5 Basics of Biblical Interpretation

by Dave Jenkins February 14, 2018

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

The word “interpreted” in Luke 24:27 comes from the Greek word διερμηνεύω (transliterated as diermēneuō), which means either to unfold the meaning of what is said, explain, expound, or to translate into one's native language. Dr. Howard Marshall is correct when he notes that the “root idea of explained is the word from which we derive the word hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation.”[1]

The Gospel of Luke finds its unity in the person of Jesus and in His mission to seek and save the lost. From the first announcement of His coming to His ascension into heaven, Jesus is at the center of everything: the songs are for His praise, the miracles are by His power, the teaching is from His wisdom, the conflict is over His claims, and the cross is that which only He could bear. Luke gives his account further literary unity by intertwining the stories of Jesus and John the Baptist; by beginning and ending His story at the temple; by presenting the life of Jesus as a journey towards Jerusalem; and by following the progress of the disciples as they learn to count the cost of discipleship. The unity of the Gospel of Luke is expressed in Jesus’ pronouncement to Zacchaeus: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The immediate context of Luke 24:13-35 fits within the broader context of Luke 24, which is about the Resurrection of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel began in the Temple (Luke 1:5-23) and, after Jesus rose from the dead, concludes in the temple as well (Luke 24:52-53). Luke has Jesus appearing to His disciples and then gives the Ascension of Jesus.

With the phrase “beginning with Moses and the Prophets” Jesus is highlighting the entire Old Testament, summarized as all Scripture. Jesus explained to the men on the road to Emmaus not only the explicit prophecies about the Messiah, but also the historical patterns of God’s activity throughout the Old Testament, and how they find fulfillment in Himself.

In the inscrutable wisdom of divine providence, the substance of Christ’s exposition of the Old Testament messianic prophecies was not recorded. But the gift of what He expounded would have undoubtedly included an explanation of the Old Testament sacrificial system which was full of types and symbols that spoke of His sufferings and death. He also would have pointed them to the major prophetic passages which spoke of the crucifixion such as Psalm 16:9-11, 22; Isaiah 52:14-53:12; and Zechariah 12:10. He would have pointed out the true meaning of Genesis 3:15, Numbers 21:6-9, Psalm 16:10, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Daniel 9:26, and a host of other key messianic prophecies, particularly those that spoke of His death and resurrection. The Lord interpreted all the Scriptures as pointing to Himself, showing how the Old Testament in various ways, pointed to Himself (Acts 10:43).

J.C. Ryle is right: “The key to understanding the Bible is Jesus Christ.”[2] Jesus is the seed of the woman who was bruised on the cross before crushing Satan’s head. He is the Lamb who offered His blood for our sins (John 1:36) and was lifted up for our salvation (John 3:14-15). He is the covenant-maker who was cursed for our covenant breaking and who sprinkled His redeeming blood on the altar of the Cross (Galatians 3:13).

  • If we turn to Isaiah, the Scriptures say that the Savior will be wounded for our iniquities and pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5).
  • If we turn to Jeremiah, the Scriptures say that He will be mocked and abused (Jeremiah 20:7-10).
  • If we turn to Zechariah, the Scriptures say that He will make atonement for the whole land in a single day (Zechariah 3:9).

These prophecies also find their fulfillment in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, who was wounded, pierced, and abused in offering Himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. All of this was only the beginning.

Jesus continued His Bible exposition by using all the principles of His Christ-centered, gospel-driven interpretation to explain all that was said “in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus is not here or there in this prediction or prophecy: He is everywhere in the Old Testament. He is the Ark of the Covenant and the blood on the Mercy Seat. He is the Light on the Golden Lampstand and the Bread of Life. He is the Prophet who preaches like Moses, the Priest who prays like Aaron, and the King of David’s heart.

Learning from Jesus’ Preaching Ministry

The basis for biblical interpretation begins with Jesus.

  • Jesus’ preaching was biblical: it was based on the law and the prophets.
  • His preaching was thorough: He wanted His friends to know everything the Prophets had spoken.
  • His preaching was Christ-centered, for He was preaching about Himself.
  • His preaching was also gospel-centered including both the crucifixion and the resurrection: Jesus proclaimed the agonies of the cross and the glories of the empty tomb.
  • His preaching was persuasive: He argued for the absolute necessity of doing His saving work the way that He did it–it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and then to be glorified.

If we follow the model of Jesus on the road to Emmaus to His friends, our preaching will honor God, see the lost saved, the saints strengthened, and the Kingdom advanced. May God raise up such preachers who are unafraid and unashamed to preach the His Word and interpret all of Scripture in light of Jesus for His glory.


  1. ^ I. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 897.
  2. ^ William Hendrickson, Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978), 1065. [iii] J.C. Ryle, Luke (Illinois, Crossway, 1997), 311.

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.