Got new Bibles!, a photo by kahunapulej on Flickr.
Sound Bible Interpretation
Bible Interpretation just means figuring out what the Bible is really saying. Sound Bible Interpretation is figuring out what the Bible is saying in a right way. It is possible to misinterpret the Bible, just like it is possible to misunderstand or misinterpret just about anything someone says or writes. If you keep the following principles and guidelines in mind as you read the Bible, then it is much easier to understand what God is telling us.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
We understand Bible passages in the context of other Bible passages. If one passage looks like it might mean one thing, but that would contradict another Bible passage, then obviously that interpretation is wrong. When you understand the correct interpretation, then it will agree with the rest of the Holy Bible, because God doesn’t contradict Himself and it is impossible for Him to lie.
Literal Where Possible
What the Bible says, it means. The natural meaning of a passage should be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech syntax, and context. In other words, when the Bible says that by Jesus’ stripes we are healed, then you can be assured that by Jesus’ stripes we are healed.
Consider the Form
There are different forms or kinds of writing in the Holy Bible. Each of these forms is normally read and understood a little differently, so it helps to understand what kind of writing you are reading. Kinds of writing include:
History – stories about what happened in the past
Narrative – reports and commentary about events
Parables – stories that use a familiar situation to teach an abstract truth
Prophetic – messages from God that may include revelation of things to come
Poetic – usually Hebrew style poetry, based not on rhyme, but on sets of phrases that compare, contrast, or complete a thought.
Teaching – telling people about God’s nature and how we should live
Proverbial – relating wisdom and truth about the way people and things are
Know basic rules of language and how language is used. Sometimes it helps to understand some things about the original languages (Hebrew and Greek) of the Holy Scriptures. In those cases, pastors and teachers often explain them to us.
Consider Culture and History
Understand the culture and history of the people involved. For example, it helps to understand that in the time of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, Israel was under Roman occupation.
Ask the Author
The same Holy Spirit who inspired the holy men of old to write the collection of books and letters we call the Bible lives in and among us, today. If something is unclear to you, ask God to make it clear. He is happy to help you.
The following ten guidelines help us to read what God intended for us to read in the Bible, and not just what we or anyone else wants us to see in the Scriptures.
The Bible is to be read and understood like any other book. The Bible is different, in that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, but it was written by men who used normal language, just as we use normal language to communicate.
Read yourself into the life situation of the story or character. Use your imagination. Imagine yourself marching around Jericho, watching Jesus feed a multitude with a little boy’s lunch, or whatever applies to what you are reading.
Historical narratives are to be interpreted in the light of teaching portions of Scripture. History records what happened. Teaching tells us what should happen.
What is implied is interpreted by what is explicitly stated.
Determine carefully the meaning of words. Use a dictionary.
Understand parallels and figures of speech.
Note the difference between a proverbial saying and a moral law. Moral law carries much more authority with respect to what we should and shouldn’t do, but proverbs give us good guidance as well.
Observe the difference between the spirit and the letter of the law. In keeping the spirit of the law, we seek to please God by honoring His intentions. Keeping the letter of the law may involve looking for loopholes and alternate interpretations that may be more or less restrictive than God intended.
Parables usually have one main point. Look for that one main point, but don’t try to stretch the analogy too far.
Old Testament moral law is still in force unless the New Testament states otherwise.