Rule of Interpretation

The first rule of interpretation is the biblical rule: Every commandment must be understood in the context of the entire Bible. This is simply the Reformation principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. The way to know the full and true meaning of any Bible passage is to know what the rest of the Bible says on the same theme. And tihs is true of the Ten Commandments. To understand the full implications of each commandment, we need to know what the whole Bible teaches about it, including the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.

To take one example, consider the second commandment, which says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5a). This command sounds so simple that further explanation hardly seems necessary. Yet our understanding of the second commandment is greatly expanded when we know what the rest of the Bible says about worship in general and about idolatry in particular. We need to know what the prophet Isaiah said about the folly of making images with our hands and then bowing down to worship them (Isa. 44:6-23), what Jesus said about worshipping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and what the apostle Paul said about greed as a form of idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). In addition to studying the second commandment on its own terms, we need to study what is taught on the subject elsewhere in the Scripture.

What makes this method of interpretation valid is that everything in the Bible comes from the mind of God, as breathed out by his Holy Spirit. What God says in one place agrees with what he says somewhere else because God cannot disagree with himself! Furthermore, all the prophets and apostles accepted the abiding authority of God’s moral law. They did not set it aside, but in various ways interpreted and explained it. And because their teaching is also authoritative, whatever they have to say about the law also applies to us.


Ryken, P. G.  Written in Stone, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003


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