How to Effectively
Study the Word
Literal Interpretation
Layout of the Lessons
Introduction and Preparation
“Literal” Interpretation
Principle I: Examine Word Meanings / Relationships
Principle II: Observe The Context
Principle III: Determine The Historical Setting
How To Productively Study The Word (Steps 1-4)
How To Productively Study The Word (Step 5 Interpretation)
• How To Productively Study The Word (Step 6 Application)
Literal Interpretation
"Hermeneutics, the universal laws of human language, is a
science. Man has not made up these laws, rather he has
discovered them. These laws are just as real and objective as
the law of gravity. These laws apply to all languages and
cultures. They are timeless. They are relevant in interpreting
writings written four thousand years ago and they will continue
to be up-to-date as long as man is communicating to other men
or even God. Just as for thousands of years, men knew and
functioned by the law of gravity even though Newton had not
formulated the law, even so for ages man has observed and
functioned by the laws of human language even though they
often were not aware of their existence."
- Dennis W. Brindley
Literal Interpretation
Schools of Interpretation
– Allegorical
Gives to words hidden and deeper meanings that were not intended by the author
Popular in Jewish Theology (Example: there must be 903 ways of dying because the
Hebrew word for death in Psalm 68:20 has a numerical value of 903)
Popular in the early church fathers (Example by Origen: The two donkeys used in
Christ's triumphal entry represent the Old and New Testaments.)
– Literal
Gives to words the same meaning they would have in normal, ordinary usage
Seeks to understand the intended meaning of the writer of Scripture
“Allegories are empty speculations and as it were the scum of Holy Scripture” – Luther
“It is the first business of an interpreter to let his author say what he does say, instead of
attributing to him what we think he ought to say” - Calvin
Why “literal” interpretation?
1. Literal fulfillment of biblical prophecies.
 Look up Isaiah 35:4-6. Then read Matthew 11:2-6. How does this passage indicate
that Jesus thought Scripture was to be understood?
2. Exercises some control over the interpreter
3. If God gave man the ability to communicate, and man communicates in a
plain, ordinary sense, then God’s communication to man should be the same
4. It maintains a respect for the historical nature of the Bible
Literal Interpretation
• Figurative language occurs when a writer or speaker represents one
concept in terms of another
– "The animal devoured his meal" is a literal statement. "The flames devoured an
old landmark" is a figurative statement
– A skillful writer or speaker will use figurative expressions both for greater
emphasis and for intensified feeling .. Yet there is still intended meaning
• Plain - literal statement
– Meaning is the explicit assertion of the words (“Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there He sat with His disciples”)
• Figurative-literal statement
– Meaning is the specific intention of the figure (“the church of the living God, the
pillar and ground of the truth”)
• Guidelines for working with figurative-literal statements
1. Look carefully for a plain-literal meaning first (Zech 14:4 – Literal?)
2. If a figure of speech is employed by the author, look for an explanation or clue to
its meaning in the context (Jn 1:29 Vs. Exodus 11 & 12)
3. If the plain-literal sense of a statement gives a contradiction, or a moral or
physical impossibility, then look for a figurative-literal sense (Mat 7:3,5)
4. The "GOLDEN RULE": If the plain-literal makes good sense, seek no other
Different Figures of Speech
• Metaphor: a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate
another (“God is my Rock”)
• Simile: indicated by such words as “like” or “as” (“The kingdom of heaven is like
a man who planted good seed in his field”)
• Hypocatastasis: an implied metaphor: “Beast!”; “beware of the leaven of the
Pharisees and Sadducees”; “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it”
• Synecdoche: a part is spoken of as if it were the whole; a hired hand (worker) who
desires to keep bread (food) on the table, a roof (shelter) over his family
• Metonymy: occurs when one thing is spoken of to refer to something else, to which
the first thing is related in some way; for example, “the White House said today.…”
• Personification: occurs when a thing, quality, or idea is represented as a person; for
example, “the heavens declare the glory of God”
• Euphemism: a word or phrase that is less direct is substituted because the writer
believes that the direct form would be distasteful or harsh;, “he was gathered to his
fathers”; “Lazarus has fallen asleep”; “she is having an affair”
• Hyperbole: exaggeration used for emphasis or effect. (“And if thy right eye offend
thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee”)
Figure of Speech Identification
Ex 13:22: He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor pillar of fire by night
Psalm 23:1: The Lord is my Shepherd
Isaiah 53:6: All of us like sheep have gone astray
Daniel 6:16: … Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den
Mat 5:13: you are the salt of the earth
Mat 5:30: if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you
Mat 12:34: you brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak is good?
Col. 3:24: Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men
I Pet. 2:2: like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word
Mat 6:34 Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things
2Chr 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show
Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal …
• Some Old Testament constructions, events, and relationships were indicators in
advance of what would become reality in the New Testament.
OT Reference
NT Reference
Adam’s Fall
Contrasted to Christ’s representative justification.
Gen 3
Rom 5:12, 18
New life available in Christ
Gen 17, Lev 26:1
Rom 4:11, Col 2:11f
Christ’s sacrifice as redemptive substitute
Exo 12
1 Cor 5:7;
lamb w/o blemish
or broken bone
Christ’s sinlessness, preservation of body at
Exo 12:5,8-9
1 Peter 1:18f, John
19:33, 36
The “rest” achieved through Christ’s ministry
Exo 16, 20, 23, 31
Col 2:16f, Hebr 4
God’s presence with men and in men in Christ’s
Exo 25, 29
Hebr 8:5f, 2Cor 6:16,
Rev 21:3
Christ’s atoning death
Lev 17
Hebr 10:4ff
Brazen Serpent
His being lifted up in crucifixion that all who see
may live
Num 21:8f
John 3:14-15
Guidelines for interpreting
Look for the basic meaning of the symbol. Go beyond the superficial.
The physical is often used to picture the spiritual.
Look for the consistent use of a specific symbol in the Old Testament.
The symbol or type must be an illustration of and consistent with New Testament truth.
Limit to the topic under consideration in the context
Assume that details given have meaning. However, don’t expect every detail to fit.
Identify symbolic constants (e.g. “Lion” symbolizes power, whether evil or good)
The lesson is always woven into a story which is true to reality
Jesus’ transition to parables is explained in Matthew 13:10-17
Designed to reveal the truth to those who really want to know it, and to
conceal the truth from those casual curiosity or commitment to their
preconceived errors
A few guidelines
1. Look for correlation of the physical features to the spiritual implications
2. Seek to gain one solid point of application which speaks to the issue
presented in the context where the parable is found
3. Our Lord revealed the hidden meaning to believing hearts then; he will do
so for us now, if we humbly seek enlightenment as did the disciples
4. Don’t strain to make every minute detail fit
Other Types of Writing
- Example in Galatians 4:22-31. Specifically told it is an allegory (v 24)
- Don’t place MORE meaning into historical events than Paul does
- Many people allegorize things which had no intention of being allegorized
- Not all historical narratives impart proper behavior (e.g. Noah’s
drunkenness, Abraham’s multiple wives, etc.)
- Not all historical statements about God are correct (e.g. Job)
- A short saying that may be in frequent and widespread use that expresses a
basic truth or practical precept.
- No context -- like giving the moral of the story without telling the story
- Not always hard and fast rules or promises, but often general rules of thumb
- Religious discourse delivered as part of a religious service or public address
- Sermon on the mount (Mt 5), Apostles in Acts (Acts 2:14ff, Acts 17)

Lessons in Faith Matthew 15:21-39