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Tools To Assist In Interpreting
The Scriptures


Neil Armstrong B.A., M.Div.

At some point almost every Christian uses the Scriptures to communicate their faith. When doing this it is helpful to have tools on hand which assist in this task. The Bible is comprised of many kinds of literature. Not all passages are intended to convey the same meaning or to be used in the same manner. When developing a theology, different types of Biblical literature must be considered. This is why Christians need resources to assist them in communicating their faith accurately.

Without adequate tools, many Christians do not know how to build strong theological arguments. They end up text proofing, taking verses out of context, or ending up with inconsistent arguments. This happens because they do not know which verses to use. In order to help those who would like to use the Scriptures effectively, we suggest these tools.

The tools we are suggesting have their basis in scholarship. When writing a paper one of the most important aspects of research is to determine the weight of credibility given to each source. The different kinds of sources are: primary, secondary and circumstantial. Before applying these scholarly terms in a theological context, they need to be defined.

Primary: A primary Scripture states a principal. It is first or highest in rank, quality, or importance. A theological truth is established which can not be refuted. Here are examples of primary Scriptures. 1 John 4:16 "God is love". 1 Corinthians 13:4 "Love is patient, love is kind." Because Christians recognize the authority of the Word of God, a principal needs only to be stated once and it is recognized as truth. Primary verses state the facts clearly and unequivocal. All major doctrines must be established with primary Scriptures.

Secondary: Secondary verses refer to truths established by primary Scriptures. They are of second rank or secondary in importance. When used in relation to a primary Scripture they provide more information or give a broader explanation. An example of a secondary Scripture is Romans 8:39, "...neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This verse, when used in support of the primary verse defining who God is, tells us more about His character. Used together, primary and secondary verses establish very solid Biblical truths.

Circumstantial: A circumstantial verse is one which relates to, or is dependent on a circumstance, a story or an event. It is not intended to be used as the Biblical basis for a theological statement. This is because the meaning is not clearly stated, leaving it open to speculation or misinterpretation. An example of such a text is found in Matthew 3:16-17 "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’" This verse can not be used to build a detailed theology about love. It may be used to used to show the relationship between the Father and Son which is one of love. When making a theological statement, a circumstantial passage must not be used alone without the central idea being firmly supported by primary and secondary Scriptures.

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