hermeneutics 3 things

(And If You Miss Them, You Will Misunderstand It Terribly.)


There are a number of different approaches taken by those who read the Bible. Many of those approaches are errant and only lead to more error.

Among the approaches taken is the approach of declaring that the Bible is either morally wrong, or inconsistent due to there being mentions of such things as polygamy.

The problem with this approach to interpreting the Bible is manifold, but glaringly evident is the fact that the persons making such claims miss the three things that the Bible does.

What are the three things that the Bible does? The reader of the Bible must recognize these three things, or he will misunderstand it and terribly misinterpret it. The Bible prescribes, describes, and circumscribes.

Let me demonstrate this by using the example of polygamy.


The Bible prescribes something concerning marriage. What the Bible prescribes is monogamy. The Bible tells us that God Himself said that two (a man and a woman) become one flesh in marriage (See Genesis 2:17-25;Matthew 19:1-6). No more than two are in a marriage. The Bible prescribes monogamy in marriage.


The Bible describes polygamy. Over and again we find polygamy described. Many times God’s children fell into this sin. Solomon is an extreme example of this. Lest we should think that the description of polygamy is a condoning of polygamy, we need to recall Solomon’s being rebuked because of this. We should also recognize that Scripture often describes the problems that arose from polygamous relationships. Description is not prescription.


Finally, the Bible circumscribes polygamy in that, knowing that some people would be wicked enough to disobey God in this matter, rules were given to Israel about how they were to deal with the issue (See Deuteronomy 21:15-17;Exodus 21:7-11). To circumscribe something is not to say that the whole of the issue is not problematic and sinful. To circumscribe something is not to prescribe that thing that is circumscribed.


Far too many people believe that the Scriptures prescribe things that it often only describes or circumscribes. Wise is the one who will recognize the need to approach that Bible carefully, and seeks to recognize these three things.