Guidelines for Interpreting the Bible
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The best selling book of all-time is the Bible, which is the inherent Word of God. It was written over a 1500-year period by forty different authors by divine inspiration. The Old Testament was mostly written in Hebrew. It gives us the account of how the world was created, how sin enter the world, man’s inability to follow God’s commands, and God’s plan for redemption, which includes very specific prophecies concerning a coming Messiah. The New Testament was written in Greek. It tells how God became a man and fulfilled all of the prophecies that were prophesized centuries before. It chronicles Jesus’ life and teachings, along with his death and bodily resurrection. The New Testament also tells how the church began and prophesizes how the world will come to an end. Reading the Bible is extremely important if you want to learn more about God and grow closer to him. The toughest part is knowing how to properly interpret the Bible so that you can understand it properly.
How to Properly Interpret the Bible
Knowing how to properly interpret the Bible will allow you to properly apply Scripture to your everyday lives. Many cults and doctrinal errors come from people improperly interpreting the Bible. Here are some guidelines to follow to help you properly interpret scripture.
Pray and Seek God’s Help
The first and most critical step in interpreting the Bible is to spend time in prayer before reading your Bible. Ask God for wisdom and help in understanding His Word. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.
Advice on interpreting the Bible
Context of the Passage
Context. Context. Context. Interpreting verses in their context is critical to properly interpreting the Bible. Much doctrinal error and heresies come from people taking Scripture out of its proper context. It is really easy to pull a verse from here or there, but you need to read the surrounding verses to see if the verse says what you think it says. Here is a list of questions to ask yourself:
- Who wrote the book or passage?
- Who was it written to?
- What does the passage say?
- Are there any historic or cultural clues to understanding this passage?
- What does the surrounding context say?
- Should the passage be taken literally or figuratively?
- Does it agree with the rest of Scripture
- How Do I apply it to my life
Read Several Commentaries
Another great way to help you interpret the Bible is to read several different commentaries to see how they handled the passage. It is important to check out more than one because there are times that they disagree how to handle a certain passage. Also, it is a good idea to buy a study Bible if you do not have one. Study Bibles have notes at the bottom of each page designed to help you much like a commentary, only much less detailed. I highly recommend is the John MacArthur’s Bible Commentary. It is an excellent resource. Another great resource is the free online commentaries at Biblestudytools.com.
Avoid Theological Presuppositions
When trying to interpret a passage of Scripture, it is important to focus on what the passage says, rather than approaching it with a preconceived notion of what it says. Much doctrinal error comes when we try to bend Scripture into saying what we want it to say. Let the Bible interpret the Bible. Read the Bible as you would want someone to read something you wrote, without adding or taking anything away. There are some hard truths in Scripture, but just because they are hard does not mean they are not true. Hell is a great example of this. It seems that more and more people disregard the existence of hell because in their minds they think that a God of love will not send anyone there. However, the Bible says that exact opposite. In fact, it says that if you do not believe in the Son, you are condemned already.
How often do you read the Bible?
Verify What Others Tell You
When it comes to interpreting the Bible, do not take what anyone tells you as truth without verifying it. Universalism, for example, sounds great. Everyone goes to heaven because God is a God of love. Take some time and read through the New Testament and you will find that Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. You will find verse after verse in context where it becomes clear that Universalism is a heresy. The Bible clearly teaches a literal hell and people that do not trust Christ as their Savior will go there. It is not an easy truth, but a biblical one.
"Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord (Bible) and who meditates on his law day and night." Psalm 1:1-2
I encourage you to spend time reading the Bible for yourself with an open heart and an open mind. Contemplate what you are reading. Remember when you are trying to figure out the meaning of a passage or verse to read it in its context and in light of the rest of Scripture. Commentaries are a great resource, but also verify that what they are saying makes sense. If you do not have a Bible of your own or want to be able to take one with you on the go, I strongly suggest downloading the YouVersion Bible App. It has many different Bible reading plans to help you get started reading the Bible. If you do not know where to start reading the Bible, start in the Gospel of John, the fourth book in the New Testament.