Basic Rules of Interpretation-Internal and External


Rules of Interpretation—External

“Many men take the testimonies the Lord has given, and apply them as they suppose they should be applied, picking out a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea. Thus poor souls become bewildered, when could they read in order all that has been given, they would see the true application, and would not become confused.” 1 BRIIE 8.1

Eight basic rules of interpretation that embrace a document’s wider context would include: BRIIE 8.2

Rule One: Include all that the prophet has said on the subject under discussion before coming to a conclusion. 2

This rule seems obvious; yet, it probably is the first reason why confusion reigns when people disagree. The reason: most people see only what they want to see. This simple fact influences most all research, whether in astrophysics, medicine, politics, or theology. Unfortunately, few people will admit it. We call this phenomenon, the paradigm fixation or the problem of presuppositions. 3 Especially in studying the Bible, nothing seems more difficult for most people than to look at all the facts! This difficulty is not because a person’s capability to think is deficient. The difficulty that separates thinkers looking at the same information is that their presuppositions are different, presuppositions not only of the head but of the heart. BRIIE 8.3

Presuppositions most often steer students only to “see” what they want to see, thus they overlook the total range of what a writer has written on a particular subject. These paradigms control the mind in what it wants to see, and the heart in what it wants to believe. Earlier 4 we called this phenomenon “attitude.” These deep, often unverbalized, attitudes most often determine one’s conclusions. 5 BRIIE 8.4

After recognizing this hovering cloud of presuppositions (paradigms or world-views) that every student should recognize, the next challenge is to examine all that a person has said or written on the subject under discussion. Only in this way can the writer (or speaker) be treated fairly. BRIIE 8.5

Many Biblical scholars through the centuries have accepted Isaiah’s principle: “But the word of the Lord was to them, ‘Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little’” (28:13). Accepting this principle assumes that the Bible contains a unified, harmonious unfolding of God’s messages to human beings. But this principle does not teach that all texts are equally clear, or that the meaning of a verse can be understood apart from that verse’s context. The over-arching message of the Bible (or any other book or author) provides the final context for the meaning of any particular “precept” or “line.” BRIIE 8.6

The same principle applies to the writings of Ellen White. She wrote often: “The testimonies themselves will be the key that will explain the messages given, as scripture is explained by scripture.” 6 BRIIE 8.7

She believed her writings to be consistent and harmonious from beginning to end, revealing “one straight line of truth, without one heretical sentence.” 7 That is a remarkable statement for any author to make, especially one who had been writing for more than sixty years. 8 BRIIE 8.8

On some subjects that many consider important today, Mrs. White wrote nothing. Movies, television and radio programs, abortion, cremation, organ transplants, etc., were not current topics in her day. BRIIE 9.1