Rules for Biblical Interpretation in the Reformed Tradition

  1. Scripture is to be interpreted with confidence in and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The scripture principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of scripture, comparing scripture with scripture, with openness to hear the whole Word of God, not just selected parts of it.
  3. The Christological principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of God’s central self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
  4. The rule of love: scripture is to be interpreted in light of the one commandment of God that summarizes all other commandments, love for God and for all our neighbors.
  5. The rule of faith: Scripture is to be interpreted with respect for the church’s past and present interpretation of scripture.
  6. Scripture in to be interpreted in light of the literary forms and historical context in which it was written.
  7. Scripture is to be interpreted seeking the word and work of the living God in our time and place.
  8. Scripture is to be interpreted with awareness of our limitations and fallibility and with openness to change our mind and be corrected. “Reformed” means always being reformed afresh by the Word of God.

Where these rules are discussed in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions:

  • Scots Confession, Chapters XVIII and XIX
  • Second Helvetic Confession, Chapters I and II
  • Westminster Confession, Chapter I
  • Shorter Catechism, Questions 89 and 90
  • Declaration of Barmen, 8.10-12
  • Confession of 1967, 9.27-30

Compiled by Shirley Guthrie, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

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