In these three brief videos, Pastor Matt outlines a basic process and principles for interpreting the Bible. We hope this serves you well as you seek to understand and apply God’s Word in your own study, or with your small group.
Basics of Interpretation, Introduction – What are we trying to do, and why?
Basics of Interpretation, Part 1 – Principles of Interpretation
Basics of Interpretation, Part 2 – Interpretation Process
What are we trying to do, and why?
We profess to teach what the Bible says. But isn’t that arrogant? Lots of people believe the Bible means lots of things. People have their own interpretation. What makes yours more right?
Our job is to say what people have always said about the Bible. And yes, there have been arguments over interpretation of certain things throughout the ages. The way predestination and free will work. The exact unfolding of the events in the “end times” (or even what “end times” mean…) – but the basic core message of the Bible has been shared in common by all real churches throughout the ages.
And yes, we claim to be one of those churches. Again, that claim can sound arrogant in our culture. But understand that we are not claiming to have infallible, perfect, specific knowledge of everything in the Bible, rather – we are attempting to pursue faithfulness to what it says, and what the church has believed throughout the ages. In that sense we’re on a journey of re-discovering, and re-forming our thoughts and our assumptions about the way the world works, about who we as humans are, and about who God claims to be in his book.
We’re not trying to “progress” in our understanding, discovering new ideas about who God is, and what this book says, but rather we are trying to “reform” our understanding. Recapturing the old ways, staying on the ancient path.
If the culture is going to be mad at us for something, let it be because we are holding fast to the old ways that have been handed down from generation to generation for 2000 years, across the ages, across cultures, across traditions, all of us trying to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
We are to “…do our best to present ourselves as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth.” That is, we are to work hard present ourselves as approved by God in the matter of rightly handling the Word. This is because accurate handling of God’s Word is crucial to God’s Kingdom, and inaccurate handling, which is so prevalent in our day, yields disastrous results.
First we must handle The Word accurately because of what it is, God’s Words. The most “contemporary and vital” (present and living) place we encounter The Holy Spirit Himself as it is in The Scripture that we receive His direct revelation. Therefore it demands our greatest effort, attention and care.
Ascribing meaning to the text of the Scripture that was not intended by the author makes us into the “author” of our own scripture, the very definition of false teacher. Inaccurate handling of God’s Word yields devastating consequences: the damnation of our souls, and potentially that of our hearers, whose blood will be on our hands.
Accurate handling of God’s Word results the salvation of our own souls, the souls of those we teach accurately, fullness of joy in this life which lasts into eternity, complete equipping for every good work, and most importantly, an accurate knowledge of Jesus, leading to knowing Him truly in relationship.
Principles for biblical interpretation
- The Bible is to be interpreted in the same manner and with the same principles as all other books. It is not a unique format that has its own set of rules.
- Aim of interpretation is to reproduce the author’s intended meaning: the sense the scriptural writer intended for his own words for his original audience.
- Man’s basic ability to interpretis not derived from some obscure science, or difficult technical skill, open only to the more gifted intellectuals in society. We have the ability to understand communication as part of our nature as creatures in the image of God.
- What God spoke in the Scriptures, He spoke in human, not heavenly, language. He spoke through vocabularies, idioms, circumstances, and personalities of his chosen authors.
- Knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages are not necessary for our interpretation work. We can lean on those that have produced accurate translations into our own language.
- There is a distinction between “meaning” of the text (the idea the author intended to communicate to his audience) and its “significance” (the relationship to that meaning and ourselves).
- The basic message of scripture is sufficiently clear that all believers able to understand language can understand the meaning of the text.
- Words and phrases do not have meaning in isolation. They only contain meaning in the context of the author’s full idea. So we must look at the whole of the literary unit (statements, paragraphs, passages), the book as a whole, and the canon as a whole, and not words and phrases in isolation.
- We should seek to take the author’s idea and formulate a succinct, polished, universal statement, and then apply that specifically to our lives. In other words, we should seek to obey what we understand.
- We must seek interpretation through the hard work of exegesis, and not from sentiment, or from seeking our own personal “divine inspiration” in our understanding. The human authors were divinely inspired and wrote texts for us to understand according to the laws of human communication.
- We must look to The Holy Spirit’s guidance as the “unveiler” of significance, relevance, and personal application. Through prayer, we listen for how he is telling us to apply and obey the scriptures.
- Valid interpretations are subject to rational defense. We never say “well that’s the way I feel about it…” or “that’s what it means to me…” when we are challenged in our understanding.