one by devout Jews), they are authored by One Author and speak as one. It will not contradict itself when understood and interpreted as God has intended.

One might wonder then why God orders killings of peoples in portions of the Old Testament (OT) but forbids it in portions of the New Testament (NT). This has to do with the fact though God remains the same, His methods in dealing with man change through the course of time periods. I will explain this more under another principle.

The above mentioned passage in Ecclesiastes 3 is clarified by remembering God's distinction in creation when He made man "a living soul" (Genesis 2:7), thus different from the animals. This distinction is also seen in the New Testament.

3. Scripture Interprets Scripture

Basically there are two ways Scripture will explain and / or more fully develop Scripture.
One is quotations or paraphrases of other passages. Hebrews 5:5 reads, "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, You are my Son, today have I begotten You." The last part, "You are my Son, today have I begotten You," is a quote from Psalm 2:7. Reading Psalm 2 gives a deeper understanding of Hebrews 5:5.

The other is the explanation or application of a statement. For example, in Mark 16:17-18 we read, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Would this mean that in order to show our faith we should purposely pick up poisonous snakes or drink poison? I prefer snacks and not snakes at the end of a church service! But this passage should be understood in what happened to the Apostle Paul when he and others were shipwrecked on Malta. As he gathered sticks for a fire, a poisonous snake bit him--and he survived without harm. See Acts 28:1-6. So we deduce from this we are not to purposely attempt to invoke the protection mentioned in Mark 16:18.

4. God’s Ways Are Above Man’s Ways

The Holy Scriptures point to five exclusive attributes of God, viz., omnipresent (everywhere present), omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful) according to His nature, eternal (timeless), and immutable (cannot change nor be destroyed). These are things we are certainly not. So He is well capable of actions we cannot do or even think of. YHVH God declares in Isaiah 58:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says YHVH. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Many, if not most, people think along earthly terms and consider miraculous and hard to understand things recorded in the Holy Bible as fictitious. However, during the course of mankind’s history one generation would consider certain things impossible but after millenia or centuries later they came to pass. For example, if you could go four or five thousand years back in time and in a conversation with someone tell them your generation can cook a meal without fire they would find it hard to believe and might consider you a liar. Just in the past 30 years there have been many scientific advances that are very amazing.

So, it should not be unbelievable or considered fictitious to us when we read in the Holy Bible that God has the capability of creating people out of stones (Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8) or establish on earth a city of tremendous dimensions as described in Revelation 21:2 and 16.

Therefore the following statement by Christ in John 3:13 is not self-contradictory: “And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” There is another supposed contradiction with the first part of this verse where Christ states “no man has ascended up to heaven” but we will address that point in with a previous principle

in an upcoming article, God willing.

As mentioned above, many people think in earthly terms. As a result, many fall into what I call “linear thinking.” We must not limit, in our minds, God to do things the way we think they should be done or in the order we might expect. For example, some people think that everything in a book of the Holy Bible must be in sequential order. However, this is not even true with some man-made works. So, we should not be surprised if things are not sequential at times as in the case of Daniel or Jeremiah. No one made a mistake. God is emphasing something in the spiritual realm, presenting deep lessons for us to learn. And, there are times the Holy Spirit injected explanatory passages in the midst or throughout a sequential account.

5. Human Author's Purpose for Writing

All of the human authors had a reason to begin to write what they did. Under context we mentioned Ecclesiastes, which is quite a dismal book! The human author was King Solomon, and by the Holy Spirit he expresses in that book his own personal experience that earthly (not spiritual) life is futile, and that one needs to focus upon the spiritual. 

Here are some more examples: The Gospel writers wanted to record a history of Christ; The Galatian church began to trust in their own works and try to earn salvation, so Paul by the Holy Spirit writes the epistle (letter) he did to them; Jude saw the church as a whole being infiltrated by corrupt men; And the prophets, like Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, were powerfully impelled to express the will of God.

6. External Data

Consider passages in the light of culture, history, archaeology, and geography. Also consider the time and location of writing and the same for the location or / and the group of people it was written for.

Here is an example regarding geography. In the United States when we travel from south to north we might say we are going "up north." However, in the Holy Bible often "going up" to a location meant going up in elevation. So if someone was heading south from Nazareth and heading to Jerusalem, they would be going "up to Jerusalem," since it was higher in elevation though they would be going from north to south. An example involving culture is that "heaping coals of fire upon one's head" was a custom to help one's friend transfer hot goals from a "community stove" to their own stove--not to burn them!

The following works will help you with considering external data:
Manners And Customs Of The Bible by James M. Freeman
Smith’s Bible Dictionary by William Smith
Unger's Bible Handbook by Merrill F. Unger

In the light of encounters in recent decades in evangelical outreach, more needs to be said that touches upon external data and other points, but we will save that for another article.

7. Determine References of Address

Who were the words in a passage spoken to or about? In our Lord's time on earth there had been some of what could be called “racial tension” between Jews and Samaritans. This helps to better understand the encounter of Christ with the Samaritan woman in John 4.

This principle plays an important role in better understanding prophetic passages. By being spiritually led to think of this principle, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:34) was ready to understand the message of salvation in Christ presented by Philip because he asked who was the speaker speaking about in Isaiah 53.

8. Consider The Source And Circumstances Of A Statement Made

In an upcoming article you will learn about the principle of distinguishing between record and command, what the Holy Bible records as an event and what it presents as command to follow. This principle is similar to record and command and also touches upon context.

The statement by certain Jews in John 8:33 where they said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man,” is an example of considering the source of a statement made. These were unbelieving Jews who would soon depart from Christ anyway. They were evidently blinded by their pride to the fact their nation was under Roman rule, and that their ancestors had been enslaved by Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt to name a few.

Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” has been used by those into “hyperfaith” that claim real strong Christians are always prosperous in this world. What they neglect is the fact that David made this statement during the time of Israel’s best years. The circumstances of that statement have to be taken into consideration. Along with that is the fact that other Holy Scripture points to the fact that those who are godly in Christ will suffer adversity. In my opinion, the hyperfaith community needs to consider the entire Word of God, then take off their rose colored glasses and look at the Christians that suffer for their faith, even to the point of begging, around the world.

9. Self-placement

Put yourself in the place of the disciples when they, who were devout Jews at the time, were told by Jesus that the Temple they loved would one day no longer exist. In so doing, you'll understand why they asked Christ a number of questions. Do the same with other passages and you will gain a richer understanding of what you are reading.

Learning and applying these principles, and those in the next lesson, will benefit you in a number of ways and help you be a blessing to others.


{1} Please see the article, Foundational Principles For Understanding The Holy Bible.

Many of these principles are based upon Bernard Ramm’s work titled, Protestant Biblical Interpretation.

Find more apologetics information at .

Unless otherwise noted all Holy Scripture is from the 1769 Authorized Version with spelling of some words updated for our time in addition to changing LORD to YHVH as it rightly should be when the text so indicates. An * next to the abbreviation for another translation or version indicates the same for the text presented.

Not responsible for any advertisements appearing with this article nor am I necessarily in agreement with any of them. The statements of this paragraph hold true not only for this article, but for everything I have placed on the Internet.

Article Written By BrotherPete

I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, having served over forty years as a pastor. I graduated from Northeast Bible College of Green Lane Pennsylvania and have a Bachelors Degree in Bible. I am enthused about the Word of God and how it can make a positive change in the life of anyone once it is teamed up with faith and the Holy Spirit. I am happily married. Visit

Last updated on 13-05-2016 275 1

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  • nbillett  28-12-2016
    God desires nothing but good things for us. So when we speak of following the will of God, we are entering into a process of discernment to discover the good that God desires for us.
    reply 0
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