Obviously the book is about the Bible. Sproul wrote it for laymen (people who aren't pastors) as an introduction to interpreting the Bible. The first two chapters are basically about why we should want to study the Bible. He quickly defends inerrancy and authority, shooting down common oppositions to them as he goes. He talks about Martin Luther and the fight to give the Bible to common people. But mostly he talks about the benefits (many of which are given in Scripture itself like, in 2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Those chapters were great for me to hear because they reminded me of the reason that I am engaged in studying my Bible. The next two chapters are the ones that blew my top off though. Chapter 3 was "Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpretation" and chapter 4 was "Practical Rules for Biblical Interpretation." Even in a short, introductory book these concepts hit me over the head. Even in chapter 3 he talked about things that I had heard and though of before, though I didn't fully understand. He gave the three basic rules of Hermeneutics: The analogy of faith, interpreting the Bible literally, and the Gramatico-Historical method. Short explanations. Analogy of faith is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Meaning that the Bible does not contradict itself and the best resource we have for understanding something we read is the rest of Scripture. Interpreting the Bible literally is not what it sounds like. It means that we interpret things based on their literary structure, meaning we would read and understand poetry much different than we would historical books. The Gramatico-Historical method focuses on what the text was originally supposed to mean, zeroing in on the history, culture, people, and grammar of the time and place that it was written.
So that was a helpful chapter, but chapter 4 was the meat of this book. Sproul laid out ten basic rules to remember while interpreting the Bible on my own. I'll list them and give short (hopefully) descriptions. But know that these are not enough. If you really want to understand them, which I think is a wise thing to do, just get the book. It's only like ten bucks.
Rule 1: The Bible is to be read like any other book
Now don't read too much into this one. He doesn't mean that it is like any other book. He is simply saying that we should treat it as magical. Meanings don't change with time. A verb is always a verb and a noun is always a noun, just like in a regular book.
Rule 2: Read the Bible existentially
Again, this one could be easily misinterpreted. He does not mean existentialism the way it is thought of today (taking words of the Bible out of context and giving them subjective meaning). What he means is that we have passion and personal interest as we read the Scriptures. He suggests "crawling into the skin" of the characters. Not reading as a textbook that is not applicable and only good for gaining intellect.
Rule 3: Historical narratives are to be interpreted by the didactic
Firstly, the term didactic means to teach. This is one that I grossly overlooked in my reading of the Bible this year. I drew way too many inferences from the records of what people did. They are obviously still Scripture and should be read that way, but the story of David is not a lesson on fleeing from sexual sin. It is simply the story of David. I should base what I am being taught on the books that are meant to teach me how to live, mainly the epistles. (I know this one is hard to understand. I am not explaining it well but I get it in my mind. It is a really important one. Basically the point is not to just take examples of how God deals with people and how people live and create a theology and way of living based off of that.)
Rule 4: The implicit is to be interpreted by the explicit
This one is pretty simple. I can't jump to conclusions just based off of inferences. The example he gave is when people always say that Jesus could walk through walls after the resurrection because it doesn't mention them unlocking and opening the door for him in the upper room. That would be inferring something without it being implicitly stated. Sproul is just saying to be careful with those, and most of all to realize that something that is stated explicitly (obviously, directly) somewhere always overrides something that I am basically just guessing on.
Rule 5: Determine carefully the meaning of words
This one is the one that blew me away. It sounds easy and obvious. But the examples he gave were so good. He talked both about recognizing what words mean when we read them instead of just assuming we know (like with the word glory) and also about words with multiple meanings. Most words have multiple meanings so I can't always assume that a word means one thing. He gave the example of how "justified" is used in Romans (right standing with God) as opposed to James (to demonstrate or vindicate). This is one that I truly cannot describe to you. I'm sure you get the gist of it but the examples are really what gave it weight for me.
Rule 6: Note the presence of parallelisms in the Bible
Parallelism is when two or more lines or clauses are set with each other and correspond in some way. There are synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic parallelisms. I can't get into all of that but basically recognize that it is the kind of thing that comes up in the Psalms and Proverbs all the time (not only there but those have many examples) where the writer says things in a similar way. I just suck at explaining this one, but I'm not going to keep trying. Just read the book.
Rule 7: Note the difference between proverb and law
This is something that may seem easy but people often confuse them. A proverb has to do with wisdom and is not a mandate. Distinguishing between that and commands is important. Otherwise I will become legalistic, imposing my preferences on other people.
Rule 8: Observe the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law
This is also good to remember. There are two ways to screw this up. One is that I obey the letter of the law without obeying the spirit (or intent) of it, and the other is that I think that I am getting the intent of the law while shunning the letter or explicit rule.
Rule 9: Be careful with parables
He gave some tips in here like not assuming that every parable is an analogy. The funny thing about this is that he says parables are really hard to understand, but people act all the time like they are simple. Going to parables before didactic (teaching) passages of Scripture is not a good idea even though it is done all the time. We should search for the meaning in the parables, but not put all are eggs in one basket, which is essentially our best guess.
Rule 10: Be careful with predictive prophecy
There two big errors on opposite ends here. One is acting like none of the predictive prophecy is literal. The other is acting like all of it is literal. Sproul's point is that we shouldn't be quick to jump to conclusions. Take your time and be careful.
These rules helped me a lot in realizing how much more I need to learn. The theme of all of them was care. You saw that word and the thought of noticing and distinguishing a lot. I think the biggest thing I took away is that while the Bible is readable and should be read, we shouldn't do it lightly and carelessly. We have a great responsibility in reading and interpreting God's words.
Again, really good book. Obviously this isn't the only book that outlines these ideas. I'm sure there are many more. This is just the first one that I heard about. The reason I would recommend it is because of the examples and application that R.C. Sproul uses. He's a very smart man that knows how to break things down to their core and that showed in the way he wrote this book.
Soli Deo gloria