How to study the Bible
For many people, trying to study the Bible tends to be a hit-or-miss activity which leads to a hit-and-miss interpretation. This leads us to the question, are all Biblical Interpretations equal?
Over the years people have said, “Well, that's your interpretation!” This implies all interpretations are equal or valid. The point of any Biblical Interpretation is not to support our opinions, but to find out what the author’s thoughts and intents were.
The other problem that we face today is that most Christians don’t seem to realize that Biblical Interpretation is a science, and like all science if you don’t apply measurable standards you end up with corrupt data which leads to people misinterpreting the information.
The science of Biblical Interpretation is called “Hermeneutics” (i.e., the skill or art of interpretation). The Apostle Paul told Timothy that he was to “rightly handle” (Greek: orthotomeo, to cut a straight line, to guide the Word of Truth along a straight line) “the Word of God” (2 Timothy 2:15). We are also told in 2 Corinthians 2:17 that some people “abuse” (Greek: kapeleuo, to be a huckster, to adulterate) God’s Word.
-- So you see, not all interpretations are equal --
Some simple guidelines to follow
The first thing we need to do before studying the Bible is to pray and ask God for wisdom and understanding; James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (KJV). We have also been promised that the Holy Spirit will help us to understand God’s Word (John 16:12-15; 1 Cor.2:9-3:2). If there is sin in your life you need to confess that also, because according to 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, our carnality can hinder the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Another important fact is that those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior are not able to totally understand God’s Word (1 Cor.2:14).
Next apply the principles that John Wycliffe (1324-1384) gave to help us to keep everything in CONTEXT (Context is the key for a good sound Bible Study):
“It shall Greatly Help Ye to Understand Scripture,
If Thou Mark
Not only What is Spoken or Written,
But of Whom,
And to Whom,
With what Words,
At what Time,
to what Intent,
With what Circumstances,
Considering what Goeth Before
And what Followeth.”
Four basic steps for effective Bible study
We can use John Wycliffe’s rules:
STEP 1: OBSERVATION.
- What does the passage say — what is the context.
STEP 2: INTERPRETATION.
- What does it mean.
- Take it at its Literal (normal or natural) meaning unless it doesn’t make sense that way.
- Study its Historical Setting (the who, what, when, where, and why).
- Apply the Rules of Grammar.
STEP 3: CORRELATION/INTEGRATION.
- How does this passage fit in with what is being taught in the rest of the Scriptures?
STEP 4: APPLICATION.
- How does this get worked into and out through the way I live?
NOTE: The important issue here is not what we think or what is our opinion about a passage of Scripture, but to know what God meant by saying it.
Next, make sure that you DON'T do the following ten things because they can cause you to misinterpret Scripture:
If you apply these basic principles to your Bible study it will help greatly with giving you a consistent interpretation of the Bible. With this said, these basic principles are only the beginning and if you really want to be able to stand firm upon God’s Word, and not someone’s opinion, then you need to study more about the science of Hermeneutics.
There is some good FREE information that is available on the internet, such as Gregory Dill’s paper on
“Basic Biblical Hermeneutics” and “Hermeneutics: Principles of Bible Interpretation” by Mike Vlach located at Indian Hills Community Church’s web site (under Papers On Theology). You should also buy a copy of Dr. Roy B. Zuck's book, “Basic Bible Interpretation” (Chariot Victor Publishing, ISBN 0896938190; currently out of print but it may still be found on Book Finders).
Next time you are tempted to say, “Well, that's how you interpret it...,” bite your tongue if you haven’t applied the principles of interpretation, because there's a good chance your interpretation is only based upon an opinion and not upon God’s Word.
-- Not all interpretations are equal! --
Last Updated 01/15/2013
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