How to Interpret the Bible

by Matt Slick

The Bible is God’s Word. But some of the interpretations derived from it are not.  There are many cults and Christian groups that use the Bible, claiming their interpretations are correct.  Too often, however, the interpretations not only differ dramatically but are clearly contradictory.  This does not mean that the Bible is a confusing document. Rather, the problem lies in those who interpret and the methods they use.

We need, as best as can be had, the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word.

Because we are sinners, we are incapable of interpreting God’s word perfectly all of the time.  The body, mind, will, and emotions are affected by sin and make 100% interpretive accuracy impossible.  This does not mean that accurate understanding of God’s Word is impossible.  But it does mean that we need to approach His word with care, humility, and reason. Additionally, we need, as best as can be had, the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s Word.  After all, the Bible is inspired by God and is addressed to His people.  The Holy Spirit helps us to understand what God’s word means and how to apply it.

On the human level, to lessen the errors that come in our interpretations, we need to look at some basic biblical interpretive methods.  I’ll list some of the principles in the form of questions and then apply them one at a time to a passage of Scripture.

I offer the following principles as guidelines for examining a passage.  They are not exhaustive, nor are they set in concrete.

  1. Who wrote/spoke the passage and to whom was it addressed?
  2. What does the passage say?
  3. Are there any words or phrases in the passage that need to be examined?
  4. What is the immediate context?
  5. What is the broader context in the chapter and book?
  6. What are the related verses to the passage’s subject and how do they affect the understanding of this passage?
  7. What is the historical and cultural background?
  8. What do I conclude about the passage?
  9. Do my conclusions agree or disagree with related areas of Scripture and others who have studied the passage?
  10. What have I learned and what must I apply to my life?

In order to teach you how these questions can affect your interpretation of a passage, I have chosen one which, when examined closely, may lead you into a very different interpretation than what is commonly held.  I leave it to you to determine if my interpretation is accurate…

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How to Interpret the Bible | Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

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