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Bible Interpretation

Bible knowledge is a tool not a trophy

Is the Bible God's Word? In order to make any sense of the Bible, one needs to read it as God's Word. The modern humanistic assumption is that the Bible was originally started by a Jewish fellow who lost his way in the desert and led his people in circles for the next forty years. During that time he wrote down fables and myths of his tribe.

Trying to read the Bible with such an attitude, and still professing to understand it requires acute mental gymnastics. A book of myths and fables, must be read with more than a pinch of salt. To base a faith on myths is irrational, and to preach a fable based faith is irresponsible.

Islam has been spared these influences, but that is about to change. Linguists and Muslim theologians in Turkey are busy doing just that; reediting and reinterpreting the Koran.

Christianity has been fighting secular and humanistic trends for millennia. Allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament had surfaced long before Jesus walked the Earth. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Catholic Churches most important theological influences, was more Aristotelian than Bible based, if references from his work are anything to go by.

From the middle of the 19th Century Protestantism has been battered by humanistic perspectives in the main denominations. These humanistic or modernist views led to splits in the past and are behind the splits that are continuing today, most notably in the Anglican communion.

In order to be able to interpret the Bible, there are a few preconditions. The first and foremost is the understanding that the Bible is God's inerrant word to mankind. Any other attitude is a Pandora's box. If there is no structure we can interpret it any way that pleases us personally. We need a structured method to guide us in interpreting the Bible as we tend to fail when we try it our own way.

Studying the Bible as if it is an uninspired book written by a tribe of itinerant shepherds, results in looking for errors to correct and not truth and guidance, as one never knows what is truth and what is error.

Three Reasons to Read the Bible

There are three paramount reasons why each of us as Christians need to be able to read the Bible with understanding.

The first reason is our sin nature playing with our desires. Without any basic rule we read into the Bible verses what we want the Bible to say. Paul addresses this in his letters to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was notorious for their worship. Clement of Rome after Paul's death wrote to the Corinthians admonishing them for still being out of line, so in these letters we can get some guidance.

1 Corinthians 2:12-14 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The second reason is because, sadly the majority of Christians are not well versed in what the Bible says, so we cannot rely on others to know.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”

Hebrews 5:12-14 “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that uses milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

2 Peter 3:15-16 “As our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him has written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

The third reason is that some professing Christians pervert what the Bible says. Each of us has a responsibility to understand the Bible. Much of the misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim World is due to ignorance on both sides as to what the Bible and the Koran say. Even the Koran has basic rules to make sense of apparent contradictory verses.

2 Corinthians 2:17 “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”

4:2 “(We) have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

Which Bible Version?

The first choice the Bible lover needs to do, is choose which type of translation:

There are 2 types of translation:

  1. Functional equivalent(King James Version or Authorised Version): translates:
    • Word for word
    • Clause for clause
    • Sentence for sentence
    • Paragraph for paragraph
    • Idiom for idiom
  2. Dynamic equivalent (New International Version or Good News Bible): translates:
    • Thought for thought
    • Sense for sense
    • Idea for idea

The dynamic equivalent is therefore open to cultural based interpretations, or changes and variations in current ideas. The Good News Bible is a paraphrasing of the Bible.

Using the basic rules most misunderstandings of the Bible can be clarified. Trusting any random Bible scholars is not reliable, one needs to test them to find out which is reliable. A person relying on Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible will not trust a modernist commentary.

Basic Bible Study Tools

The basic tools for an in depth Bible study are a concordance. The New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the BibleStrong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance is generally regarded as the best. There is a good Greek and Biblical Hebrew dictionary in the Strong's Concordance for when one is unsure of the original meaning of a word. Vine's Expository Dictionary is excellent for the Greek of the New Testament. Unless one is really fluent in Greek, this dictionary gives a very good understanding of the Greek.

The Basic Rules of Bible Interpretation are:

Text out of context is a pretext. This is the primary cause of misinterpretation.

  1. Interpret a verse according to what is said before and after it.
  2. Context is also the theme of the book: e.g. praise, teaching or correction.
  3. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Find other Scripture to back it up.
  4. Let the Bible speak to you. Do not tell the Bible what the Bible is saying.

Jesus Himself gives us examples by showing us how to interpret His parables.

Jesus and the apostles constantly quoted and reaffirmed the Old Testament. By studying how, where and when these quotes are used we can understand the Old Testament better.

Grammatical interpretation:

Interpretation must take into account the actual words of the passage including vocabulary, grammar and immediate context.

Historical interpretation:

Scripture must be studied in the context of its relationship to history, geography and customs.

Doctrinal interpretation:

Any doctrinal passage must be studied as it relates to those same doctrines as taught throughout the entire Bible. This involves scriptural comparison, doctrinal development and dispensational differences.

The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed


This is scratching the surface. Jesus said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

A good clear introduction to Bible interpretation is a series of 20 teachings by Rev. John Greer.

There are excellent free online courses on Bible interpretation:

Learn the Bible is online with mp3 audio and notes.

Cherith Bible Institute have a 3 year online course including a very good Bible Interpretation module. One can also do individual courses without credits.

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