Bible Interpretation Class – Hiawatha Bible Chapel

Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Context, and Figurative Language

Lesson 3 – March 25th, 2017


John Wesley founded the Methodist movement, and a Methodist theologian names Albert Outler systematized Wesley’s approach to interpretation into something called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The following chart explains it:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral


Scripture is the supreme authority, the sole source of religious truth, but it is read in the light of the other three elements of the Quadrilateral.


Scripture is interpreted in the light of reason because God is a reasonable God so interpretations which make no sense are probably wrong.


Since God has spoken to His people throughout Church history, and would presumably not allow his truth to be totally garbled, it is at least worthwhile to see what the Church has said on past matters of Biblical interpretation. It is always dangerous to come up with an interpretation which no one in Church history has ever held before. Such interpretations are usually wrong. Thus it is good to read Scripture in the light of what people have said about it over the centuries.


It is inevitable that we read the text in the light of our own experiences as humans and as believers. How else could we feel the joys and sorrows of Biblical characters if we did not read in the light of our own experience? Our religious experience affects the way we read the Bible whether we acknowledge it or not.

A Discussion of Context In Bible Interpretation

Geographical Context

Historical Context

Cultural Context

Scientific Context

Word Context

  1. A word’s meaning is determined by its usage in context

  1. Words have a semantic range

  1. A word does not mean all of its semantic range in any given occurrence

  1. There are no exact synonyms

  1. Words change meanings over time

Most to Least Important Ways to Determine the Meaning of NT Greek Words

  1. From the NT author himself, i.e., how did he use that same word, first of all in the same book you are studying and next in other books he wrote in the NT

  1. From the NT in general, i.e., how is the word used by other authors in the NT. They came from the same era and had similar religious backgrounds.

  1. From how it was used in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT.

  1. From Hellenistic Greek (from the 200’s BC to the 200’s AD or so) and how the church fathers used the word.

  1. Classical Greek and Etymology

As a last resort.

Example of a Bad Sermon from Bad Linguistics


Literary and Theological Context

  1. Is it in the OT or the NT?

  1. At What Point in the Progress of Revelation of the OT or the NT Does this Passage Occur?

Differing Periods:

Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism

Covenant Periods


Covenant of Creation (Genesis 1-3)

Innocence (Before the fall)

Covenant with Noah (Genesis 9)

Conscience (Fall to Flood)

Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17)

Human Government (Flood to Abraham)

Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19-24)

Promise (Abraham to Moses)

Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89)

Law (Moses to Jesus)

New Covenant (Matthew 26, Hebrews 8)

Church Age (Acts 2 to Second Coming)

Eternal State (Revelation 21-22)

Kingdom Age (After the Second Coming)

  1. What is the Overall Purpose of the Book Containing the Text?

  1. How Does Your Pericope Fit Into the Thought Structure and Outline of the Book it is in?

  1. What do the Pericope Right Before Yours and Right After Yours Say, and How does Your Pericope Fit into the Flow of Thought of those Two?

  1. How is Your Passage Structured Internally?

Examples of Figurative Language

We have discussed the use of figurative language in the Bible (as opposed to allegory), and I would like to define the various types and give examples:

Recall, figurative language could be defined as:

Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation. When a writer uses literal language, he or she is simply stating the facts as they are.

Types of Figurative Language And Biblical Examples:

  1. Simile

Similes make an explicit comparison between two things using the words “as” or “like.”

Psalm 90:4 (NASB) "4For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night."

Psalm 1:3 (NASB) "3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers."

  1. Metaphor

Metaphors are used to call one thing another thing to suggest a likeness. It is like a simile but without using the word “like” or “as.”

Psalm 23:1 (NASB) "1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Note, God is not like a shepherd in every way. He is like a shepherd in the sense that He guides, feeds, and protects the sheep. Do not push metaphors (or similes) too far; only try to get the point of similarity intended by the author.

  1. Symbolism

Symbols in the Bible tend to just relate to a ritual or a prophetic vision. Symbols are things which are invested with meaning to suggest something else. For example, the bread and wine of the remembrance service are symbols of Christ’s body and blood.

  1. Personification

Personification is attributing personal qualities to a non-human thing.

Psalm 114:5 (NASB) "5What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?"

The Red Sea and the Jordan River are addressed as if they are people and can respond. The questions address them as if they are sick or scared.

  1. Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is when human attributes are ascribed to God which cannot, or course, be taken literally. This is usually an accommodation to the weakness of human imagination. Since we cannot comprehend an infinite, invisible, all-powerful being, the writers use imagery that we can understand to give us a sense of what He is like.

Leviticus 1:9 (NASB) "9Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer up in smoke all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire of a soothing aroma to the Lord."

God does not have a nose and smell as we do. These verses speak of God taking delight in people’s sacrifices and offerings.

2 Chronicles 16:9 (NASB) "9For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars."

Again, God does not have literal eyes like ours, but He does search out those that obey Him.

  1. Metonymy

Pronounced -  muh-tahn-o-mee

Metonymy is the use of one thing to represent another thing with which it is associated.


The land belongs to the crown: by metonymy, this means the land belongs to the king, the one who wears the crown.

The White House is lobbying congress to pass a bill: White House refers to those who are associated with the White House, i.e., the President and his administration

Luke 13:34 (NASB) "34O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it."

Jerusalem refers to the people of Jerusalem.

Luke 16:29 (NASB) "29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’"

Moses represents the books written by Moses (Pentateuch) and the Prophets represent the books written by the prophets.

  1. Synecdoche

Pronounced  - sin-eck-doe-key

Synecdoche is a metonymy in which a part represents the whole or a whole represents a part.

Buy a new set of “wheels”

He asked for her “hand” in marriage

“Suits” for business people

“Boots” for soldiers (“boots” on the ground)

Genesis 42:38 (NASB) "38But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’"

“Gray hair” (the part) refers to Jacob in his old age (the whole).

Luke 2:1 (NASB) "1Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth."

“All the inhabited earth” (the whole) represents the Jewish parts of the Roman world (the part).

  1. Merism

Merism is a synecdoche where the whole is represented by two or more parts.

Many times merism involves picking the extremes to represent all of something. For example:

The rich and the poor all die, meaning everyone dies, regardless of their station in life.

Genesis 1:1 (NASB) "1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Two parts of creation (the extremes, above and below) represents all of creation.

Isaiah 2:4 (NASB) "4And He will judge between the nations,

And will render decisions for many peoples;

And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And never again will they learn war."

Two kinds of war implements are shown as being turned into two implements of peace, likely implying that all implements of war will be turned into implements of peace.

  1. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration of something to express an extreme.

This luggage weighs a ton.

I have been waiting in line forever.

1 Kings 4:20 (NASB) "20Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance; they were eating and drinking and rejoicing."

Clearly exaggeration. Israel prospered in the time of Solomon. There were numerous people because they were at peace.

Revelation 14:19-20 (NASB) "19So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles."

The wrath of God in His judgment will result in the death of many. This seems to be a clear exaggeration of how much blood is there. It represents a lot of death.

  1. Irony

Irony is a figure of speech where the intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. or there is an incongruity between the words and reality. Sarcasm is a form of irony that is intended to be biting.

A mother says to her young child who has just dumped a bowl of cereal on their head, “My, aren’t we clever!” What she really means is, “What a dumb thing to do.”

Job 12:1-2 (NASB) "1Then Job responded, 2’Truly then you are the people, and with you wisdom will die!"

Meaning thanks a lot, you are not as smart as you think you are.

Matthew 27:29 (NASB) "29And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ "

They really meant, given your condition, you are no king.

  1. Hendiadys

Pronounced – hen-die-uh-diss

Hendiadys is when two nouns or adjectives are joined by the conjunction “and” to express a single but complex idea.

nice and warm – meaning pleasantly warm, not too warm, but just right

good and hungry – meaning very hungry

Psalm 55:5 (NASB) "5Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me."

This means a trembling fear, or extreme fear has come upon me.

John 1:17 (NASB) "17For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ."

Probably means that he has received a  “true grace.”

  1. Euphemism

Pronounced – yoo-fuh-mism

Euphemism is used to change what is considered harsh or indelicate for a more pleasant, gentler, or less indelicate equivalent.

His mother passed away; a less indelicate way to say “died.”

John 11:11 (NASB) "11This He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.”"

Again, a nicer way to say “He died.”

Matthew 1:24-25 (KJV) “24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

A euphemism for having sexual intercourse with her.

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