Friday, December 12, 2008

Interpretation of Proverbs

The following material is based on the books:
1. Gordon D. Fee, Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
2. Henry A. Virkler Hermeneutics: Principles and Process of Biblical Interpretation
3. Leland Ryken How To Read The Bible as Literature
4. How to Study the Bible (published by BEE International)

Proverbs are brief and concise expressions that contain wisdom and principles of godliness. There are many proverbs in the book of Proverbs. The main thought of the book of Proverbs is morality, ethical prescriptions for daily life expressed in short sayings.

Interpreting proverbs, it is important to notice that they usually contain only one thought or truth. So, the details should not be too emphasized. Proverbs usually have one thought or similarity that should be found in interpretation.

Proverbs are general observations of life. Only in rare cases, we can interpret them as God's promises. Usually, parables are general principles that have exceptions. Proverbs reveal general principles through concrete examples.

Parables can be prescriptive (instructions) or descriptive (narratives). They should be compared with the context of moral instructions in the whole Bible in order to find out if they are prescriptive or descriptive, in other words, should they be followed as instructions or they are just examples.

Proverbs in the book of Proverbs should be compared with other proverbs in the same book and with the whole Bible in order that their principles to be correctly understood.

Many proverbs are poetic. This means that parallelism and figures of speech are often used in proverbs.

Proverbs have some special terms. For example, wisdom in the book of Proverbs is the ability to apply the truth in daily life. Wisdom is not something abstract, but it is practical. The fear of the Lord is the right position toward God, the condition of the heart that correctly realizes our relationship with the God as Creator. This is a reverence, and not a panic fear. A foolish man in the book of Proverbs denotes a Gentile, an unbeliever who lives according to his selfish interests and does not care for God. In Proverbs, foolishness is not a lack of mental abilities. These three terms are important for understanding the book of Proverbs. Their meaning can be drawn from the context of the book and the way these words are used there. The main purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach wisdom, that is, practical godliness.

The book of Proverbs can be studied thematically or chapter by chapter. Thematic study helps to see what proverbs say about some subject. The study chapter by chapter helps to see many subjects of the book of Proverbs and many sides of life experience mentioned in that book.

The book of Proverbs, the book of Job, and the book of Ecclesiastes are called the books of wisdom. It was a special genre of biblical literature. All three books are mainly poetic. These books as well as Psalms and the Song of Songs are often called the books of poetry.

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