Thursday, March 11, 2021

How to Interpret the Bible

How to Interpret the Bible

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” - 2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)


1. The Bible is God’s word but not God’s Word

The above verses teach us that God is communicating to us through the Scriptures. They come from Him. They are His words to us. They are not, however, His Word. God the Son is the Word of God, not the Bible.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1 (NIV)

We worship Jesus; we do not worship the Bible. We do respect the Bible as true and accurate as coming from God Himself.


2. Scripture is delivered through the personality of the writer

God is communicating the message, but He’s doing so through a human writer. Each writer has a different background, style of writing, reason for writing, and intended audience. When you read a passage of Scripture, remember that it’s God’s word, but it’s also that person’s word. Ask yourself how the person writing makes the message unique.


3. The Bible is true

The Scriptures are true, but they’re not always easy to understand. Our job is to try to understand how they’re true. If we start with the assumption that what we’re reading is true, we’ll be able to approach any difficulties in interpretation with the right perspective.


4. Stay in context

“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Ready? Go!

Why haven’t you left yet? This is a command in Scripture!

You probably haven’t left because you recognize this is what God said to Abram. He wasn’t telling everyone to do this. So, to properly interpret and apply the Scriptures, we need to look at the context of the passage. Who is speaking or writing to whom and why? What is the full discussion? Follow the reasoning from start to finish.


5. But remember prophecy can be fulfilled more than once

Because God is the originator of the message and knows the future, He can phrase His communication in such a way that it applies in two or more ways. For example, “Out of Egypt I called my son” is a quote from Hosea 11:1, referring to the exodus of Israel out of Egypt. In Matthew 2:15, we read that it also applies to Jesus when the holy family returned from that country.


6. Ignore chapter and verse markers

The original writers did not divide their message into chapters or designate verses. They did not label their sections with subtitles. They’re convenient additions to help everyone find the same part of the Bible, but when you’re trying to understand the meaning of a passage, ignore chapters, verses, and subtitles. Read what comes before and after the passage to make sure you get the full context without interrupting the thought.


7. Consider the cultural context

This is where you really need to be a student. Not only do you have to study the words of the Scriptures themselves, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of the people writing and reading them. If you don’t, you’ll miss the full meaning. For instance, you won’t grasp why the fishermen disciples followed Jesus so readily unless you understand what was normally required to be chosen as a student of a rabbi.


8. Scripture interprets Scripture

Oftentimes, the Biblical writers will quote one another not in the context of prophecy. For example, Paul quotes David saying “In your anger do not sin” (Psalm 4:4; Ephesians 4:26). How do the two verses relate to one another? How does the context of Paul’s discussion help us understand what David was saying and vice versa?

Also, look for themes in the Bible. When the Scriptures talks about the same subject in two or more passages, look to see how they shed light on one another or what new information you can add to your understanding of that topic.


9. Accept the literal meaning if possible

We do not sit above the Scriptures. Human knowledge and wisdom do not limit what can be true when it’s comes to God’s activity. If it seems that the Biblical writer wants us to understand a passage literally, we are to accept his intended meaning.  


10. Listen to the Church

Luckily, we aren’t the only ones who have ever studied the Bible. For the past 2,000 years, Christians have been commenting on the Scriptures. Though there are differing opinions, there is also wide consensus on most important points. Take into account and submit to the Body of Christ when it seems that most Christians agree on what a passage means.


11. Compare different translations

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. That means the Scriptures need to be translated into other languages for us to read them. Because translating from one language to another is an art rather than a science, translators differ in how they render the language. So, when you’re trying to get a clear understanding of a verse or passage, read it in a few different translations to see if one or looking at them collectively helps in your interpretation.

I like to use It seems like they have the widest selection of translations. You can search for a passage in any translation or compare translations.


12. Perform a word study in the original language

If you want to go deeper than comparing translations, you can look at the original words in Hebrew or Greek and see how those words were used in other sections of the Bible.

For this, I like using When you search for a verse or passage, click Tools, then Interlinear. This will show you the original language. You can then click on the Strong’s number for any of the words, and it will show you all the times that word is used in the Bible.


13. Remember the Bible is perspicuitous

God has made the Bible simple enough that almost anyone can understand the basic meaning of a passage, but you can never exhaust what you can learn from it. As the product of God’s infinite mind, the Bible is nearly infinite in what it can teach us. The more you study it, the more you’ll understand. There will be times when you return to a familiar passage and think, “I never noticed that before!” or “Ah, now I understand that verse a little better.”





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