As with understanding anything that is written, there are a variety of ways to interpret what something means. However, just because you can interpret something a certain way, does not mean that you should, at least not if you want to accurately understand what the writing means. When it comes to interpreting the Bible, you can use the 4 principles below to accurately understand and interpret what a specific text in the Bible means.
#1 Interpret the Bible Literally.
The Bible should be interpreted literally. This means you should interpret it to mean what it actually says. You should not try to “read between the lines” or even ask “what does it mean to me.” You should ask, “What does it say?”. To interpret literally does not mean all types of writings in the Bible are to be interpreted in a literal sense, rather they should be interpreted in light of their specific writing genre or style. A historical narrative should be interpreted as a historical narrative. Poetic writings should be interpreted as poetry. A parable should be interpreted as a parable.
For example, when the historical narrative text in Mark 4:38 says that Jesus was sleeping, it means that Jesus was literally sleeping. But when Jesus mentions a man sleeping in Mark 4:27, he is not talking about literal sleep, because he is telling a parable, and a parable is a story that is supposed to describe a specific truth. In this case, sleeping represents resting after sharing the Gospel, knowing that God is the one who ultimately grows the Kingdom of God.
#2 Interpret the Authorial Intent
Consider the audience during the time the specific text was written and attempt to understand the text how the original audience would have understood the text. The author of the passage wanted the readers to understand what was being said, and thus, there should be a single meaning that takes into account the context, audience, and culture of the original audience. The true meaning is the meaning the author wanted the original audience to know and understand.
For example, we know that the Gospel of John was written so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ because John says so in John 20:31. Therefore, every part of the Gospel of John should be understood and interpreted to help people believe in Jesus as the Christ because that is what the author intended.
#3 Gospel Application
The interpretation of the text must take into account the whole of Scripture, which culminates in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should use the later writings of the New Testament as an example and tool to understand how all of the Bible is to be applied in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Interpret commands and examples in light of faith-based righteousness and Spirit-led sanctification.
For example, Jesus said in John 5:39 that Scripture testifies about Him, and one must come to Him to find life. Therefore, we should see how Scripture testifies about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection because Jesus said this is what Scripture is ultimately about.
#4 Progressive Revelation
The Bible was written in time and relates to itself within the unfolding of God’s purpose and will revealed in time. Therefore, the New Testament explains and reveals the fullest meaning and purpose of the Old Testament. The Old Testament can be considered as types and shadows of the New Testament since the New Testament explains and expands the plan and purposes of God. This is one of the ways that Scripture-interprets-Scripture.
For example, the Sabbath Day of rest was commanded by God to be a day when his people did not work (Ex 20:10). However, in scripture written later in Hebrews 4:1-10, God reveals that by believing in the good news, the Gospel, we have entered into the rest that the Sabbath day was ultimately about. Therefore, Christians are not required to literally rest on the 7th day of the week, because they already are “resting” by believing in Jesus Christ.
By using these basic hermeneutical principles, you will better understand and interpret the Bible.