One of the most important rules of Biblical interpretation is that “scripture interprets itself.” One of the greatest errors in interpreting the scripture is that the preacher, professor, or student of the Word allows self to interpret scripture.

To avoid this error when we study the Word, we need to make sure that we consider the source of a truth when we make the application of that truth. Doing so will keep us from making a dispensational error, which is important because if we do not rightly divide we will wrongly apply.

One of the “must have” principles in dispensationalism is that Israel is not the church. If we believe this is true, then we must not take scripture which is sourced in Israel and apply it to the church.

Here are two examples (among dozens which could be selected).

The Kingdom is not the Christian Life

The misinterpretation of the Kingdom as the Christian life (or as the church itself) is perhaps the most prevalent error in Christendom today. The error would be avoided in totality if theologians would use the “source determines application” rule of interpretation.  The Kingdom is defined as future, fraternal, and physical all through the Old Testament. It is something not yet, it is something nationally based, and it is something that will be a physical reality. The New Testament clearly teaches the Kingdom, but assumes the definitions of the Old Testament. Never in the New Testament is the Kingdom redefined.

Because the source of the material is in the context of Israel, the context of any Kingdom application must also be about Israel.

The Promised Rest is not Heaven

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the “rest” promised by God to the nation of Israel.  Many Christian teachers apply this rest to the church today, claiming that it is either a reference to the reward of the Christian or the eternal home of the Christian. However, the source determines application rule would rule out both of these applications. The “rest” spoken of in Hebrews is sourced in Old Testament passages that purely have Israel as their application. Consider, for example, Deuteronomy 3:18–20; 12:8–10; 25:19; Joshua 1:13–17 and others. Each one of these passages is about the Promised Land.  In the New Testament, a book named Hebrews was written to Hebrews, and the writer warned them about not entering their rest just as their fathers had done in the wilderness. One may object, saying, “The recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were not concerned about the Promised Land, so the reference must have a new definition.” However, the burden of proof would be on the one who made such a claim. Contrary to the claim, the apostle’s last question to Jesus was, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). This Kingdom was the future, fraternal, and physical.

  • Future: It clearly had not been inaugurated, from the Apostolic point of view.
  • Fraternal: It would be restored to Israel, which was, from the Apostolic point of view, the Jewish people.
  • Physical: It was to be restored, as it had been in its past, and as it had been promised.

With this view, the promised rest of Hebrews is a national instruction to Hebrew believers about what the nation of the Hebrews needed to do in order to inherit her promised Kingdom.

The simple rule, source determines application, will keep you from taking Old Testament promises of Israel and misapplying them to the church.

But isn’t the church grafted in?

The gentiles certainly are graffed in (Rom. 11:17, KJV), but the question is, grafted into WHAT? Are they grafted into the promises of the Old Testament? If so, the original recipients (and the Canaanite woman) have much to protest over, for the children’s bread has been cast to the dogs (Matt. 15:26). Are they grafted into the covenants and commonwealth of Israel? If so, then dispensationalism must give up its distinction of the church and Israel, especially for the future. Or, are they grafted into the plan and purpose of God? If this is the case (and a strong argument can be made for this case), then the source determines application rule can stand fast.

Try it!

In your own Bible study, try it out! When you see a quotation of the Old Testament, rather than making a quick and direct application to the church, see if instead you discover one of the following:

  • The application is actually to the nation of Israel, and has nothing to do with the church.
  • The quotation is used as illustration of a universal truth and not direct application.

I think that when you use the scripture interprets scripture rule, and its corollary, source determines application, you will find some great nuggets of Biblical truth you have been missing.


Randy White is the founder and CEO of Dispensational Publishing House, Inc. He teaches Bible online at and preaches at the Taos (NM) First Baptist Church.