If you are like me, you’ve had moments where you’ve been afraid of misinterpreting something you’ve read in the Bible or worse explaining something wrongly to someone else. I want to be sure that I am properly interpreting the things I am reading, and I want you to be sure that you are doing the same. I’m going to give you a few tips to make sure you are not getting it wrong when you interpret Scripture. Check this out…I hope it helps. To keep it simple, I’ve broken it down into three things:
- Address and Context. I discussed this in a previous blog titled, Why are Some Parts of the Bible so Weird. The basic premise is when you read a passage of Scripture, you need to know a few things: Who wrote it (author), who it was written to (address), what were the historical circumstances happening at the time the text was written, and the meanings of the words used in the text. Uncovering all of this information is the difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible. I know that sounds like a lot, but don’t let it scare you. The Bible isn’t meant to be read quickly and you are not on a deadline to learn it all. There is no final exam that you have to prep for although it will help you when you face the tests of life. The Bible is meant for you to internalize it over the course of a lifetime. You have your entire life to get to know God through His word and to allow Him to write it on the tablet of your heart as Proverbs 7:3 says.
- The Spirit of Truth. Jesus tells us, in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” The Spirit of Truth is the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that now lives inside of you if you are a Christ-follower. The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth. In other words, we need to rely on Him in the interpretation process. That sounds great, but what does that look like? The Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Bible. Although the Bible was written by 40 men over a period of about 1500 years, the Holy Spirit spoke through the authors. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. We should trust the words of the Bible and interpret life through them. Much of our misinterpretation comes from interpreting the words of the Bible through the lens of life, culture, and experience. Which brings us to the third tip:
- Self-assessment. Have you ever had your mind made up about something, just to find out that you were totally and completely wrong? I knew the 2004 LA Lakers were going to beat the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. I was wrong. My confidence in the Lakers was built on bias. I have been a Lakers fan since I was a kid growing up watching the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. I am also a big Kobe Bryant fan. Those two things combined caused me to overlook some major issues happening that year. Kobe was on trial, Shaq was out of shape, the team was dysfunctional, and the surrounding cast was old. I was so biased that I did not properly interpret everything that was right in front of me. The Pistons beat the lakers 4 -1 in the best of 7 series, and the team split up the following year. What biases or presuppositions act as the lenses through which you interpret the Bible. You have to do a self-assessment and be honest about your biases. One examples of a bias we have as an interpretation lens is cultural bias towards Scripture. Some cultures believe that human reason and intellect are superior to Scripture. Racial biases also exist. Some races believe the Bible was written for their race or against their race; both of which will hinder you in the interpretation process. Another type of bias has to do with beliefs about whether or not the whole Bible is inspired by God and whether it is literal or fictional/allegorical. There are a plethora of other biases out there, but you’ll have to determine which ones have impacted your ability to properly interpret Scripture.
There are more tips we could go into on how to properly interpret the Bible, but I don’t want you to feel like you are drinking from a fire hydrant. Remember, this is a life-long journey. You have your entire life to read, study, enjoy, and get to know God through His word. Study well, rely on His Spirit, and check your own heart when you study. Here’s your challenge, write down the biases that may be hindering you as you study the Bible. Be honest with yourself. We all have biases, it’s human nature, and the sooner you identify them the sooner you’ll be able to do the work of removing them from the process. As always, drop me a comment if you’d like to talk more. I’d love to hear from you!