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I believe many people don’t read the Bible because it can be complicated. Oftentimes people read Bible verses and they totally take it out of context and apply a meaning that it was never intended to have. That is how we misinterpret the Scriptures. So, how can we understand and interpret the Bible the way it was intended? In the book, “How To Study the Bible,” Robert West says “Each verse of scripture has only one intended meaning even though there may be many applications. The Bible isn’t written to mean different things to different people. The issue in every verse is always what God means by it, not what it means to me.”
In seminary, one of the first classes I took was hermeneutics. That’s just a fancy word for interpreting the Bible. I LOVED this class because it gave me a clear path and process for understanding the text the way God intended.
Writing this article has been a challenge for me because I want to give you an easy process that you can follow NOW that will help you understand God's Word which will help you build a relationship with God. It is only through His Word that we will know Him and become familiar with His character. My desire is that you know God because it’s this relationship that will truly transform your life. LITERALLY!
Pray that the Holy Spirit would lead you to all truth by communicating to you what God is saying according to John 16:13 and 2 Peter 1:20-21.
John 16:13 (NIV)
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2. Engage the Word with Objectivity
We are all influenced by where we grew up, our culture, politics, our geographic locations, and our families. Everything we believe was influenced by something in the world. The Bible shines a light on any beliefs that are not in alignment with the Word of God. Mark 4: 21-23 (NIV) states “He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
To interpret the Bible objectively, we must put aside presuppositions and preunderstandings. Presuppositions are foundational beliefs and preconceived ideas that we have embraced knowingly or unknowingly. Preunderstandings are assumptions and attitudes that we use in our perception of reality. The Bible says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord" (Isaiah 55: 8, NIV). We must recognize that the goal is not to understand the Word with our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs but the way our Heavenly Father intended. That is where true change occurs where we become more like Christ, demonstrating His character.
Just read the Bible. Don’t interpret it. Don’t try to look for deep theological understandings. Just read what is happening. Understand the story.
Read the verse.
Read the chapter.
Read the book.
Begin to write down any questions you have about the text. Write any words that you don’t understand.
Resource: You can use a Bible dictionary to help you find the definitions of those words. You can view FREE Bible dictionaries at Bible Study Tools.
West (2007, p. 6) encourages us to ask 6 questions to help us observe and determine what is happening in the text.
Who is writing the text? Who is the text written to? Who are the people involved in the story?
What is happening? What is being said? What is the main idea?
When was it written?
Where is the story taking place? Where was the author when it was written?
Why are these things being said and done?
How are they being done?
Resources: A study Bible like the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible can help you find the answers to some of the questions above. You can also go to Bible Gateway FREE Commentaries to view and study various commentaries.
It’s easy to read the Bible and assume it means one thing based on your experiences in our current culture. But what does the passage/passages mean to the people who it was written for? West (p. 42) writes that the ultimate interpretation is “What did God mean by what He said?” This is a great question to ask AFTER we have collected the evidence from our observation of the text. Here are 3 principles we can use to interpret the Bible:
The literal principle - Interpreting the Bible using the “normal meaning of words while recognizing figures of speech like symbolism, allegory, and metaphor” (p. 44).
The historical principle - Interpreting the Bible in its original historical setting BEFORE understanding it within our current culture (p. 45).
The contextual principle - Interpreting a Bible verse by understanding the verses surrounding it (p. 45).
Ask the question “How does this passage or passages apply to me?” Ultimately, the goal is to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22, NLT). When we apply the Word in our own lives, that is when we experience transformation!
I hope this helps you in your journey of interpreting the Word. This process is a great start. Be on the lookout for a more in-depth process of Bible interpretation. Take some time to reflect and journal about the questions below. Look up the verses and let God speak to you!
P.S. If you have questions about this article or a testimony to share, please feel free to Contact Me in the menu above! I would LOVE to hear from you!
SHARE what God is doing in your life in the comments. If you LOVE this post, SHARE with your friends on social media!
GROWTH THROUGH SELF-REFLECTION
Do you know how to interpret the Bible?
If yes, what is your process?
Do you believe God is calling you to go deeper in His Word?
Are you ready to let go of any presuppositions and preunderstandngs to live your life in alignment with God’s Word?
If not, why?
2 Peter 1:20-21
Matthew 7: 24-27
2 Timothy 3:16
Mark 4: 21-23
West, R. M. (2013). How to Study the Bible--Expanded Edition. Barbour Publishing.