This question has hounded me for years: How can the many disagreements today between Christians and the cults be explained since all, or nearly all, claim to use the Bible as the basis of their doctrines? Nearly all false doctrines taught today by Christians and cultists alike can be traced to the distortion of the meaning of Biblical words and passages.
When two interpretations are claimed for a passage, the conclusion most in agreement with all of the below Bible interpretation principals must be adopted.
1) Begin with a clear understanding of - who wrote the book where the subject in question is found, who was the author writing to, what was the purpose of the letter (Halley's Bible Handbook is a good source for such things)
2) Definition of the word in question (understanding that the definition of a word can change depending upon the context in which it is used)
3) How the word or subject in question is used within the entire letter (book of the Bible)
4) Context (what was said before and after the verse or verses)
5) Parallel passages by the same author
6) Parallel passages written by other authors
7) The rule of Unity - An interpretation must be consistent with the rest of the Bible. How the New Testament handles this subject and then lastly the Old Testament (No doctrine should be built solely from the Old Testament.....)
8) Logic - Does the interpretation make sense?
"What is the control we use to weed out false theological speculation? Certainly the control is logic and evidence... interpreters who have not had the sharpening experience of logic...may have improper notions of implication and evidence. Too frequently such a person uses a basis of appeal that is a notorious violation of the laws of logic and evidence." (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Boston: W. A. Wilde, 1956)
Understanding that at no time are we to approach any subject with the goal of proving our present opinion of the subject in question. We must allow the Word to form what we believe about any subject in question even when we find that it disagrees with our 'hoped for' outcome...therefore, as Bible teachers we must enter a study with as clean of slate as possible in order to allow the Word to form our boundaries of the subject in question. And then once those boundaries are established we must not allow ourselves to say one thing that is outside of those boundaries. (No matter how inspired we think we may be during a time of ministry.)
Also, anything we 'think' we have heard from the Spirit that can not be verified through these Bible Interpretation principals must be set aside.....the things we hear from the Spirit will never contradict what our Bible interpretation principals have revealed. The Spirit and Bible interpretation principals will always agree with one another...
So many today are leaning too heavily on inspiration and what others have said concerning doctrinal positions - both practices will eventually mislead the flock of God if not scrutinized by the above mentioned Bible interpretation principals.
I have also observed those who have failed to 'rightly divide' and 'study to be approved' - when questioned about statements and doctrine for further proof passages treat such requests lightly, if not ignored completely. As Bible teachers we must welcome such inquiry and happily provide the evidence that supports our positions. And per chance their questions reveal that we have mishandled a subject or passage then we must be quick to repent and change after we have revisited this issue again through study and found our position wanting. (Remember, Iron does sharpen Iron - therefore questions and "but what about..." should always be welcomed - such things reveal the possible need that we need to be clearer in our presentation of the subject under discussion. Simplicity, clarity and understanding should be the goal of every Bible teacher.)
As you are well aware I am sure - the importance that we 'study to show ourselves approved rightly dividing the Word' is clear when we consider the consequences of misleading anyone within the precious flock of God. This fear drives me personally to be clear, concise and approved in my studies and will continue to drive me until I see Him face to face.
Note: there are other interpretation laws not mentioned above - I would encourage you to visit your local bookstore for further materials, books that address this subject.
A Fellow Labourer,