Thoughts on Interpreting Scripture in Devotions –

Notes of Grant Crawford speaking at a staff meeting by Heidi Kirn

When looking at a scripture, there are generally 4 steps which can be really helpful to interpret scripture in your devotions. Using an example of the parable of the fig tree found in Luke 13, we can examine these steps in more detail.

Let’s start with the text: Luke 13:6-8

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

1. Look for the literal points in the parable by answering some basic questions:

  • What was the context of this parable? Judging from the preceding discussion on the Galileans and their judgement, it would seem that the context for this parable is judgement.
  • What was a fig tree doing in a vineyard? After some research it was found that it was common practice in those days to plant other trees in the vineyard to improve the condition of the soil.
  • What are some of the basic assumptions we can make in this parable?
    • This was a full grown tree which should have been able to bear fruit
    • It was using money and resources without fulfilling its purpose
    • The obvious solution was to chop it down
    • There is an indication of grace here from the gardener’s urge to leave the tree for a further year- perhaps indicating a postponement of judgement
    • To solve this problem, the gardener had to get to the tree’s roots (the unseen matters which affects the fruit)

2. Now we look at some options for practical inferences from this scripture:

  • Could we apply this to a church site/location that is showing few signs of fruitfulness?
  • We could infer that the owner of the garden is God, the one addressing the owner (the gardener) could be Jesus who intercedes on our behalf
  • According to the context of this text,  the audience (and, thus, the vineyard is probably unregenerate Jews)
  • Fruitfulness is important
  • There is some sense of urgency
  • An audit and monitoring of our situations is a good thing

3. Thus it is obvious that there are a number of different directions in which this scripture could be interpreted. At this point it is advisable to allow scripture to interpret scripture:

  • Ask yourself where else a vineyard and a ‘chopping down’ is mentioned.
    • John the Baptist talks about a similar thing in Matthew chapter 3
    • But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
  • This scripture suggests that the context of this text is talking about salvation. Thus we can safely assume that the gracious gardener in Luke refers to the postponed judgement.

4. To ensure you are on the right track, turn to credible commentaries:

John Calvin or Matthew Henry offer helpful insights into scriptures. Check whether their interpretation aligns with yours.

In conclusion

Read it literally, look at inferences, and then ask God to help you interpret scripture with scripture, then consult good commentaries.