Aligning Interpretation with Similar Passages

The last component of the Unwrap phase seeks to answer the question, "How does this passage and its contained principles align with the rest of the Bible?" In order to answer this question, you must reflect back and forth between the passage under study and the rest of Scripture, especially that which shares the same author or type of author (e.g., prophets, Gospels), testament, or biblical genre. By doing so, you can either affirm or challenge your interpretation, and you can perhaps gain additional insights that either strengthen or deconstruct your previous beliefs. You must remember that not one piece of Scripture sits in conflict with the rest of the Bible. If your interpretation of a specific passage is not supported (or invalidated) by other passages, then your interpretation is wrong, and you must dig further.

When studying your passage, there are five levels of alignment that you must consider.

  • Individual verses
  • Passages/chapters
  • Books of the Bible
  • Old/New Testament
  • Extrabiblical sources

Individual Verses

In the previous stages of Unwrap, you attempted to uncover as much about the specific verse(s) you're currently examining by looking at the underlying sentence structure and the words the author has chosen to use. But you cannot stop there. Once you believe that you have determined the meaning of the verse(s), you then need to check your interpretation with other similar verses. These other verses could be within the same context as the passage you're studying, or they could exist elsewhere. Again, it is critical to remember that neither the Bible nor God will ever contract itself (himself).

The Bible is literally filled with Scripture that receives validation from other Scripture. This is amazing, especially if you consider that the Bible is comprised of two smaller volumes (testaments), spanning 15 centuries (1,500 years), containing 66 books that were written by approximately 40 different authors. These facts are so astounding that the Bible has to be a work beyond human conception. To take this one step further, there are 48 prophecies considered to be specifically Messianic, but approximately 324 total prophecies relate to the coming Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled every one of them! When considering validation from other verses, these prophecies serve as a great example. To demonstrate, consider that Micah 5:2 tells us that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. We see the fulfillment of this prophecy in three of the Gospels (Matthew 2:1-7; Luke 2:4-7; John 7:42). Likewise, Zechariah 9:9 prophecies that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem on a donkey. The Gospels also bear witness to this concerning Jesus (Matthew 21:6-11; Luke 35-37).

On the other hand, it can sometimes appear that verses contradict each other. Consider 1 John 4:8 and Numbers 16:31-33. In 1 John, we read that God is love, but Numbers tells us that God opened the ground and swallowed the entire family of Korah and some of the Reubenites alive. Taken at face value, it would be hard to reconcile both passages. After all, how could a God who is patient and not desiring for anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9) or compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger (Psalm 145:8-9) simply demonstrate what seems to be such cruelty against someone, much more an entire community? To answer this question and arrive at an appropriate interpretation, you must broaden your study to the next level of alignment—passages and chapters.

Passages & Chapters

The next stage of ensuring the accuracy of your interpretation is comparing the interpretation against larger passages of Scripture. These larger passages can range from just a single paragraph to an entire chapter. It is important to remember that the original text did not contain chapters, much less sectional subtitles. These all were added much later (not to mention the separations vary between Bible translations). Nonetheless, these separations can often serve as natural breaks or bookends for your study. While a thought or idea can be carried across multiple chapters, the subtitles can help you grasp some of the major themes. They are also particularly helpful when conducting topical or character studies in the Bible.

When revisiting the questions from the previous section, it may be helpful to explore some larger sections of Scripture to find the answers. In so doing, you can perhaps resolve some of those perceived conflicts between the two passages in 1 John and Numbers. First, while we know that God is love, this is only one of his attributes. God is also holy and righteous (Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:15-16; Revelation 4:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and he does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). It is because he is holy and righteous, it's within the agency of his holiness and righteousness, and it's through the lenses of holiness and righteousness that God is also a just and fair judge. After all, only one who does not show favoritism and honors any civil law without the slightest hesitation can be considered fair and just (Deuteronomy 3:24). How much more is this the case for moral law? In other words, both holiness and righteousness are basic elements of God's state or being, they are key attributes of his divine perception, and they are essential ingredients to his divine activity.

Second, not only is God holy, but he also desires for his people to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). The stark difference in how his chosen people were to live demonstrated to the world God's richness in goodness and mercy. God's holiness was amplified by the holiness of his followers. When his people sinned, it communicated to others that perhaps God wasn't worth the sacrifice of worldly pleasure. Sin degraded and tarnished the perceived value of God's character.

Finally, God punishes sin and disobedience—in his justness, God cannot disregard evil (Numbers 14:18; Romans 6:23). His punishment for sin is one element of God's manifestation of holiness and righteousness. He simply cannot ignore sin as if it doesn't exist or show callousness to the effect sin has on others. Sin must be dealt with (Romans 2:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

As you reference other passages and explore more of God's character, you will begin to gain clarity and insight into God's punishment of Korah's family and the Reubenites. Though God is love, he has a passion for holiness and righteousness, and part of demonstrating that love is ensuring that holiness and righteousness are rooted in the hearts of his people. God loves his people so much that he wants this for them. Exclusively examining only the passage in Numbers or the other in 1 John without considering alternatives, you would have a limited, incomplete idea of God's nature, and your theology would be skewed. However, by examining multiple passages, you develop accurate interpretations, and you deepen your understanding of God and the Bible.

Books of the Bible

As stated above, there are 66 books in the canonical Bible, and though they were written over a span of 1,500 years, they are remarkably in harmony with each other. There is not a single contradiction in them. Being such, you can also leverage similar books to validate your interpretation of passages.

There are commonalities among many of the books in the Bible. For example, there are significant portions of books, or entire books altogether, containing oracles delivered by prophets to God's people. Throughout these proclamations, we see recurring themes and similar references. Additionally, the Gospels echo in unison the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Finally, the epistles of Paul and the other apostles never waver in their accord for holy living. If you are seeking additional validation or clarity for our interpretations, you can often turn to these similar books and uncover additional, colorful perspectives.

A simple example of this unity across books is Paul and John's instructions to maintain unity within the body of believers. Throughout his first letter to the Corinthians, but particularly in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul admonishes the church of Corinth to eliminate conflicts and to serve each other. He brings attention to the gifts of each believer and how those gifts are to be used to edify the body as a whole. He tells the church of Ephesus (Ephesians 4) to do likewise. Paul also begins the conclusion of his letter to the Galatians with the charge to do good to others, especially fellow believers (Galatians 6:10). Finally, John instructs the church of Ephesus to love one another as followers of Jesus (1 John 4:7-21). From these four epistles with two different authors, not only do we see a common theme of maintaining unity within the church, but we gain various examples of how to apply such a practice.

As you engage in hermeneutical Bible study, we encourage you to seek common themes across similar books. Make a list of them for future reference. It will render your study time much more fruitful, and it will mature your understanding of many topics covered therein.

Old & New Testaments

We not only can find unity among verses, passages, and books of the Bible, but we can also find agreement between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament gives us considerable glimpses into God's character and foretells the Messiah's coming. In the New Testament, we recognize the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies and God's revealed character lived out through his church.

You cannot separate the New Testament from the Old. Furthermore, the God of the Old Testament is not different from the God of the New Testament—they are the same—and he does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17). God has been consistent before the beginning of time and will continue to be throughout all eternity.

As you interpret passages from both testaments, you must do so in light of God's unwavering character and his interaction with humanity. God did not change in the New Testament; he has not changed today. Your interpretations must align with all Scripture—that which is from both testaments.

Salvation is an amazingly simple yet astoundingly complex topic. It's no wonder there is a field of study dedicated to the topic (soteriology). We won't attempt to cover it here. However, at a very elementary level, we can see that the requirements of salvation have never changed between the two covenants of the Bible, namely having faith in God's grace to forgive sins. Though we aren't officially introduced to Jesus, the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13), until the Gospels, the Old Testament pointed to him throughout its pages (Numbers 21:8-9; Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 24:44; John 3:1-15; Acts 2:25-31; Hebrews 9; Hebrews 11). These passages are a mere fraction of a considerably much larger list. However, the point is to demonstrate the congruence of both testaments.

The entire Bible is a story of God reconciling all people to himself. While the means may seem different between the two covenants, in reality, they are one and the same—the requirement of a blood sacrifice and the trusting of God's saving grace. Throughout Scripture, we witness salvation originating and finishing by God and him alone (Hebrews 12:2). Unlike some would claim today, there is no "new covenant" or "new way" of God dealing with his people of recent generations. His ways have not diverged from what we read in the Bible; they remain consistent. As you look across the pages of the two covenants, you must ensure your interpretations align with the teachings of both.

Extrabiblical Sources

You might be surprised, but extrabiblical sources—material outside the Bible—are also great tools for validating your interpretations. These sources can be invaluable when exploring historical cultures and events, geography, science, and so much more. Leveraging such resources makes the tapestry of the Scripture much more exquisite and helps revive God's Word in our hearts in minds.

Though the overwhelming list of incredible facts regarding the Bible's authorship, prophetic teachings, and miraculous survival alone validate the accuracy of God's Word, extrabiblical sources also offer additional proof, especially to those outside the church. Outside materials serve as indispensable resources when discussing the accuracy and authority of the Bible. They are tools that can be used in your apologetic endeavors.

With this being said, we must offer one word of caution. Extrabiblical sources should not influence your theology; they should only inform it. What we mean by this is that the Bible should be solely central and authoritative to your relationship with God and how that is lived out on a daily basis. While there are many varying types of books on shelves today that can help you better understand the teachings of God's Word (Christian living, study helps, commentaries, etc.), the Bible and it alone must remain the final word. If any other book is found to be in conflict, it should be cast aside. This is also true with extrabiblical sources in the realms of history, geography, and science.

Books from these other domains can assist us in interpretation by informing us of the cultures of previous civilizations. They provide insight into the political climates and the attitudes towards the early church. Such resources can help us understand major events such as creation and how the flood was possible. We have ancient documents that serve as evidence of famine and a great plague occurring in Egypt. Writers during antiquity, such as Josephus, validate what we read in the Bible and offer other perspectives. Again, these sources should not be ignored. We encourage you to use them in your studies. However, they are periphery and should only serve to provide you with context for interpretation. In other words, they merely offer information. In spite of their considerable value, the Bible should remain the sole foundation for your seeking to understand God and your relationship with him. After all, it is through this book he has chosen to reveal himself to his church.

POUR Method
The POUR Method is a hermeneutical approach to studying the Bible.
It develops a healthy discipline of examining Scripture through its proper contexts.
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