The Bible may not always say what people think it means. While it is true that some sections are difficult to understand, and probably no one gets it all right all of the time, there are guidelines that should be used in interpreting it properly. When it is not understood and applied correctly, much damage can be done in people’s lives. It can cause confusion and incorrect theology.
Proper biblical teaching based upon these principles, which seminarians call hermeneutics, is not talked about in our churches. As a result, many Bible study groups consist of people sharing what they think scripture means. Even though the Holy Spirit guides people to the truth, that does not mean that staying within certain parameters should be cast aside. There would not be as much personal conjecture and maybe less false teaching. Here are ten principles to consider when interpreting scripture.
1. The basic premise must be that all scripture is inspired. It says so in II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20-21.
2. The whole entity of scripture must be taken into account, not just isolated verses. The Bible has common themes running throughout. One must view the “big picture” and God’s overall grand plan.
3. There are cases, as in all literature, where there are figures of speech, allegories, parables, etc. There is symbolism. Other than this if something makes plain sense, seek no other sense. If something cannot be taken literally on a human level, remember that God, and Jesus who is God incarnate, can do it literally. Yes, Jesus, literally walked on water.
4. Always consider the purpose and audience of a book, its cultural background, and the immediate context of a passage of scripture. Use Bible resources if necessary.
5. Avoid reading into it what you want it to say. The Bible can interpret itself through other passages that give more clarity. Do cross- referencing of other sections of scripture.
6. Never build a major doctrine on just one isolated verse. This is often what cults do. Some Bible “teachers” are guilty of this and lead people astray.
7. Use translations that are fairly accurate to the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. If you don’t know which are the best, ask someone who does. At the same time, there are translations to definitely avoid.
8. When reading the Bible write down observations, like repeated words or phrases, or things that stand out in the text. Do word studies.
9. Chapter division are NOT inspired.
10. The main goal of Bible study is to learn the intended meaning by the original inspired writers.
In summary, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.” II Timothy 2:15
Which of the above principles have you used in your Bible study? Which of them have you found to be the most helpful?