The Analogy of Faith in Biblical Interpretation

The analogy of faith states that no verse in Scripture will contradict a doctrine clearly taught in the rest of the Bible. This is closely related to the analogy of Scripture which states that no verse can contradict another. Whereas the analogy of faith focuses on doctrine (what we are to believe), the analogy of Scripture focuses on the Bible. Both principles flow from a belief in the inspiration (and therefore inerrancy) of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16). Since the words of the Bible are the words of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture flows out of the analogy of faith. We interpret less clear verses in light of clearer ones.

But how do we know which verses take priority over others when it comes to defining Christian doctrine? Do we interpret the anthropomorphisms about God in light of texts that say God is spirit and not a man or vice versa as the Mormons do? I find the illustration that James White has used in debates over justification to be helpful here. If you are working on your car, you go to the section in the car manual that is dealing with what you are trying to fix. You don’t go to the section on tires when you are working on the engine or go to the section on the radio when you are replacing a tail light. When studying a particular doctrine, you go to those verses that actually deal with the subject you are investigating. If you are studying baptism, you should examine all of the texts that specifically mention baptism rather than starting at Genesis 17. If you are studying justification, start with Romans 3-4 and Galatians 2-3, not James 2.

Since we interpret Scripture with Scripture, we must find similar verses to the ones we are trying to interpret. The “Treasury of Scripture Knowledge” (a database available in concordance programs such as Bibleworks) is one valuable resource for finding parallel passages of Scripture. When studying a passage, I consult Bible commentaries last because I want to do as much work as I can with the text by myself through textual, grammatical, and syntactical analysis of the original language. Only after I have done my own work in the text do I consult the writings of others. Faithful biblical interpretation also involves meditating on the Scripture in prayer. Charles Spurgeon once said that prayer is the key which unlocks Scripture. The Holy Spirit helps to illumine our minds to understand the things of God (1 Cor 2:12-13; 1 Thess 4:9). We need God’s anointing and the power of the Holy Spirit if we are ever to communicate the truths of God’s Word to others.

In addition to the analogy of faith, there are many other principles of biblical interpretation. Understanding how to interpret the different genres of Scripture (narrative, poetry, parables, epistolary, apocalyptic) will help prevent us from allegorizing Scripture or having a crassly literal interpretation of that which is meant to be taken symbolically. We need to know the historical context in which the words were written in order to avoid misapplying them to modern hearers. Diagramming sentences is a useful way to see how different words relate to each other in a passage. Studying the rhetorical devices of an author can help us to see the flow of his thinking and logic. Making an outline is useful for helping us to understand how a book is divided and what the main themes are.

Asking the following questions will help you as you analyze a text: What is the relationship of each part of the book to the rest of it? How does each section fit in with the overall structure and purpose of the book? How does each individual section and book relate to the message of the whole Bible? What is the literary and historical context of each passage? What is the author’s intent and purpose in writing? Who is he writing to and at what time in history? How does the author use the Old Testament? How do these truths relate to the rest of the truths in Scripture about this topic? Does my interpretation of this passage contradict any other known truth of Scripture?

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