Arthur Walkington Pink is one of my spiritual fathers. His work the Interpretation of the Scriptures really helped me iron out issues I’ve had with biblical interpretation. I still refer to his works when needed (especially his commentary on Hebrews) when studying the word. He is far from perfect but always enlightening and I thank God for devout men such as him who display such careful handling of the word of God with a real zeal for truth. For every rule he provided in the “Interpretation of the Scriptures” I provided the amen. His refutation of Dispensational theology was instrumental in helping me shed some of that interpretive framework and become more biblical in my management of God’s word.
A brief outline of A. W. Pink’s work published by Baker.
Chapter 1: The first chapter highlights the need and importance of interpreting scripture without falling prey to two common extremes. One extreme would be the idea held by Rome and other denominations that teach the scriptures are too difficult to understand and therefore need to be presented to the average person by someone with special authority. The other extreme teaches that we are simply to read and believe without any interpretation needed at all. Pink gives three reasons for interpretation: 1) explain seeming contradictions, 2) to seek the meaning and sense of the words and 3) inserting of an explanatory word into the text.
Chapter 2: To understand scripture Pink tells the reader that we must have both the tools and the skill. We must be humble when we approach the word and avoid arrogance when we seeking an interpretation. Being a regenerate believer does not guarantee we will be able to understand all things perfectly or even well but that we must continue to work on it. We understand the Bible through reason that is impressed by the Holy Spirit. Pink gives five elements needed to interpret the word: 1) a mind illumined by the Holy Spirit 2) an impartial spirit 3) a humble mind 4) a praying heart 5) a holy design.
Chapter 3: Expository preaching is covered in this chapter with the emphasis on preaching solid doctrine. To quote Bible verses is not enough, the student of the word must labour to gleam a meaning from the text to feed self and others. The lessons learned are not taught through diligent study alone but through experience. Pink writes, “No one can learn what humility is by means of the concordance, nor secure more faith by studying certain passages of Scripture. The one is acquired through painful discoveries of the plague of our hearts, and the other is increased by a deepening acquaintance with God.”
Chapter 4: The Bible is described as the sole textbook for the student with the author using the Authorized Version. Commentaries are viewed as useful only when you have exhausted a concordance. Pink takes a dig at Dispensational theology on pages 25 – 26 for their unbiblical focus on things that differ instead of unity. Pink gives us the first three rules of biblical interpretation in this chapter: (1) there is a need to recognize the “inter-relation and mutual dependence of both testaments,” (2) to carefully study scripture when it quotes scripture, and to (3) “conform all interpretations to the analogy of faith.”
Chapter 5: Rule 3 is explained in further detail at the beginning of this chapter. Here the author introduces two more rules, that of (4) context and (5) scope. It is mentioned that “proof texting” is quoting scripture outside of its context to support the theologians thoughts rather then scripture.
Chapter 6: Continues with examples of proper and improper use (4) context and (5) scope with Dispensationalism once again in his cross hairs. The next rule offered is to (6) interpret scripture by scripture or “comparing spiritual things with spiritual things.”
Chapter 7: The thoughts expressed in chapter 6 are carried over and explained in full detail before recommending the next rule, that being, (7) briefer statements are to be interpreted by fuller ones. Little is written but common sense agrees with Pink.
Chapter 8: Collecting and collating (8) scripture is explained as the next rule. The author goes on to give examples, one being the term “born again.” It is used in scripture to describe regeneration but idea is found elsewhere with such as “passing from dark to light,” “renewing,” and “resurrection.” By collecting and collating passages the doctrine will become clear.
Chapter 9: The rule of (9) simple negative is briefly touched upon as well as (10) interrogative form and the proper use of (11) reason. It is explained that negative conclusions can be used to infer the opposites, rhetorical questioning of the Socratic method proves useful and human reason does play apart in understanding divine things, although it is subject to divine things.
Chapter 10: Pink gives us an idea of how we find (12) limitations of general statements in this chapter. The example being “judge not,” being considered in light of “judge righteous” and “thoroughly judge.” We cannot make a universal truth statement from general truth statement. In the same line of thought we are told that (13) positive statement with a comparative force, or, seek the context of absolute statements keeping our understanding within the analogy of faith. This will help to remain consistent.
Chapter 11: (14) Non-literal language must be viewed as such. Both translators and expositors must be aware of the finer nuances of the languages. The wooden literalism found in the more classic schools of Dispensationalism are to be avoided since they remove the original meaning from the text and fail to (15) understand types.
Chapter 12: The use of the analogy of faith is mentioned in connection with the next rule, to seek a proper (16) exposition of the parables, which are supplementary to direct teaching. Pink’s sharp mind then directs the Bible student to be aware that words are not translated uniformly so we are to seek other (17) or different meanings that each word might have.
Chapter 13: The idea is carried forward from the previous chapter with a different emphasis, this being, (18) the Holy Spirit’s use of the words. We are to note the actual use of the word in scripture alone and not to rely on classical literature to seek a meaning. The author sites his suggestion of a concordance rather then a dictionary. Although we find a dislike of Dispensational theology in this work (19) distinguishing between things that differ is still important, and well explained, just not the crux of our theological grid.
Chapter 14 & 15: The next rule we are instructed to follow is to seek (20) the spiritual meaning of scripture, that scripture often has a double purport, a natural and a spiritual. Chapter 15 explains this concept in great detail giving plenty of examples. Anyone familiar with A. W. Pink’s work will know he does implore this rule often and takes care to fully detail its use and importance.
Chapter 16: (21) Double reference and meaning is now taken on and explained. In this chapter, to my surprise, the author confuses a belief that man is tripartite! Using the rule of double reference Genesis 1:26 is used as support for this belief. Interesting.
Chapter 17: The author enlightens the reader to the (22) the law of order, meaning, the position the idea is found within scripture and how it relates to what follows it.
Chapter 18: (23) The law of cause and effect traces the steps and connection between events. The example of Peter’s fall is given; self-assurance (Mark 14:29), failed to pray and watch (Mark 14:38-40), disregarded the warning to be sifted (Luke 22:31-33) and trying to take control by force (John 18:10). This is explained to be a law of cause and effect. The next canon is that of (24) emphasis. What God has placed emphasis on, should be well noted to the believer. The Companion Bible written by the famous Ultra Dispensationlist is mentioned.
Chapter 19: The (25) origin of a word is understood as being of some use but we are direct back to rule 19 where we are instructed to seek out the Holy Spirit’s use of the words. (26) The law of comparison and contrast was written to be of interest but of less importance overall.
Chapter 20 & 21: The first use of a word, (27) the law of first mention, should guide our understanding of it. (28) The law of progress or progressive revelation is explained in detail and we are reminded that the Bible is full of life.
Chapter 22: We come to the last chapter and the last interpretive rule given to us by A. W. Pink. We are reminded of the (29) law of full mention with examples given of John 17 where Christ is interceding for believers, the total inability of man in Romans 3 and election and reprobation in Romans 9.
The Need for Interpretation
Pink opens this work with a warning:
“Man is notoriously a creature of extremes, and nowhere is that fact more evident than in the attitude taken by different ones to this subject.”
O Lord how true this is! In my own life I wish someone had warned me to avoid the “notorious” extremes that permeate natural man and our understanding of the simple things God has revealed. “…obscurity is not in them” but in us.
“Since the imagination of man, like all the other faculties of his moral being, is permeated and vitiated by sin, the ideas it suggests, even when pondering the Divine oracles, are prone to be mistaken and corrupt. It is part of our sinful infirmity that we are unable of ourselves to interpret God’s Word aright; but it is part of the gracious office of the Holy Spirit to guide believers into the truth, thereby enabling them to apprehend the Scriptures.”
We find the light of God’s word so bright at time we turn away and hide the truth or hide from it. I am guilty of trying to obscure the truth using a manmade scaffold that, by the Grace of God, could not support the word and I was eventually convicted of this sin leaving Dispensationalism forever. We are to test what we find in theology and give thanks for both the milk and the meat we find therein.
We must seek rules or canons for interpretation because interpretation is needed to understand the deeper things that God has revealed. These rules guide us and help us to be consistent with the word and we read they will help to:
1) explain seeming contradictions
2) find sense of the words
3) inserting of an explanatory word to assist in our understanding
We gain a deep knowledge of God by using these canons as tools to develop skills of interpretation.
“To declare that I need none but the Holy Spirit to teach me may sound very honoring to Him, but is it true? Like all human assertions that one requires to be tested, for nothing must be taken for granted where spiritual things are concerned.”
When helping to instruct new Christians this is often the idea many have, that since they are born again, it’s all done. The important work is complete, finished so don’t argue with me but argue with the word of God! “Study to shew thyself approved” seems to have to slipped their minds if they have even gone that far in their Bibles. I wonder if we can blame Post Modernism for this idea, that since they have “experienced” the goodness of God in the regeneration of their souls, nothing is left for them. It is assumed that everything will be given them including a perfect interpretation of the word of God. Perhaps I’m going too far but the false idea remains and I have personally encouraged this dozens of times in person and on the internet. I really like the point A. W. Pink makes against this misunderstanding, he points out that God has supplied Pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, the Holy Spirit uses these men and their instruction to aid the believer in understanding the scriptures. To believe all we need is the Holy Spirit is to possess a low view of the Body of Christ. This, of course, does not lessen our reliance upon God, but should humble us before Him. God found it pleasing to use man.
While listening to “Christian radio” recently one of the speakers said she was, “waiting for God to speak to her, just resting in His will…” God has give us His word and has spoken to us. We must interpret it and interpret correctly.
Although we gain an understanding of scripture through reason and understanding our understanding must be impressed or influenced by the Holy Spirit. I believe Thomas Manton is quoted as writing, “Our hearts are overcast with strong affections of the world, and so cannot clearly judge practical truth.” This quote is offered along with a few preliminary points that I believe offer the student of the word sound, spiritual direction:
1) a mind illumined by the Holy Spirit
The sinner must be brought to a place, by God, where we can understand divine revelation. Christ tells in Matthew, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” And, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:” Ephesians 4:17-18
J. K. Popham who was a minister of the word for over 50 years in the United Kingdom has delivered some of the most powerful, experiential sermons I have ever read. He tells us of the Holy Spirits work;
“One end, one covenant to open, one mercy to give, one life to impart, one justification to bring, one salvation to work, one heaven to give to those who deserve hell.”
The work of the Spirit is in building a united Body of Christ. This is the beginning and not the end as some believe.
2) an impartial spirit
It is a commonly held idea that we can approach a subject with a spirit of impartiality, that we can understand the world around us from a neutral standpoint, which is contrary to scripture. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7 Even after we have come to faith in Christ the old man remains. We seek to find what we want in scripture and ignore the often weightier or more difficult passages.
3) a humble mind
I will quote Pink on this point given that he is so crystal clear, “The knowledge of a proud man is the throne of Satan.” Charnock put it this way, “A proud faith is as much a contradiction as a humble devil.” How many times has the church proclaimed the Gospel, answered the objections using evidence and presuppositionalism only to have a far more “educated” person proclaim us “ignorant!” A servant shall not be greater then his master. Pink warns the Bible student to be humble before God by studying His word from a position of a beggar asking for the riches of God’s knowledge and not a rich man.
4) a praying heart
We approach the inspired work with a humble heart, a heart that realizes we do not deserve what we have in our hands, that being the thoughts of God. If we are to “think God’s thoughts after Him” we must place our vanities aside and seek Him and His will. Our minds must be open to the impressions of the Spirit and the way this is accomplished is with a prayerful heart. Pink refers to the “prayerless scholar” who uses the word of God as he would use a work made by the mind of man ultimately failing to understand the need for a divine assistance.
5) a holy design
Lastly, we must not seek the answers to our curiosities but to learn truth from the scriptures. Not too long ago God has gave me the opportunity to aid a fellow believer in setting his house in godly order, whose background is in the The Gospel Hall churches or Brethren Assemblies. After one evening of discussing scripture I was astounded at how little practical truth, day to day truth, his previous church had equipped him with. Instead of understanding his role as a father and leader of the home in all matters he was taught about the Rapture. Instead of learning from God’s word how to raise children for the Lord he was instructed about pre-flood giants that walked the earth who were the offspring of Angels and man! This is not following “a holy design” to seek truth but a feeding of the curiosities and vanities of the old man. More then a thought or form of entertainment the truth of scripture is truth to live by.
A Note to Ministers
Having laid a preliminary foundation in the first two chapters Pink now explains the need to be faithful to seek the pure word of God and to be faithful to what we find. The emphasis is on preaching with the warning too many have failed to heed:
“Every minister of the Gospel will yet have to render a full account of his stewardship unto the One whom he claims called him to feed His sheep (Heb. 13:17), to answer for the souls who were committed to his charge. If he fails to diligently warn the wicked, and he dies in his iniquity, God declares “his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek. 3:18).”
Much of this chapter applies to anyone proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and should serve as a reminder to keep subservient to the word. The exposition of the word is hard work so Pink tells the reader to work hard at it. It must be expounded and applied not simply read from the pulpit, or in the case of the layman quoted and dismissed, it must be explained for as quickly as the minister delivers truth Satan takes great pains to obscure sound doctrine. The truth of the word is to be proclaimed in all its wonder and beauty, not for the adulation of the flesh or for the praise of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but for God’s glory alone.
A. W. Pink reminds the Bible student that his textbook for study is the Bible. Only after he has exhausted his abilities in exegesis of the sacred text does the student go beyond the covers of his Bible. It might sound simple but in our time, when many commentaries are free online, it is far more tempting to read a commentary instead of the word or to read the word with a commentary open beside it. It can be more tempting to quote an authority then take the time to dig deeper into scripture. The Bible and the Bible alone contains the direct revelation of our Triune God and therefore should be studied before any human work is consulted.
“The Bible is to be his sole text-book, and from its living waters he is to drink deeply and daily. Personally, we use nothing else than the English Authorized Version and Young’s concordance, with an occasional reference to the Greek Interlinear and the American Revised Version. Commentaries we consult only after we have made a first-hand and exhaustive study of a passage.”
Amen. This is solid advice to all those new Christians who are given or purchase “study” Bibles. The damage done by Scofield’s notes is incalculable. The struggle to understand a difficult passage is where the blessing is. The struggle to see how it relates to the greater context of scripture is where godly wisdom is found, but many today prefer the word to be opened for them, the work already done.
“The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” Proverbs 13:4
“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 1 Corinthians 3:14
The Evangelical church has been lulled into a lazy stupor and distracted by the world. From Pink’s other writings it is clear he saw the beginnings of it in his day. The father no longer leads the home but feels the influence of an ungodly world and delegates his job to the wife. The mother no longer has time for the children believing she could better serve them by planning a getaway to have “me time.” The children are left to their own devises without much guidance. This is in the “Christian” home. I write without much guidancebecause, after all, they do have their televisions, internet and video games. The church has become lazy and distracted foregoing the difficult task of handling God’s word and have been left with only a shadow of truth. It is at this point Pink begins to outline the principles to guide the Bible student as they study.
The Principles of Interpretation
It total there are 30 principles varying in their importance listed in Arthur Pink’s work “Interpretation of the Scriptures.” It was truly a blessing to read this work and find confirmation to some of the principles I was using previously. It was also convicting because I had learned where I need improvement. Instead of trying to deal with all 30 principles I will try to interact with what I believe are some of the most important and useful rules to understanding scripture.
The Analogy of Faith
Some suggest the “analogy of faith” should be called the “analogy of scripture” and for the sake of clarity and I must agree. The church has seen the misuse of this rule as an ecclesiastical tool wielded like a club in the hands of the Roman Catholic magisterium. I believe this is one of the most important, but often misunderstood and inconsistently used, rules describes by A. W. Pink. (It can be found at the closing of chapter 4.) My own understanding of this principle hindered my ability to properly handle God’s word and continues to a lesser extent today and I wish the author would have spilled more ink on this subject with emphasis on its importance in sound interpretation. What he did give us is sound advice,
“The exposition made of any verse in Holy Writ must be in entire agreement with the Analogy of Faith, or that system of truth which God has made known unto His people. That, of course, calls for a comprehensive knowledge of the contents of the Bible—sure proof that no novice qualified to preach to or attempt to teach others.”
Again, Pink reminds us of our need to have a comprehensive understanding of our textbook, the Bible. This analogy or rule of faith is gleamed from the scriptures themselves:
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” Romans 12:6
“And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” Galatians 6:16
This rule is explained in the London Baptist Confession of 1689 as follows:
1.9 The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. ( 2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)
To illustrate the importance of applying this principle with consistency I would like to point out a few verses from Acts 15,
“And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”
If we use the analogy of the scriptures expressed in the Reformed confessions it is easy to see the apostle Luke referring to Amos 9,
“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old”
The passage from Acts 15 is alluding to Amos 9 in reference to the assembled church. A common Dispensational interpretation of Amos 9 misses the meaning completely and regulates a complete fulfillment of these verses to a future Israel and millennial reign of Christ. Instead of using the analogy of the scriptures we see a system of belief forcing a literalistic understanding of Amos 9 and gives us with a clear case of dogma influencing the interpretation. The mind of God is then subjective to exegesis and not objective truth revealed.
Arthor Walkington Pink has given the church so much to think about in this tiny volume on interpretive principles. He worked in what must have seemed, at times, in utter obscurity but he remained faithful to the God that saved him, working for His glory, a worthy servant of the truth.
[details; Interpretation of the Scriptures, published by Baker 1996, ISBN: 0801070252]