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Bible, Magnifying Glass, and Piece of Paper

4 Principles When Interpreting the Bible

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.

Open Bible

5 Things to Understand About the Bible

While reading or listening to something, our presuppositions influence how we understand what is written or said. Therefore, the presuppositions we have towards the Bible will impact how we understand the Bible. For example, if you think the Bible is without error, then you’ll interpret the meaning of passages in a way that allows harmony between apparently conflicting passages. However, if you think the Bible contains error, then you’ll interpret conflicting passages to be mistaken, even if you are aware of possible interpretations that would harmonize passages. Your presuppositions will drive your interpretation and application one way or another.

For the born-again Christian who desires to rightly understand and apply the Bible, there are fundamental things you should know to rightly interpret and apply the Bible.  The understandings stated below form a solid foundation for accurate Bible study interpretation and application.

Understand the Nature of the Bible

The Bible is God-Breathed (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). It is not ultimately written by men, though God used men’s hands and thoughts. The Bible’s ultimate source is God; so much so, that when you read the Bible or hear it read, you hear God speaking.

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

2 Peter 1:21
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Understand the Substance of the Bible

The “substance” of the Bible is that of which it is made up or of which it is composed. The Bible is composed of truth, and it is perfect in thought and teaching (Psalm 19:7, John 17:17). The Bible is true and non-contradictory. There is a consistent way to interpret and understand the Bible so that you won’t arrive at contradictory doctrines or conflicting applications. The Bible is right and correct on all matters it discusses.

Psalm 19:7
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

John 17:17
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Understand the Sufficiency of the Bible

The Bible claims for itself to be sufficient for equipping Christians for every good work. Therefore, understanding and applying the Bible is enough to enable Christians to become all and do all the good works God has prepared  that they may walk in them

2 Timothy 3:17
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Ephesians 2:10
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Understand the Ultimate Aim of Scripture

Ultimately, the Bible is about the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 5:39, 1 Cor 2:2, 2 Cor1:20, Col 1:16-20). Jesus Christ is the God-Man who bled and died and rose again to save all who repent and have faith in Him. The gospel is the good news of salvation that Jesus has accomplished. Therefore, it is appropriate to say the Bible is ultimately about Jesus and the gospel.

John 5:39
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,

1 Corinthians 2:2
2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

2 Corinthians 1:20
20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Colossians 1:16-17
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Understand the Ultimate Audience of Scripture

The Bible is ultimately for people (John 17:17, Heb 4:12, Rom 15:4, 1 Cor 10:11). God spoke in words—in language— for a purpose: to communicate to us. God is the perfect communicator. If there is any failure in understanding or application, it is ultimately our fault, and not that God isn’t clear. So the Bible is meant to be understood and applied, and it has been clearly communicated to us, which obligates us to do the work to rightly understand and apply the Bible.

John 17:17
17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Hebrews 4:12
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Romans 15:4
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 Corinthians 10:11
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.