Interpreting the Bible

Ken Simmons

Everyone who reads the Bible should ask themselves if they are interpreting it correctly. The basic message of salvation in the Bible is necessary to understand, and everyone who reads it should be willing to let the Holy Spirit guide them. When faced with an explanation of a passage, the reader should ask does this interpretation fit with the rest of what the Bible is saying, is it sensible, and does it give a person peace and inspiration?

Jesus said in John 14:26, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." Jesus' disciples did not have pen and paper to record all of the things that Jesus had taught, so by saying this, Jesus was reassuring them that the Spirit would help them remember and understand his teachings. This also applies to us today when we read the Bible as it was written.

The Holy Spirit is the one who gives understanding, but He only gives it to those who honestly seek Him. Jeremiah 29:13-14 says, "'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord, 'and will bring you back from captivity.'" God said this to His people after He sent them into captivity because of their sin. Notice that the correct interpretation of this verse is first for those in captivity and that God is willing to restore them when they return to Him spiritually. The application of this verse for us today is that if we truly seek God, He will give us an understanding of the Bible along with assurance and peace, that we are correct in our interpretation of it.

When some of the Jews were questioning his education, Jesus said, "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17). For those who choose to do God's will, He will give the correct understanding of the Bible. Philippians 3:14-16 says, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained." "Holding true to what we have attained" is necessary for the assurance of understanding. Why should God give assurance of understanding to those who don't care or believe Him?

There are two questions that I ask the Holy Spirit when reading a Bible verse that I don't understand. One is, "What is this verse saying," and the other is, "What is it saying to me?" If I don't get an answer at that time, I will patiently wait until I get one. There are, of course, many Bible verses that are difficult to understand and scholars have struggled to understand them for years. God wants us to know what the Bible says, but He will tell us when the time is right.

Along with the Holy Spirit, there are certain rules of reason that help us stay on track. Walter Henrichsen, in his book Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, gives twenty-seven rules to help the reader correctly understand the Bible. The first rule that he gives is, "Work from the assumption that the Bible is authoritative." In this rule, he places what the Bible says over human reason and church tradition. In this, he states that "the first law of interpretation says the Bible is the final court of appeal." In other words, the Bible is the final authority about what we believe about God, His Son, and life as a Christian.

People interpret the Bible in the same way they view God. Some people see God as an angry tyrant ready to crush anyone who gets in his way. Others see God as angry in the Old Testament, but loving in the New Testament. My view of God is that He is the same in the Old Testament as He is in the New. When I read the Bible, I look at it through the lens of grace. So whether God gives or takes away, he is making an offer of salvation to those involved. Deuteronomy 4:30-31 says, "When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them." This offer isn't just for the Jewish nation, but for all who listen to his voice, i.e. give attention to the written Word. Deuteronomy 4:31 correctly links with John 3:16. Therefore, God doesn't take away without a reason, because everything God does is an act of grace.

Romans 8:15-16 states, "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God...." It is the Holy Spirit that gives assurance of understanding, and it is God's desire that we understand it.

Got Questions has the following articles that are helpful for Bible study:
"Why is it so hard to understand the Bible?"
"Why is understanding the Bible important?"
"What is wrong with the allegorical interpretation method?"

Image Credit: Ben White; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life

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Published 7-17-17