Principles of Interpretation

The reader has a right to know what principles of interpretation I have tried to apply as I have written this 'Brief History of God'. A lot of what I have done has been intuitive, influenced by the motivations above and by my own background and spiritual journey. However, I have tried to set out below most of the more explicit principles I have followed, some of which refer to things in the Brief History itself:

Methods of Interpretation

How did I come up with all this? By what methods and principles? Here is a list of instructions that approximately encapsulate how I went about it. Though I did not keep strictly to the order shown, it does at least indicate my thinking, and might prove useful for others.

  1. Look at the era and read the scriptures about it. Try to see what is coming through - often, urgently and clearly - in what we read about this era. Be open to all the important questions, about God, ourselves, etc.

  2. What main, visible things can we learn about God, ourselves, etc. from this?

  3. Put these aside for now, and ask ..

  4. What things does it say about God that we take for granted today? (e.g. God is powerful, loving, etc).

  5. Suppose you are part of a humanity to which they are not obvious, and you learned them anew. Ponder these things that we take for granted. What effect would it have upon you and others if you learned it anew? Pondering in this way can help us understand the fuller meaning of these revelations.

  6. Now, bring back in the more visible things. How do they relate to the taken-for-granted things? Revise your list of things learned.

  7. Now, review the list of things learned in this era, both visible and taken-for-granted , and then see how they compare with things learned in other eras:

  8. Do not attend only to what Scripture says, but also what it does not say and the say it says things.

  9. Ask myself what the writer held dear.

  10. Do not overmuch try to rationalise things, though. Expect some things revealed about God etc. to be beyond reason.

Detailed Analysis of Scripture Passages

But there is also a need to analyse Scripture passages in detail sometimes, even to the point of looking to see the meaning of a word in its original language. However, I try to avoid 'scriptural arithmetic' in this. Here are some examples (more to come 2 May 2004):

Some Mistakes we Make in Interpreting the Bible

There are three types of 'mistake' we can make when interpreting Scripture, two of which are unintentional and two of which are serious:

Type of Mistake Wilful? Serious?
Little misunderstandings or misreadings No Not usually
Wrong world view, leading to major misunderstandings No Yes, though not seen as such at the time; effects are hidden, indirect and long term.
Wilful distortion, e.g. by those with narrow minds or academics and others intent on supporting their own views (Note: wilful even if unwitting) Yes. Yes. Though sometimes the immediate effect may not be serious, wilful distortion sets the agenda of thinking and the 'rules of play' that subsequent people follow.

This is part of the A Brief History of God website.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2000. Comments and queries are very welcome.

Page last updated: 15 February 2000 added counter. 10 December 2000 new comments pointer. 7 April 2001 correction. 17 February 2002 moved Principles of Interpretation here from site.html, added section Methods of Interpretation; reworded some of principles. 23 April 2002 mended broken link found by Roy Bryant's SEVENTwentyFour Inc. 22 January 2003 repl 'obvious' by taken-for-granted; added re. Saul. 2 May 2004 interp conflicting passages; writers basically honest. 26 March 2006 a bit more added. 8 May 2008 added two more conditions for interp.