Doctrinal disputes leave many conscientious Christians wondering what to believe. Disagreements seldom arise over the translations of the ancient texts and the various modern versions of the Scriptures. Theological differences typically flow from divergent interpretations. The following guidelines are offered to help those who want to study and understand the Bible better.
We should strive to interpret the Scriptures objectively and not subject them to our own personal views or experiences (or lack of experience). This is what Peter is getting at when he writes that God’s Word is not “a matter of one’s own interpretation,” 2 Peter 1:20. Each passage in the Bible has only one explanation, but the theological principle contained in that explanation could have many applications.
Like any writing, the Bible employs a variety of literary forms and grammatical tools to reveal God’s truth to man. God’s simple truth for the most part is disclosed in plain, easy to understand words. The meaning of the word “literal” is often misused; I prefer the word “plain.” When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” he was not saying Jesus was a literal lamb, but was plainly using a metaphor to reveal that Jesus would be our literal sacrifice for sin.
Grammar plays an important role in grasping the meaning of the text. Semantics, the meaning of words, and syntax, how they are placed in a sentence to communicate meaning, cannot be ignored. The Bible is made up of words, and what those words mean and how they relate to one another is vital.
Historical insight into the times, customs, and politics in which the human author wrote are an invaluable tool into learning why God inspired a particular author to write what he did. Understanding the cultural context of the biblical writer enables us to see the issue God wanted to address then, so we can know how to apply His Word now. Since the Bible is meant for the world, it must be understood within the culture it was written so it can be applied to similar situations in all cultures.
Apprehending the context of the subject of a passage is crucial also. The clarity of a passage lies within the context of the specific text, and since God does not contradict Himself, any proper interpretation must be in harmony with what the Bible says about the same subject elsewhere.
The Scriptures were not inspired and preserved merely to convey information, but to promote transformation. Ergo, any true interpretation of the Bible will have a practical, everyday application on what we think, believe, and do. Any interpretation of the Word of God that does not have a practical application for today is not to be trusted.
The Bible was not intended to be just believed, but to be lived.