I recently interacted with a person online who uses only the King James Version and said that all other versions are satanic. Not only did this person make a very extreme and blatantly false statement, but he failed to realize that translation is not the only determining factor for accurately discerning spiritual truth. Whatever Bible translation one uses, it would be assumed that he or she considers it a source for Christian teaching and how to live a life that honors and glorifies God. While it true that some translations are better than others (and the KJV is considered by many to be the best), principles of basic interpretation are of utmost importance.
Let me say right off that it is not the purpose of the article to debate the King James Version, or any other version. Whatever translation a person uses, there may not be proper understanding without following principles of interpretation. I am not talking about the very obvious and clear teachings like salvation by grace, to use just one example. Issues such as this are not open to debate. I am referring to many passages that require certain interpretative criteria in order to see them in their proper context and meaning as originally intended by the original writers. Conversely, a very good translation may not provide good spiritual insight if these principles of interpretation are neglected. So, here are basic things to apply when reading and studying the Bible.
1. Accept that the Bible is divinely inspired. That may be considered a given, but the sad reality is that many “Christians” don’t consider that to be so. II Timothy 3:16 says that “…all scripture is inspired by God…” Also take into account that the Bible was written by 40 different authors over a span of 1500 years, and yet it has the same themes progressing throughout. Along with this are the numerous fulfilled prophecies. Much more could be said to support divine inspiration but space does not allow.
2. When studying the Bible the original languages must be taken into account. The meaning of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic can shed a whole new light on the meaning of scripture. How closely a translation adheres to the original languages is a primary factor in how good a version is. Since the average person does not know these languages it is necessary to consult the experts. Take note when some preacher or Bible scholar mentions what some passage or word means in the original language.
3. Bible passages, especially those that are controversial or unclear, need to be interpreted in their cultural or historical context. This is where commentaries or any kind of resources that give insight into this context become very useful, including secular sources. Knowing the type of audience to whom Bible books were written is also necessary.
4. Consider the immediate literary context. A good rule of interpretation is, if something can be taken literally then seek no other sense. If one does not take the Bible literally, unless it is obvious that it isn’t, then what is the point of even reading the Bible? There are figures of speech, like in any literature. There is symbolism, like in the Book of Revelation. But did Jesus really walk on water? If one believes that Jesus was and is God in the flesh then that can be taken literally!
5. We must not forget the work of the Holy Spirit. John 16:13 says “…the Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth…” The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to teach us spiritual truth.
There are translations that are pretty accurate to the original languages, some more than others. However, there are also what I refer to as “PERversions.” These are translations that one must definitely stay away from. This is where the reader needs to do some research. II Timothy 2:15 puts importance on diligently handling accurately the word of truth.
Whatever version you read, do you now how accurate it is to the original languages? Which of the five principles, if any, do you apply in your reading of scripture? Which ones would you like to start applying?