Bible Interpretation Class – Hiawatha Bible Chapel

Genre - Gospels and Parables, Epistles, Law and Wisdom Writings

Lesson 6 – March 25th  2017

  1. Gospels and Parables

Principles for Interpreting Gospels

  1. Read the Gospels Horizontally

  1. Read the Gospels Vertically

  1. Understand the Kingdom of God

Some Errors about the Kingdom of God

  1. The Kingdom of God is not the Church. It is the rule of God through Christ.
  2. The Kingdom of God is not exclusively future. As some say.
  3. The Kingdom of God is not exclusively present. As some say.
  4. There is no difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The term “heaven” in Kingdom of Heaven is likely a metonym (where a part stands for the whole) for God. In this case it is the abode which stands for the inhabitant. Like “White House” can stand for the president and his administration.

Parallels between Matthew 13 (Kingdom of Heaven) and Mark 4 (Kingdom of God) show that the two terms are interchangeable.

  1. The Kingdom of God is not a Place. It is the rule of God through Christ.

Principles for Interpreting Parables

Definition of a Parable

parable – A parable is an explicit comparison, usually told in terms of a story from everyday life, to illustrate a moral or spiritual point.

Purpose of the Parables

Parables have two purposes which seem to contradict themselves. One is to conceal, and one is to reveal.

Mark 4:10-12 (NASB) "10As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.11And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.’ "

We see in these verses that Jesus’ disciples were given the parables so that they would get the mystery of the Kingdom of God. At the same time, the parables were given to conceal truth from unbelievers.

Principles for Interpreting Parables

  1. Seek the One Main Point of the Parable

  1. Discount Irrelevant Points in the Parable

  1. Avoid Allegorizing Parables

  1. Look for the Text’s Self-Interpretation

  1. Look for the Immediate Context and Determine how this Parable Fits into it

  1. Examine the Cultural Setting

  1. Compare with Similar Parables

Sometimes it helps to compare a parable with a similar one (or one very near to it in context) to help understand it. For example, the parable of the mustard seed:

Matthew 13:31-32 (NASB) "31He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.’ ”

Let’s look at some of the points mentioned above about this parable, and then we will look at the parable after this one and compare the two.

  1. Self-interpretation – there is none
  2. Comparison with similar parable – the Kingdom of heaven is called the Kingdom of God in the same parable in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 4:30-32). This suggests that the two terms are interchangeable, meaning the same thing.
  3. Cultural setting – The mustard seed was known for its smallness. It was not the actual smallest seed of anything, but given that it could grow to the size of a small tree of ten feet or more with thick branches, it was used for the point of the parable, and Jesus used hyperbole (exaggeration) to make the point he wanted to make. It started very small and grew very large.
  4. Irrelevant details – The birds. Some say the birds represent the forces of evil that ate the seeds in the parable of the sower or are mentioned in Ezekiel. It seems like this is unnecessarily allegorical here. The parable of the sower and this one do not seem sufficiently similar to make this comparison. The fact that birds can nest in its branches seems to emphasize the size of the plant, not to allegorize evil.
  5. Interpretation – The simple main point seems to be something very small can grow very large; and the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to that. Given that Kingdom of Heaven was small when Jesus was there with just a handful of disciples, the point seems to be that it had the power to grow greatly. The fact that the Kingdom has spread throughout the world in the Church seems to be evidence of the truth of this parable

Now let’s look at the next parable in Matthew 13, the parable of the leaven.

Matthew 13:33 (NASB) "33He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.’ “

  1. Immediate context/comparison with similar parables – This parable has similarities with the one just before it (which we just looked at), which suggests to many that the main point is the same or at least similar
  2. Cultural setting: leaven/yeast – Some believe that leaven always symbolizes evil, and in many cases it does; but not always. Believing that it has to symbolize evil here, many take this parable to be about the professing church, which is evil. But leaven does not always symbolize evil. In Exodus 12:39 it is a symbol of haste for the exodus. Also the Kingdom of Heaven/God is the rule of God, and that is not evil. The negative connotation seems wrong here. Better to take it as a baking commodity used in a simple household activity: baking bread.
  3. Main Point – As yeast permeates and transforms the lump of dough, so the Kingdom of Heaven will permeate and transform wherever it is spread.
  4. Irrelevant details – The woman is in the story because it was the women who typically made the bread. She does not symbolize anything.
  5. Interpretation – This parable is similar to the previous one which spoke  of the tremendous growth of the Kingdom of Heaven/God. This parable seems to add to that the power of the Kingdom of Heaven/God to make intense transformation of people and the world, just as the yeast transforms the lump of dough.

So comparing to similar parables and looking at context can help us do a better job of interpreting parables.

  1. Epistles

All of the NT except the four Gospels, Acts, and Revelation are considered Epistles. The simplest definition of an Epistle is that it is a letter. However a man named Adolf Deissman came up with a more complex analysis of Epistles. He made a distinction between letters and epistles. Here is how he defined them:

  1. Letter – ordinary letters, according to Deissman, are non-literary, that is, they are not written for the public or for posterity (one’s descendants). Letters are intended for the person they are addressed to only. They are often informal and composed quickly.

  1. Epistle – An epistle, according to Deissman, was intended to be read beyond its immediate addressee, and to be preserved for future reference. Its construction showed more depth of thought and sophistication that reflected its broader literary purpose.

The “epistles” in the NT fall at various points on Deissman’s spectrum. Hebrews, for example, is said to be three parts tract and only one part letter, so it would be on the “epistle” extreme. Romans also is more of an epistle, dealing more heavily in doctrine, and meant to be saved for the future. Philemon, on the other hand, would likely be the closest thing to a simple letter (according to Deissman’s definition) of all what we call “epistles” in the NT.

Hermeneutical Principles For Epistles

  1. Epistles are “Occasional Documents”

  1. Epistles Give “Task Theology”

  1. Epistles Should be Read Along With the Book of Acts

  1. Epistles Should be Read Through in One Sitting and Outlined

  1. We Should Recognize That Epistles Were Not Written to Us

  1. Law and Wisdom Literature

Old Testament Laws

Reformed theology divides OT law into three categories. They are:

  1. Moral Law – Laws which are expressed in terms of broad, universal moral principles. These would be laws like the Ten Commandments.
  2. Civil Regulations – These laws organized Israel’s society. Examples would be laws concerning murder, assault and battery, theft, negligence, slaves, etc.
  3. Cultic or Religious Laws – These laws had to do with Israel’ worship. These would include laws concerning sacrifices, the tabernacle/temple, festivals, laws of purity and impurity, etc.

Dr. Sprinkle’s approach to the application of OT laws to NT believers is:

  1. Seek the Transcendent Principle Behind Each Law – The assumption is that behind each law is some sort of moral or religious principle that led God to give the command to Israel. The first step is to attempt to find that principle.

  1. Apply the Principle to Analogous Situations Today – Once the principle has been discovered, it can be applied to similar situations today. The thought is that the principle will still apply to us, even if the law does not.


  1. Moral Law – Moral laws are given in terms of transcendent moral principles that are based on the eternal nature of God. Therefore, the moral law remains eternally applicable, i.e., the law is the principle. For example, “Thou shalt not covet.”

  1. Civil Law – For each civil law, one must ask, “What is the principle behind the law?”

  1. Cultic (Religious) Law – Religious laws from the OT are not directly applicable to those under the NT, however they should still have their spiritual principles upon which they are based.

Value of the Mosaic Law for Christians Today

This information is from Dr. Joe Sprinkle’s book Biblical Law and Its Relevance.

  1. The Law Serves to Restrain Sinners

  1. The Law is a Prelude to the Gospel

  1. The Law is a Guide for Christian Living

  1. Biblical Civil Laws are Suggestive for Modern Systems and Bodies of Law

  1. The Law has Value in That it Shows the Holy Yet Merciful Nature of God

  1. The Law Points to Christ who is the Fulfillment of the Law

Wisdom Literature

Following are some brief hermeneutical observations that will help interpret texts from the Wisdom

Books, i.e., Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

  1. Proverbs – General Truths

  1. Job and Ecclesiastes – Distinguish God’s Message from Character’s Words

  1. Song of Songs

  1. Typology

Typology is considered (by conservative theologians) to be a sub-category of prophecy. I put it at the very end rather than right after Prophecy in case we did not have time to cover it.


type – A type is a God-intended analogy between an OT person, event, or institution and a corresponding person, event, or institution in the NT.

A key part of this definition is the “God-intended” part. Typology is not reading ideas into the OT that are not there (that tends to be allegory). A true type is intended by God to be an analogy between an OT thing and some NT thing. It is certainly likely that most (all?) OT authors would have had no idea that what he was writing about foreshadowed elements of NT salvation.

analogy (Webster) – An analogy is a resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike.

As an analogy, there must be substantial correspondence between the OT type and its NT anti-type. For example, Christ’s death on the cross is substantially like the sacrifices of bulls and goats in the OT. But, of course, the analogy breaks down at some point. For a trivial point, Jesus did not have hooves like bulls and goats. On a more important note, however, the bulls and goats had to be sacrificed year after year, and they had to be made first for the sins of the priests and then for the sins of the people. In Christ’s case, the sacrifice had to be made only once, and not at all for our high priest (Christ) who was sinless, but only for the people. Types are like metaphors and similes in the sense that the correspondence is not complete; yet there is analogy.

Many confuse allegory with typology.

allegory (Webster) - the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; or a symbolic representation of something.

Allegory is a forced (invented) attempt to find hidden meaning in something rather than a natural correspondence. Allegories reflect a meaning that the person has found behind something in the OT. These meanings are not confirmed by the NT, or really anywhere. The following table shows the comparison of types and allegories:

Allegory vs. Typology

by Roy Zuck



Represents forced and alien correspondence

Type and anti-type have natural correspondence

Historical reality considered trivial

Historical reality considered important

Looks behind the literal for hidden codes/meaning

Type foreshadows the future, looks ahead

Human creation


Not confirmed by the NT

Mostly confirmed by the NT

Principles for Interpreting Types

  1. Accept what the NT Teaches to be Types as Types; Be Cautious if it Does Not

Another possible type that is not confirmed in the NT, but has, in my opinion, more evidence for us to call it a type is the story of Abram setting out to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22. This passage parallels how God offers up His son so well, that it seems like a type to me. Consider the following table:

Possible Typology:

The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)



Father Abraham

Father God

Does not spare his son

Does not spare His Son

His “only/unique” son whom he loves

His only (only-begotten) beloved Son

Isaac to be sacrificed

Jesus was sacrificed

Isaac carries the wood

Jesus carried His cross

Isaac does not resist old father Abraham

Jesus dies willingly doing His Father’s will, as a lamb to the slaughter

Ram substitutes for Isaac

substitutes for the world

God will provide the lamb

God provided the Lamb of God

After the sacrifice, Isaac came back alive

After the cross, Jesus came back from the dead

  1. Do Not Force Every Detail of a Type to be Typical of Something

  1. Do Not Build Doctrine on Typology

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