How can we interpret, or rightly understand and apply, the very words of God? The thought that we, limited as we are, can accurately interpret His words almost seems pretentious because His wisdom is infinite and ours is finite. That’s why, as mentioned earlier in the week, we must approach the Scriptures with humility. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us interpret the Scriptures—not us or our intelligence. Without the Holy Spirit’s revelation, we would not be able to understand and interpret the Scriptures. We also must realize that it is possible for us to misinterpret the Scriptures at times—not because the Holy Spirit has inaccurately revealed the truth, but because our hearts may be hard or unaware or we may simply be too distracted to understand what the text is truly saying. With this in mind, we need to ask the Lord to soften our hearts as we read Scripture and open our eyes to the truth. We must embrace a teachable spirit.
We will never know everything—because we are not God—but we can take comfort in the following verse: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Certain things only belong to God, but He has revealed other things to us. Things that we can know and believe forever. While observation helps us understand what the text is saying, interpretation helps us understand the meaning of the text. As we seek to accurately interpret the Scriptures, we should reflect on several key components: context, themes, contradictions, and teaching (Precept Ministries International, 2000). First, consider the context of the passage. What does it mean in light of the encompassing verses, the book in which the text is found, and how that book fits into the Bible as a whole? Ask yourself these questions:
– Is your interpretation of the text consistent with the main point or intent of the book?
– Does your interpretation match other Scriptures that discuss a similar topic?
– Are you taking into account the cultural and historical context of the passage?
We must be careful to not take Scriptures out of context, or we’ll lose its meaning and intention. When Scripture is taken out of context, truth is distorted, which can negatively affect people’s view of Christianity.
Second, remember the major themes of the Bible when you interpret Scripture. The major themes of the Bible include Jesus, love, mercy, grace, and justice. See how your interpretation fits into the major teachings of the Bible, such as God, Jesus, Holy Sprit, man, sin, heaven, hell, angels, demons, church, and salvation. You can do this by using a cross reference to study other verses related to the topic and through the use of a concordance, which highlights where important words or topics are mentioned throughout the Bible. We will discuss these supplemental resources in further detail tomorrow. Third, look for contradictions between your interpretation and the rest of Scripture. Scripture never contradicts itself because God inspired it all. Scripture helps us interpret Scripture. Search for other verses on the themes your text addresses, and consider how they work together.
Fourth and last, always look for the obvious teaching of the Scripture. Consider what the author had in mind as the text was written. What is the author hoping to communicate to the people of the day? When looking for the obvious teaching, remember the literary style of the text. For instance, Philippians is a letter, meant to instruct the people of Philippi on several topics. Note what those topics are and what the author had to say about them. With the Holy Spirit’s revelation, these steps will help us accurately interpret Scripture. And remember, the best resource for the correct interpretation of God’s Word is God’s Word—because He has inspired it all. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, observe carefully, and use the Bible as a whole to help you interpret a specific passage.