The Antiochian school of Bible interpretation

The Antiochian school of Bible interpretation as founded in Syria in about AD 200 stressed the literal interpretation of the Bible. Bible interpretation or Hermeneutics is a rational and spiritual process that tries to understand an ancient inspired Book in such a way that God’s message may be extracted from its cultural husk, understood, and applied in our day. We must not be influenced by our personal or denominational presuppositions. We are all historically and culturally conditioned – none of us are objective interpreters. I find the Antiochian method of Bible interpretation very plausible, and it offers 4 key interpretive principles.

1. The first principle is to note the historical setting in which a biblical book was written and the particular historical occasion for its authorship (or when it was edited). The original author had a purpose and a message to communicate. The text cannot mean something to us that it never meant to the original, ancient, inspired author. His intent—not our historical, emotional, cultural, personal or denominational need—is the key.

2. The second principle is to identify the literary units. Every biblical book is a unified document. Interpreters have no right to isolate one aspect of truth by excluding others. Therefore, we must strive to understand the purpose of the whole biblical book before we interpret the individual literary units. The individual parts—chapters, paragraphs, or verses—cannot mean what the whole unit does not mean.

3. The third principle is to read the Bible in different translations in order to grasp the widest possible range of meaning (semantic field) that biblical words or phrases may have. Often a phrase or word can be understood in several ways.

4. The fourth principle is to note the literary genre. Original inspired authors chose to record their messages in different forms (e.g., historical narrative, historical drama, poetry, prophecy, gospel [parable], letter, apocalyptic). These different forms have special keys to interpretation. (see Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese, Jr., Cracking Old Testament Codes, or Robert Stein, Playing by the Rules).