Discerning Law and Gospel when Interpretting Scripture

How do you interpret the Bible?  Most people ask questions such as:

1. Who wrote this text?
2. Who was first receiving this text?
3. What was the intent and goal of the author in writing to his audience?

These two questions can make a big difference in understanding the text.  Matthew for instance was writing to a Jewish audience trying to to show them how Jesus was the Messiah.  That’s why Matthew, of all the Gospels, quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures the most – showing how Jesus fulfilled them!

4.  What is the historical context?
5.  What is the cultural context?

These things do matter!  A whole other post is needed to address these.

6.  What is the context within the book?
7. What is the context within the rest of Scripture?

Context matters.  Have you ever been quoted out of context?  Did it completely change the meaning of what you said?  Yea.  Sound-bites kill context and meaning.  We should do our best to keep verses in their proper context.

8.  Greek and Hebrew?
9. Grammar?  Active vs. Passive verbs?  Singular vs. Plural nouns?  Who is the subject or object?  Etc.
10.  How else are these words used in Scripture?

You’ve heard that things are lost in translation.  Sometimes, going to the Greek and Hebrew can help.  A common example is that the word Love in English is only Love and can mean almost anything.  In Greek there are three words for love (agape, phileo, and eros – bet you can guess the meaning of the last one) and they all three have a different meanings, yet all three are translated into the same English word, love.

Answering all of these types of questions can help you understand the text as the original audience would have received and understood its meaning – it’s actually meaning.  The meaning doesn’t change.  The application, however, might change as the meaning is passed on to different cultures and historical settings.  Agree or disagree?  Leave a comment.

Now – to the topic of this post.  When you interpret a Scriptural passage do you ask yourself:

11. What is the Law in this passage?
12. What is the Gospel in this passage?

Law is what God tells you to do, what God expects of you.  Law shows you your sin and the consequences of those sins.

Gospel shows you your savior.  It is the work and actions of God alone to save you from your sins.  It is Good News!  Don’t take that to mean the Law is Bad News.  The Law is good too!  It just shows us our sin and our need of a savior.

Law statements might be implied or directly stated in a text.  The same for Gospel statements – implied or directly stated.

As we see these Law and Gospel statements we want to then apply them to our current culture, historical setting, and life.  When we are finished, we should be able to make an application of the Scripture to ourselves knowing what God wants us to do after hearing his Word and what he is doing for us to save us and bring us through this life to the finish line – i.e. Christ and eternal life with him in heaven.

I should probably write many blogs on this process and will likely do so.  For now, watch this video!  It gives examples of looking at verses and showing Law and Gospel statements that can be drawn from them.  Granted, I just look at one verse and show the Law and Gospel in it alone, not the full context of the passage that contains the verse – sort of breaking my interpretation rules – huh?

Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Published by

Andy Wrasman

I live in Lilburn, GA, with my wife and two young kids. I am a pastor at Oak Road Lutheran Church. I've written a book called, Contradict - They Can't All Be True. Be sure to visit my other website: https://www.contradictmovement.org.

One thought on “Discerning Law and Gospel when Interpretting Scripture

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s