Applied hermeneutics is a long-winded way of saying, “Applied rules of interpretation.” Just as there are logical rules for studying physics (Applied Physics), there are common sense rules for interpreting the scripture. Some of the rules included, but not limited to applied hermeneutics are:
Never interpret an isolated verse or portion of scripture without taking into consideration the entire context in which it occurs. Ask yourself, “Who wrote the passage, why was it written (for what purpose), to whom was it written, what is the historical setting in which it occurs and what influence does this have in the modern-day interpretation?” Also, when ascertaining the context of a particular portion of scripture, it is important to read many verses preceding and many verses following the passage in question. Sometimes it even becomes necessary to read THE ENTIRE BOOK in which a particular verse is set to gain insight and understand the meaning of a narrative. Often it is even helpful to consult with Bible dictionaries or encyclopedias to acquire sufficient background knowledge of a book of the Bible, especially if you are a beginner.
Be humble; be flexible, and unbiased in your approach. Don’t let preconceived ideas; doctrines, etc influence your interpretation. Also, don’t throw away your overall knowledge of the scriptures, but use scripture passages to interpret other scripture passages. When reading or studying scripture, approach each endeavor as though the Bible was a brand new book to you, even though you may be very familiar with it. This attitude enables the spirit of God to feed your mind and heart with fresh revelation from His word, and allows Him to cut through doctrinal and theological bias that is not in line with His truth. In other words, don’t assume you know what a verse means simply because you’ve read or heard it before.
Don’t let your pastor, minister, favorite theologians, radio host or televangelist interpret scripture for you. Acknowledge there are men and women whom God has anointed and gifted as teachers and counselors. Not everyone is called as a teacher of the scriptures. Nonetheless, be wary and on guard for false teachers and prophets. Even if you feel inspired and enthusiastic about someone’s teaching, it is imperative to study the scriptures yourself. You must test each and every word, using the Bible as the plum line for truth. The Bible with 66 inspired books is the canon (collection of books) of scripture, and it must always be the final authority for truth and doctrine (teaching). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that does not mean everyone’s opinion is correct and in line with the word of God. If you let your pastor or minister do all of your interpreting, you will not grow in the knowledge of God through His word, and can become vulnerable to deception.
Consulting with the original Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament) is necessary to truly compare scripture with scripture for the purpose of interpretation. Not every believer feels compelled to study the original languages in which the Bible was written. However, for those whose hunger for the truth takes them deeper into study of the scripture, a familiarity and basic understanding of Hebrew and Greek is needed. Some people are intimidated by the Greek and Hebrew languages, and don’t know where to begin. There are many basic software programs and study books available through Christian bookstores and distributors. A good start is to buy a Strong’s Concordance and Dictionary of the Old and New Testaments.
Other study tools available include Bible dictionaries (e.g. – Unger’s Bible Dictionary), Bible encyclopedias (I highly recommend the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia aka ISBE), Expository Dictionaries (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the Old & New Testament is excellent), Interlinear Bibles (I recommend Nestlé’s Greek text for the New Testament), Bible software (my two favorites are Biblesoft & the AMG WordStudy Bible & Reference CD), Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance & Englishman’s Greek Concordance.
Stay away from excessive reading in Bible commentaries, Inductive Study Bibles, or Topical Bibles if you are serious about the truth. While Bible commentaries offer good historical information, they are laden with the theology of their authors. The same can be said for topical Bibles, or inductive study Bibles, both of which introduce a series of scripture verses on prearranged topics for you to research. Because these tools ‘induce’ the thought of their authors by arranging a sequence of Bible passages that concur, inevitably you will arrive at the same doctrinal conclusion they have induced through this method of research.