Introduction to Interpreting the Bible

Introduction to Interpreting the Bible

You study during the week to lead your small group in Bible study. You have read your Bible passage. You have followed the suggestions and commentary in your leader’s material. You even looked up some ideas in your Bible dictionary and a commentary. But, how do you know you really understand the passage? Here is some help.

Or, you lead your church’s Bible teaching program. The groups and classes of that program are entrusted to laymen and laywomen to teach the meaning of God’s Word and disciple believers. How can you help them study and accurately interpret the passages they use each week? Here is some help so you can teach them how to teach others and adequately understand the Bible.

The Bible is the most studied piece of literature in the history of the world. We have examined words and phrases, translating it again and again from the original languages using the most accurate manuscripts we have. All this study has developed a standardized approach to interpreting the Bible. This is the science (used here in the best sense possible) of hermeneutics. We have a set of thorough guidelines to help us as we study.

Two big questions will always guide you toward accurate and faithful interpretation:

  1. What did the passage mean to the original hearers or readers?
  2. What does the passage mean to us today?

It is important to understand the order of these two questions. We cannot make an application of a passage to life today if we do not know what it meant to the original hearers and readers.

Don’t let this “hermeneutics” language scare you. A handful of guidelines give us accurate insight into the Scriptures. But put this into perspective. We interpret everything we read. Think about a daily newspaper. (There are still some people who read the daily printed newspaper.) You know that a newspaper has a lot of different elements, or genre’s of reading material. There are headline articles, want ads, stock quotes, comic strips, editorials, obituaries, ads, sports news, to name a few. Each of these is interpreted differently. You interpret comics differently from editorials. You interpret stock quotes differently from sports scores. You operate with standards of literary interpretation of everything you read—novels, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, biographies, histories, websites, even recipes.

So over the next several posts let’s consider some interpretation guidelines that will help you study God’s Word more effectively and help you teach your small group more accurately.

Reflection: Read Psalm 119: 33-36. How can the psalmist’s love for God’s Word be replicated in your life?

Learn more: Read How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

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