Biblical Interpretation: Historic and Didactic Passages

Date: November 10, 2013
Study: Scripture: Unchanging Truth in a Changing World
Teacher: Lawson Hembree

Seven Principles for Interpreting Scripture

  1. Read the Bible reverently
  2. Read the Bible prayerfully
  3. Read the Bible collectively
  4. Read the Bible humbly— If your interpretation is shown to be incorrect by exegesis, then be humble enough to change your interpretation.
  5. Read the Bible carefully
  6. Read the Bible Christologically— Everything in the Bible points to Jesus.
  7. Read the Bible obediently

Historical Passages vs Didactic Passages
Big Idea: Interpret narrative passages with the help of didactic passages. 

Narrative passages: literature that is meant to relate a series of events (ie large portions of the four Gospels and the book of Acts). It tells the story.

Didactic passages: literature that is meant to teach or explain (ie much of the Epistles). It interprets the story.

Just because one passage interprets another, that passage isn’t given more authority over the one it interprets. All of Scripture has equal authority, though there may be a difference in order of interpretation.

Since all Scripture has equal authority, we must be careful to not claim to follow God while rejecting the teachings of those He used to write His Word for us. The principle of interpreting the narrative by the didactic isn’t designed to set passage against passage, writer against writer, or apostle against Christ. It is merely recognizing one of the principle tasks of the Scripture writers, specifically the apostles, was to teach and interpret the mind of Christ for His people.

Reasons this Rule is Important:

  1. Prevents us from drawing too many inferences from records of what people do.
    1. Can we really construct a manual of required Christian behavior purely on the basis of what Jesus did?
    2. “What would Jesus have me do in this situation?” is a much better question than “What would Jesus do?”
    3. If we try to model our lives precisely after Jesus’ example, we may get into trouble for several reasons:
      1. Our tasks as obedient children to God are not exactly the same as Jesus’ mission.
        1. Jesus was sent into the world to save humanity from their sins and spoke with absolute authority.
        2. Believers are sent into the world to make disciples of all nations and to pursue holiness as they practice disciplines and make war against sin.
      2. Jesus lived under a different period of redemptive history.
        1. He was required to fulfill all the OT laws.
        2. We are called to imitate Christ at many points, but not in all of them. This is where the Epistles help us to discern what those points are and aren’t.
        3. Example: Circumcision (Galatians 5:1-3) and dietary regulations (Acts 10:9-16)
      3. Tends to make a subtle move from what is permissible to what is obligatory.
        1. He shows us things that may and should be done, but doesn’t always command when or how.
        2. Example: Jesus remaining unmarried shows that celibacy is good, but doesn’t demand marriage to be looked down on or avoided.
    4. Prevents us from imitating the vices of the saints.
      1. In emulating OT/NT characters, we should seek to model their virtues but not their vices.
      2. We can learn much from them since they achieved a high degree of sanctification, but shouldn’t copy every detail.
      3. Example: David and Paul, Hebrews 11
  2. It is difficult to extrapolate doctrine from narrative alone
    1. Building doctrine from narratives alone is dangerous business.
    2. Example: Genesis 22:11-12
    3. Matters of description aren’t necessarily matters of fact.
      1. Human language has limitations, but is adequate to express God’s truth. 
      2. If we read the narratives of the Bible as if they were scientific textbooks, we could get into interpretive trouble.
        1. Biblical writers describe the universe around them in terms of external appearances and not with a view to scientific precision.
        2. However, there are didactic portions of Scripture that do touch heavily on matters of science such as psychology and biological theories of human nature and origins.

Remember: The Bible interprets the Bible and the Holy Spirit is His own interpreter!


  • In a number of places, Paul urges his readers to imitate him and other leaders in the early church (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:7; Philippians 4:9). In what ways should we imitate Paul. How should we not imitate him?
  • Read the narratives about Jesus’ death and resurrection (Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 18-21). How do the viewpoints differ? How are the same?
    Now read 1 Corinthians 15 for Paul’s didactic interpretation of the narrative event. What additional information does Paul give that the Gospel writers don’t?
  • As Pastor Tad continues through the Gospel of Mark over the next few months, ask yourself the following questions: What is narrative? What is didactic? Whom should I imitate? Whom should I not imitate? What commands must I obey?

Knowing Scripture by RC Sproul


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