How do you know if you are correctly interpreting a passage in the Bible? There are so many different opinions on thousands of verses, how can we be assured that we know which one is right?
The Bible is God’s Holy Word and was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is the book that God gave us here on this earth, in which God communicates to us, that we might have a relationship with Him. The origin of the Bible is the heart and mind of God. God used men to write the Bible but they were under the inspiration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit and therefore, we take the Bible literally and believe it to be inerrant, infallible, eternal, holy, and immovable. The Word of God can be trusted as undeniable and unquestionable Truth as it is without contradiction.
When a human being attempts to understand his Bible, he needs help and guidance from the supernatural presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and understanding but this will only come as the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their unbelief that came from their hardness of heart. They thought they understood but were actually blind to the truth. Only as we humble ourselves like a little child, and come to God with a sincere repentant heart will God give us understanding of His Word.
On the other hand, we also must be guided by a certain set of rules or principles in order to find the truth of God’s Word. Hermeneutics is a fifty-cent word that describes the science, art, or rules and principles of understanding and interpreting the meaning of the Holy Scriptures. There are many different translations and interpretations of God’s Word in today’s market, and many of them are wrong or in error, because people that attempt to interpret the Holy Scriptures are simply not guided by the Holy Spirit, or proper principles and rules of interpretation.
Satan’s mission here on the earth is to sow lies and deceit into people’s minds and hearts. Consequently, he is most effective as he transforms himself as an angel of light and sets himself up right in the middle of churches and religious organizations to sell his lies to many sincere but naive people. His main weapon of warfare is to influence someone to interpret their Bible incorrectly, because if he can do this, not only is he causing them to believe a lie, but he is reinforcing the lie in their minds because they formed their belief from their Bible. They are convinced that they are embracing and believing the truth because of something they read in their Bible, when the truth is that they misinterpreted their Bible and were deceived. People that are deceived by misinterpretation of their Bible often become dogmatic, overly zealous, defensive and isolated within their circle of peers that share the same dogma. Once a lie is believed, it has the power to control a person’s life.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." - II Timothy 3:16-17
The above verses are popular and famous verses that most Christians have memorized. These two verses give Christians comfort and assurance that our Bible is a book that we can read and with confidence we believe it will give us understanding about how we can have a personal relationship with God. Yet, we should not misapply these scriptures thinking that they give us the power to go anywhere and everywhere throughout our Bibles taking things out of context and making the Bible say whatever we want it to say. These two verses do not say that an understanding of scripture, as seen through the lens or view of a particular church, religious organization, leader, teacher, or dogma, is profitable for us, because if the leader of the dogma is in error, we are in trouble. In order for all scripture to be profitable to us, we must learn what God intended to communicate to us through the scriptures, or we must learn to interpret the Scriptures accurately and find out what God really meant.
There are thousands of cults around the world today and thousands of Christian sects that hold many lies to be true. Nearly all false doctrines taught by cultist today can be traced back to the distortions of the meaning of Biblical words, verses and phrases. Many cults create a dogma or a set of unquestioned beliefs that their followers adhere to as the Gospel truth, when in fact their doctrines are laced with lies throughout their belief system. We should not embrace any private interpretation of the Bible but instead we should seek to know the truth that will free us from the lies and deceit of Satan. To believe, with unquestioned loyalty, a dogma created by a religious leader is to put your faith in that religious leader or dogma, instead of putting your faith in Jesus Christ. We are to each walk by faith and trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into all truth.
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." - II Peter 1:20-21
This matter of understanding our Bibles is far more important than most people realize. We know that God is the author of the Holy Scriptures and it is His meaning that we should be looking for, not our own meaning or what suits our life-style better. Instead of superimposing a meaning over a biblical text, we should be seeking to discover God’s intended meaning, the only true meaning. We must recognize that a passage of scriptures’ meaning is fixed by the author and is not subject to change or alteration by its readers. Meaning is determined by the author and is discovered by the readers. Our goal should be exegesis, which means drawing the meaning out of a text and not eisegesis, which is superimposing a meaning onto the text.
When attempting to interpret the Word of God, we need to do so with utmost humility, reverence and respect. We should cover our studies with prayer and depend upon the Holy Spirit to open our eyes of understanding to the Holy Scriptures. There may be a thousand applications of Scripture, but there is only ONE correct interpretation. Because we all are sinners, none of us are capable of interpreting God’s Word perfectly all of the time, but that doesn’t mean that accurate understanding is impossible. We should approach God’s Word with care, humility and reason, trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit and staying grounded in the rules or principles of interpretation. To misunderstand the Holy Scriptures can lead to our own destruction.
"And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him, speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - II Peter 3:15-18 (NLT)
I pray that we all learn how to rightly divide the word of truth and that we will continue to study the scriptures daily, and pray with a seeking heart, trusting God to give us understanding.
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." - II Timothy 2:15
This word dividing means to make a straight cut, to dissect, to expound correctly, or better said, it implies to interpret properly. Proper and correct Biblical interpretation is discovering what the author (God) meant when He inspired men to write the texts that we find in our Bibles. Let’s be good Bereans and search the scriptures daily to find God’s true meaning to the Scriptures.
"And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." - Acts 17:10-11
Here are some principles of hermeneutics; the science and art of the rules and principles of Biblical interpretation that merit some consideration.
Hermeneutics: Rules of Sound Biblical Interpretation
1. Be led and guided by the Holy Spirit.
I cannot emphasize this enough because unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes of understanding, we cannot possibly understand the Holy Scriptures. The Spirit of God not only permeates the mind, but also penetrates the heart of man. The illumination of the Holy Spirit is necessary because man’s mind and heart has been darkened by sin, which prevents him from properly understanding God’s Word.
"Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:" - Ephesians 4:18
It is the Holy Spirit that guides us into all truth.
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." - John 16:13
It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that teaches us truth.
"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." - I John 2:27
It is by the Holy Spirit that revelation from God comes to us.
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." - I Corinthians 2:9-10
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." - I Corinthians 2:12
Just because we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit helping us understand or interpret our Bible, does not mean that the interpreter can ignore truth, logic, and common sense; the Spirit of Truth will never lead or guide us into a lie or into a contradiction of any truth found in the Bible. His ministry is not to reveal to us truth that is not found in the Holy Scriptures, but instead, to illuminate what is revealed in the scriptures, or to help us find out the true meaning of the Scriptures.
As we see in the scriptures that the only way to correct Biblical interpretation is through the guidance, assistance and illumination of the Holy Spirit, it becomes apparent that we need to study our Bibles with a prayerful attitude and a humble and repentant heart. Jesus said, “ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be open to you”. I think God wants us to continue coming to him in prayer, asking Him to help us understand His Word.
2. Seek to understand God with a childlike, humble, dependent, sincere and repentant heart.
Man’s way of understanding things is to study with diligence, get a good education, and become informed and empowered with as much knowledge as we can possibly take in. We think the more we know, the higher we go; but the problem with this concerning our relationship with God is that God hides himself from the proud. The very nature of pride is opposite to the nature of God. Therefore, God cannot and will not give spiritual revelation to the proud and haughty, or those that are wise and prudent in their own eyes.
"At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." - Matthew 11:25
Most of Jesus’ original twelve disciples were simple men that were not highly educated; several were just fishermen. Before their lives on the earth were finished, eleven of these men, plus the Apostle Paul, would turn the world upside down as they spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the World. In contrast to the disciples, we see the highly educated Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ days on the earth. Even though they were highly educated, especially in matters concerning the scriptures, and they assumed they were each full of wisdom and understanding, they were never able to understand the teachings of Jesus and did everything in their power to have Jesus (The Truth) crucified. They thought they saw the light, but in reality they were blind in total darkness.
"Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." - Matthew 13:13-17
The more wise a person is in the world, the more pride grows in his heart and the further he gets removed from understanding the truth of God’s Word. The very nature of pride is spiritual blindness, but it doesn’t know that it doesn’t know.
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." - I Corinthians 1:18-19
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence." - I Corinthians 1:26-29
To understand our Bibles correctly is to find the true meaning of the Holy Scriptures. It was God that wrote the Bible and only the author knows what he meant with the words he used when writing. It is clear to me that the only way to understand how to have a relationship with God is to understand our Bibles and the only sure way to do this is for God to give us the revelation. So, interpreting the Word of God is totally dependent upon God helping us. God wants to reveal himself to us, but the only way that will happen is for us to repent of our pride and humble ourselves like little children and become totally dependent upon Him.
"At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 18:1-3
It doesn’t matter how grounded you are in using the proper rules of hermeneutics if you have a proud or hard heart, because you will never understand your Bibles unless God opens your eyes of understanding. This explains why many “so-called” Biblical scholars, even teachers in Bible seminaries that know a great deal about their Bibles, don’t even understand the foundational principles of blood, fire and water. They know so much that they become proud of their knowledge and God hides himself from the wise and prudent of this world.
3. Take the Word of God literally at plain face value.
When God says something plain and simple in the Bible, don’t try to look for a symbolic or hidden meaning. If the Bible says feed the hungry, God means for us to feed the hungry. Yes, there might be yet another layer of meaning like feed the spiritually hungry, but that doesn’t negate the fact that God wants us to feed the naturally hungry. Feeding the spiritually hungry might be an inference, but to feed the naturally hungry is the explicit command. The explicit should rule over the implicit, but there is a place for inference.
When the Word of God says to love our enemies and to do good to them that hate you, we can take this at face value because Jesus said what he meant and meant what he said. We should interpret the Word of God with the most obvious and literal sense. It is a common and persistent myth among many preachers today that there is always a secret hidden meaning behind every scripture. Many scriptures can be taken literally at face value.
Jesus also used many parables, stories and analogies when He taught. The Bible is full of figures of speech or figurative language to communicate truth in a graphic way, and in most cases the meaning is clear from the context. For example, when Jesus said, “I am the door” it is obvious to the interpreter that He is not saying He was composed of wood and hinges, but rather He is the way to our salvation. When the Bible uses figurative language, God is only enhancing the plain and simple meaning of the text. Even though the verse below is figurative language, we have no problem understanding what God meant, because here His use of metaphors makes it even clearer.
"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" - Matthew 7:2
However, this gets much more difficult when Jesus uses a metaphor that could not possibly be interpreted verbatim and He does it in the same sermon (The Sermon on the Mount), where so many truths can be taken literally. When we come to a scripture like the one below, it is clear that we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit along with hermeneutics (sound rules of interpretation), good logic and common sense in order to find the true meaning of what Jesus said.
"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." - Matthew 5:29-30
Obviously, it would go against the nature and character of Jesus to ask us to pluck out our eye or cut off our right hand. So, it is here that we have to consider several rules of interpretation. Jesus said many things that I would classify as ‘hard sayings’, that were difficult to understand. I can’t imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus said the words below to them.
"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." - John 6:53-56
Of course, today as New Covenant believers, this is not a hard saying for us to understand, but for disciples this was very troubling to them at the time. It is another good example of the analogies or metaphors that Jesus used. We need to be able to separate the analogies, metaphors, symbols and stories, from the historical narratives and plain talk that can be taken literally.
When taking the Bible at the literal, plain, face value we must continue to stay grounded in the principles of good hermeneutics because many of the false doctrines in the world are often a result of taking something figurative and pushing it to a literal meaning. With the scripture above, the Catholic Church teaches this to mean when they partake of the Lord’s Supper, that the bread is actually and literally the body of Jesus and the wine is actually and literally the blood of Jesus. They are not supposed to even chew their bread because it is His body. This doctrine is called Transubstantiation. Jesus was using a figurative analogy in John 6 and this shouldn’t be pushed to a literal meaning. Judas going and hanging himself is a literal fact and should be taken as such, but Jesus being a door or a light or an anchor are all figurative statements and not literal.
So we can take the Word of God in a literal sense at plain or face value, but we also know when to take the Word in an allegorical sense when God is using an analogy or a metaphor. We must also understand when God is using a text of scripture in a moral sense or teaching us a life lesson to be learned. There is also an anagogical sense to consider when interpreting the scriptures where we can derive heavenly meaning from earthly facts. For example, when the Scripture uses water, it can mean moral purity, eternal life, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God or it can literally mean water/H2O.
4. What to do with figures, types and shadows?
The Old Testament is full of types and shadows that point us to Jesus Christ and to the New Covenant. God has revealed His Word to us “here a little and there a little” during this past 6,000 years of time and His revelation to mankind has increased as the years have increased. So God has progressively revealed Himself to mankind. God spoke to the Jews in The Wilderness differently than He spoke to them hundreds of years later. And when Jesus taught on the earth, he spoke in an entirely different manner than God did to the Jews in the Old Testament. God didn’t change, but His revelation of himself to mankind continued to progress.
The Old Testament tabernacle may be the best type and shadow of Jesus Christ that we find in our Bible. God told Moses in the wilderness exactly how to build the tabernacle and he did so with great detail. Many chapters in the Pentateuch deal with the descriptive plans for the tabernacle. Each of the seven pieces of furniture is a type or shadow of Jesus just as the ministry of the High Priest was a type or shadow of Jesus. Each of the various blood sacrifices is a type or a shadow of Jesus as were all seven of the feast days. Even the Sabbath Day, one of the 10 commandments, was a type and shadow of Jesus and His rest. In fact, the entire Old Testament Torah was a type and shadow of Jesus, the Living Torah.
"Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount." - Hebrews 8:5
"The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;" - Hebrews 9:8-11
There is no power in a shadow, but the shadow helps us look up and see the person of Jesus. This is why the Old Testament is so important to us; a close look, a proper interpretation and a good understanding of the figures, types and shadows gives us a greater understanding of Jesus Christ.
Even Israel’s trip from Egypt to Canaan’s Land gives us another figure or example for us to follow.
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples." - I Corinthians 10:1-6
One more example of a type, shadow, or figure was the brazen serpent that Moses held up in the wilderness.
"And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." - Numbers 21:4-9
Here we see the brazen serpent as a type and shadow of Jesus Christ; when we look up to Jesus and believe in him, He saves us and we live.
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - John 3:14-16
But the children of Israel later made the brazen serpent into an idol. They should have thrown the thing away when God was finished using it, but they held on to it gave it much greater value than God wanted them to. Many years later, King Hezekiah broke it in pieces so they would stop worshipping the idol.
"He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." - II Kings 18:4
This is the danger in figures, types and shadows. If they are not properly understood and interpreted, then people can actually make an idol out of them without realizing it and begin worshipping the figure, type or shadow instead of the savior, Jesus Christ. We must always remember that God progressively revealed Himself to mankind, so types and shadows of the Old are only pointing us to the New.
5. Don’t take the scriptures out of context.
This is one of the most common and most dangerous rules that people break when trying to interpret their Bibles. The Bible should always be taken literally but never taken out of context. Most Bible scholars will say that this is the single most important principle to adhere to while interpreting the Bible. The word context simply means the words that are used with a certain word or phrase that help to explain its meaning. There are many different types of context to consider when trying to correctly interpret the Bible, such as historical, social, cultural, political, religious, geographical and literary. It is the literary concern that I am addressing here. Again, the reason for this is to try and find the meaning that God intended when writing the words that we read in our Bibles.
The Bible consists of an immediate context and a broader context. Every word in the Bible is part of a verse, and every verse is part of a paragraph, and every paragraph is part of a book, and every book is part of the whole of Scripture. No verse of Scripture can be divorced from the verses around it. Interpreting a verse apart from its context is like trying to analyze and explain what an elephant looks like by only looking at his trunk. The context is absolutely critical to properly interpreting Bible verses.
When we look at the immediate context, we are referring to the verse or verses we are examining, the preceding verses and the verses that follow it. This will usually give us our answer, but we should also consider the broader context of the chapter before and after, the entire book we are reading, the author of the book and the intended audience. Also, as we study every scripture, we must consider the entire Bible as a whole and how a particular verse fits into the entire Biblical context. We must always keep in mind that God wrote the Bible and he has an intentional meaning to everything He wrote and it should be our objective to find the ONE true meaning to each Biblical passage or verse.
We need to remember that the interpretation of a specific passage must not contradict the total teaching of Scripture on any one point. Individual verses do not exist as isolated fragments, but as parts of a whole. The exposition of these verses, therefore, must involve exhibiting them in right relation both to the whole and to each other. Scripture interprets Scripture and the Bible does not contradict itself.
We need to look at the immediate context, in that every word we read needs to be understood in light of the words that come before and after it or the true meaning of the verse will not be understood without the help of the afforded context. One example is a verse that a very large worldwide cult likes to use, I Corinthians 8:5, for there be gods many and lords many…" as a proof text of their doctrine of polytheism. However, after a simple reading of the verse in the context of the whole chapter, where Paul calls these gods “so-called”, plainly demonstrates that Paul is not teaching polytheism. A text out of context can become a pretext.
Another example would be when John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease, John 3:30. Many Christian sects take this verse to mean that our old nature, or ‘old man’, must decrease in order for our new man, (Jesus Christ) to grow and increase in our lives. This is clearly a contradiction to when the Bible says that our old man was crucified with Jesus Christ at the cross. We know the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, so this scripture demands a closer examination. Again, any text pulled out of the scripture without considering the context can become a pretext.
John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets and his ministry was to prepare people’s hearts for the coming of the Messiah. He was preaching in the wilderness, baptizing people when he saw Jesus. John proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” As soon as John baptized Jesus, he should have ended his ministry and followed Jesus, but he didn’t obey his own words. It was time for John’s ministry to come to an end and it was time for John to become a follower and not a leader. More importantly, the old covenant was about to come to a close as Jesus was fulfilling the law and would nail it to the cross.
So, if you read chapters 1-3 of the gospel of John, it is easy to see how we should not take one verse out of context and try to apply that toward our battle with our old nature. We also see that some historical, social, religious and cultural context should be considered when analyzing this verse to fully grasp its true meaning.
When we look at a broader context, we are simply saying look at the entire book you are reading, then take one more step back and see how it relates to the entire Bible. For example, when Paul writes what he writes in Romans chapter six, these verses are very difficult to understand and believe, but when you read the entire book of Romans, then chapter six gets much easier to understand.
In attempting to never take a verse out of context, we should also consider things like the writer’s context, or all of the books of the Bible that a particular author wrote like John, Paul, David, Daniel, Job or Moses. For each of them lived in a different time period, had differing backgrounds, different levels of education and different views of life that should be considered. When I read the book of Revelation for example, I can better understand it because I know that John wrote the Gospel of John and the three epistles of John. Understanding of John’s view of God, his life, and his style of writing helps understand his prophetic book of Revelation better.
6. The Definitions of words must be accurate.
The Bible is a book that communicates information through words. Thoughts are expressed through the relationship of those words and each individual word contributes something to the whole of the content expressed. The better we understand the individual words used in Biblical statements, the better we will be able to understand the total message of the Scripture and to discover the author’s intent. Therefore, I cannot possibly over emphasize the importance of understanding what the true meaning is of each word in the Bible. We must always carefully grasp, and abide by the plain meaning of the words and never violate the known usage of a word or invent another for which there is no precedent.
It would be best to have command of the Hebrew and Greek languages, but since that is not practical or possible for many, we can at least buy a Strong’s Concordance where every word is numbered and tied into the King James Version of the Bible. You should also consider getting a good Hebrew/English and Greek/English Lexicon. With smart phones and other electronic devices, all of this can be simply downloaded at a reasonable cost.
When we begin studying Hebrew words, I find it completely fascinating how a Hebrew word can have so many different meanings in the English language. I can somewhat understand how people get off base and turn their pursuit of knowledge from the meaning of the scriptures to the meaning of the Hebrew words, and then get sucked into Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah and things of that sort, because Hebrew is a fascinating language. When looking at the definition of a Hebrew word, you must take the context of the passage into consideration to properly know what English word best describes the true meaning of the scripture. For example, in Hebrew the word for Holy is qodesh, but the same root word with different vowels attached to it means a harlot or a sodomite. Another example is the word olam, which means both eternity and world, therefore the context of the word is needed to find the meaning or the author’s intent when he was writing.
With words having many different definitions, we need to be very careful that we have the proper context and genre, and consider all factors in order to determine which definition of the word God intended in each verse. For example, the word law has many meanings in the New Testament alone: sometime the word law can mean the entire Bible; sometimes it means the Torah, which can mean the first 5 books of the Bible, or the 10 commandments or the Jewish ceremonial law. Christians say we are not under law, but under grace, however Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments.” Commandments are law; commandments are instruction. The whole Bible is law; the whole Bible is instruction. Now, certain ceremonial and communal laws of the Old Testament no longer apply, but there are hundreds of commands (instructions) in the New Testament alone. All Christians need instruction (laws) to know how to behave and behavior is inescapably tied to instruction... to law. We are ‘under grace,’ but we inevitably need law to give direction to our actions. So, when we see the word law in the New Testament, we need to figure out what God means by that word.
There are thousands of good examples in the Bible where a wrong definition can skew your understanding and even turn a truth into a lie. For example, when the Apostle Paul said, “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”, the word followers in the Greek here means simply to imitate, mimic, to follow. I have seen this word used in reference to mean obey, or come under my authority, instead of simply imitating. This wrong definition can causes a person to submit to a leader who will control and manipulate them.
I suggest you have several translations of the Bible at your fingertips. I still like the King James to study from because the Strong’s Concordance makes it possible for me to look up words quickly. However, we should face the fact that Jesus did not speak in the King’s English when He walked this earth, therefore some passages, verses or words in the King James are very difficult for us to understand in American in 2016. I like some translations better than others. I am coming to like the New Living Translation and the English Standard Translation, and I like the Amplified version. There are plenty of good and bad translations on the market, and one should be careful and prayerful about which ones to read.
We also should consider that even though the Hebrew language can help us immensely understand the Old Testament, it gets a little tricky when using it to understand the New Testament. There are no known Hebrew New Testament original manuscripts and the earliest New Testament manuscripts we have are written in Greek. So, to read the New Testament out of a Hebrew Bible means that it had to be translated from Greek into Hebrew. I know Hebrew is the language of the Bible, the Jews, Jesus and His disciples, but we should consider the fact that God let Alexander the Great conquer most of the known world at that time, so the Bible written in Greek could be spread rapidly throughout the world. Paul also was well versed in Greek. I am getting more and more comfortable looking up New Testament words in Greek from my Strong’s Concordance.
When studying, I like to read a passage of scripture in several different translations of the Bible very carefully, slowly and prayerfully. Then I like to look up the key words of the passage. Once absorbed, I like to make sure I understand the context of the passage.
7. The Genre makes a big difference.
A literal approach to Scripture recognizes that the Bible contains a variety of literary genres, each of which has certain peculiar characteristics that must be recognized in order to interpret the text properly. In the Old Testament, the first 5 books of the Bible are called the Law or the Pentateuch. The next group of books are historical narratives; then Job, Psalms, and Proverbs are considered by many to be books of wisdom. Psalms and Song of Solomon are poetic books. Then, we have the prophetic books with major and minor prophets.
In the New Testament, the first 4 books are the gospels, which tell the story of the life of Jesus on the earth. The next book is Acts, which is the history of the early church. Then, we have the Epistles, which are in two basic groups: the ones written by Paul and the others, which are called general epistles. The last book is the book of Revelation, which is a prophetic book.
Much of the Bible is a historical narrative and these narratives should be interpreted using the didactic. Didactic literature is literature that means to teach or instruct. The Gospels are mostly narrative as they record what Jesus did whereas, the Epistles interpret the significance of what Jesus did. It is easy to see that the epistles are concerned with interpreting the significance of the events of the life of Jesus Christ in terms of doctrine, exhortation and application. But the Gospels, even though they are mostly narrative, still teach and instruct and should always be interpreted by the didactic.
Obviously, an incorrect genre judgment will lead one far astray in interpreting Scripture. A parable is a story and should not be treated as history, nor should poetry be treated as prophesy and neither one should be treated as straightforward narrative. A wise interpreter allows his knowledge of genres to control how he approaches each individual biblical text. In this way, he can accurately determine what the biblical author was intending to communicate to the reader. We should interpret the Bible literally, but in so doing, we should recognize that poetry is not history, analogies are not narratives, as nouns are not verbs. For example, one cannot study the Song of Solomon as one would study the book of Galatians, because the Song of Solomon is a poetic book that is full of symbolism where the book of Galatians is an epistle that Paul wrote to the church of Galatia.
All Christians should embrace a basic hermeneutical position that the Old Testament is always to be interpreted in the light of the New Testament and never the reverse. You cannot build New Testament theology with Old Testament scriptures unless you have a link to the New Testament. Dr. Walter Marin, the author of The Kingdom of the Cults, says that a failure to adhere to this basic hermeneutical principle is the root of most of the heresy we see today.
There is a great need for an understanding between the Old Testament Law and the New Covenant. When Jesus nailed the Old Covenant to the cross, he fulfilled the Old Covenant and brought in the New Covenant. Jesus said, “it is finished” as he hung upon the cross, and the veil in the Temple was rent, to and fro, as the Old Covenant came to a close and the New Covenant was ushered into existence.
"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;" - Colossians 2:14
"A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." - Hebrews 8:13 (KJV)
This verse reads clearer and is easier to understand in the NLT.
"When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear." - Hebrews 8:13 (NLT)
What we have here are two different genres. The books of the Bible that describe the Old Covenant Law are one genre, and the books of the Bible that describe the New Covenant are a different genre. We must separate the two in our minds or we will undergo constant confusion as we try to rightly divide the scriptures.
Paul rebuked the Galatians for going back to try and keep the law (in this case the Jewish ceremonial law), now that they were saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." - Galatians 5:1-4
Paul wrote many verses of scripture in his epistles concerning this issue. This is the problem we have by reading Paul’s epistles the same way we would read the books of the law. Sure, we believe II Timothy 3:16-17, but to take scriptures from one genre and try to apply them to another is inconsistent with good rules of Biblical interpretation and if we are not careful, we can get confused and led astray. We are now under the New Covenant and the Old Covenant is obsolete, so it is wrong for us as New Covenant believers to go back and try to adhere to the 613 laws that were given to the Jews in the Old Covenant. We must rightly divide the Word of Truth.
For example, the Law required circumcision and eating only clean foods. With the New Covenant, we are circumcised in water baptism and all foods are now made clean. In the Old Covenant, the Jews were required to keep the 7 feast of Israel; in the New Covenant Jesus Christ fulfilled the feast and He is the feast days. In the Old Covenant there was a tabernacle; in the New Testament Jesus is our tabernacle. In the Old Testament, there was a High Priest, but in the New Testament, Jesus is our High Priest.
It is not right to go back into the Old Covenant and pull out certain scriptures and try to lace them into our New Testament theology. If we are living under the New Covenant, then the Jewish laws of the Old Covenant are not applicable for us today. We can learn from the types and shadows, but all of the Old Covenant should only point us to Jesus and our relationship with Him. There are many examples of this, but here are a few:
"Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled." - Deuteronomy 22:9
"Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together." - Deuteronomy 22:11
"Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it." - Deuteronomy 19:14
Obviously, God had His reasons for giving these laws to the Jews, like he had his reasons for circumcision and eating only clean foods, but, we as New Covenant believers, should not try to earn favor with God by trying to keep the Old Covenant laws, because Jesus fulfilled them, nailed them to the cross and now has established a new and better covenant with us today. Understanding the different genres of the books of the Bible helps us to rightly divide the Holy Scriptures.
8. You must consider the history, culture and customs of the people at the time of the writing.
"Our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
Even though our Bible is much more than an accurate account of history, it is full of history and the most accurate historical work of all time. The Christian faith is built upon the evidence, the facts and the history of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To properly interpret our Bibles, we need some awareness of the culture, customs and historical context of the time when a particular book of the Bible was written. We should not use the modern method of interpreting Scripture whereby the words of Scripture are taken out of their historical context for subjective meaning. The historical context is just too important to ignore.
We especially need a reasonable familiarity with the Jewish language, beliefs, and practices during the time of Biblical writing. If we did not know why Jonah hated the people of Nineveh so much, then we could not understand the book of Jonah. The story of Jesus with the woman at the well would not make much sense to us unless we understood the Jews hatred toward the Samaritans, nor would the parable of the Good Samaritan
The more we can learn about Corinth and the issues the Corinthians faced, their culture, customs and practices, then the more we would be able to understand Paul’s two books written to the Corinthians. To under estimate the importance of considering the history, the culture and customs during the time of the writing of a particular book of the Bible is a mistake.
There are even geographical considerations to take into account when reading a passage of scripture. We must realize that the Bible was written from approximately 2,000-3,500 years ago and in each time period of the book being written there was historical facts, cultural facts, geographical facts that will significantly change our understanding of what God is trying to communicate to us. The Bible was written to an Eastern civilization so, as modern day westerners reading the Bible, we must consider the man God used to write the book, and the audience for which that particular book was intended. As we better understand their culture, their view of life and the world around them, then we can better understand our Bibles. I took a trip to the Holy Lands over 20 years ago and it made many things in my Bible much clearer to me, as I saw the varied locations of certain events described in the Bible.
9. You Can’t Throw Logic Out of The window.
I hesitate to mention logic and its importance in good sound Biblical interpretation because I don’t want human logic at the top of our list. I need to remind the reader once again that without the Holy Spirit illuminating our hearts and minds, we will never figure out the true meaning of the Holy Scriptures. Logic simply means a proper or reasonable way of thinking about or understanding something. We must careful not to throw out logic when we are establishing our rules for understanding our Bibles.
Proper Biblical interpretation is merely logical reasoning coupled with the divine anointing of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to us in human language and therefore appeals to human reason and invites investigation.
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." - Isaiah 1:18
10. The explicit should rule over the implicit, but there is a place for inference.
We should always lean toward what we know was said explicitly, instead of what we think the writer was implying. To understand what is actually said, or what was explicitly meant by the author, is of far greater value than what is left unsaid though implied.
An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact or a logical consequence. It comes to a conclusion from a given fact or premise or it can be a deduction of one proposition from another. One must be extremely careful when using inference but this cannot be ignored as a rule of interpretation. We should build all of our doctrine on necessary inferences rather than possible inferences. A necessary inference is something that is definitely taught by the text. The conclusion is unavoidable. It is necessary. A possible inference is something that could or might be true, but not something actually stated by the text. Again, a word of caution when trying to understand the authors meaning by trying to see the inferences.
11. The Unity and Harmony of the Scriptures.
All individual passages of the Holy Scriptures must always be in unity and harmony with the Bible as a whole. Furthermore, all scriptures being interpreted must be construed with reference to the significance of the whole Bible. An interpretation must be consistent with the rest of the Bible because the Bible does not contradict itself. The interpreter of the Bible must keep in mind that even though God used several men to write the Bible, the Bible has but one author and that is God.
12. Listen to the right teachers and stay away from the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
God set up a five-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers to help us understand Him and our Bibles. However, the big danger here is to be drawn to a charismatic personality who is teaching lies instead of the truth. I have many ministers that I enjoy listening to or reading their books that enrich my life continually. We should think for ourselves, but not by ourselves. God has provided many good solid Biblical teachers on the earth today.
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." - Ephesians 4:11-13
But on the other hand, we should constantly be aware and on guard because many teachers, preachers and spiritual leaders are planted in the church by Satan himself, and are wolves in sheep’s clothing. If we get under the wrong teacher and begin believing everything they say without question, it can cause catastrophic damage to our lives.
"Beware of the false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits." - Matthew 7:15-16
13. Symbols, numbers, and magic.
The Bible is full of symbols and there are numerical values for each Hebrew letter and word. Yes, we can learn some truths from the symbols and there is truth to be learned from the numbers of the Hebrew letters; but we are not to over-spiritualize our Bibles to the point of looking for hidden meanings in every possible symbol nor are we to stray off into numerology. If the keys to the Kingdom of God were found in Rabbinical Hebrew, the study of Hebrew numerology, Jewish mysticism, or the Kabbalah, then the Jews would have the truth today and the Pharisees that Jesus confronted in his day, would not have crucified Him. The entire spirit of the modern day Jewish religion is anti-christ in nature. They simply believe they can connect to God, have a relationship with God and even enjoy eternal life without Jesus Christ.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." - John 10:1
"Then Jesus said unto them again, verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep." - John 10:7
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." - John 14:7
There are many more rules of interpretation in the world of hermeneutics, but this at least gets us started with some proper guidelines, rules and boundaries when seeking understanding of the meaning of the Holy Scriptures that God intended. I encourage you to keep reading your Bibles, especially the New Testament and start praying for help from the Holy Spirit, using these rules of interpretation.
We should never attempt to add to or to take away from the Holy Scriptures. This is clearly condemned in the Word of God.
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." - Revelation 22:18-19
Our life should be filled with a desire to know God and we should continue to seek Him wholeheartedly, praying that God would grant us the true understanding of our Bibles. Our goal should be exegesis, which means drawing the meaning out of a text and not eisegesis, which is superimposing a meaning onto the text. I hope this article will give you better understanding of how to read, interpret and understand your Bible.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:31-32