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!
Have you ever read something in the Bible and thought to yourself, “Wait, what? Did I read that right?” I have too! There are some things that I just don’t get like why did God make Hosea marry a prostitute and don’t get me started on the book of Ezekiel. Have you ever read a piece of mail that was not intended for you but you did not know it wasn’t yours until after you read it? You find yourself thinking, what the heck are they talking about! I’ve been there too. The reason that piece of mail made no sense to you is because it was not for you. You didn’t have all of the necessary information to provide the proper context. Since you did not have enough information to form the proper context, the mail made no sense, but you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble if you just paid attention to who the mail was addressed to. The same is true of the Bible, we have to pay attention to who the mail was addressed to, and we have to understand the context to fully understand the message.
Let’s talk more about this who address thing. One of the first things we do when we receive a package or a piece of mail is check the address. Why do we do that? Because we want to make sure that what we are about to open is for us. Opening another person’s mail is a bad feeling, especially if it was something good that you couldn’t keep. Talk about disappointment. There are some parts of the Bible that are addressed to everyone, but there are some parts that are addressed to specific people. We have to be especially careful of this when the passage we are reading is a promise from God. If a promise is not addressed to you, you cannot claim it any more than I can claim the check that was mailed to my neighbor last week. I may be able to open the envelope and read the check, but the check isn’t mine to cash. It has my neighbor’s name on it so won’t clear the bank for me no matter how much I want it to. Specific addressing is much more common in the Old Testament than the New Testament, especially in the Old Testament prophecy books, all of the Old Testament books after the Song of Solomon. This does not mean that those books don’t hold any value for us. We can still learn a lot about the nature and character of God from those books. They reveal things like God’s holiness and the way He cares for His people. Many of the things that seem strange to us in the Bible were probably not addressed to us in the first place.
The second part of this equation is understanding the context of the passage you are reading. The context of a passage can be found by knowing a few things: the author, the original audience (who it is addressed to), the historical circumstances surrounding the text, and the meanings of the words used the text. A great tool for figuring out the context of a book or passage of Scripture is a Study Bible. The footnotes will contain a lot of this information, and most will give you the historical data you need to understand the text. We struggle to understand some parts of the Bible because we don’t understand what was happening in the lives of the author or the person it was written to. For instance, Jesus used a lot of agrarian or agricultural examples in his teachings. That’s great if you are a farmer, but most modern readers are not farmers and cannot relate to the context. Consequently, you may have to study some farming techniques to fully understand the meaning of a passage.
Here’s my challenge for you, read Philippians 4:10-13 once, then read it again after studying who the author was and what was happening in his life when he wrote this passage of Scripture. The author gives his name and his circumstances at the time he wrote this letter in chapter 1 of the letter. You can also find this information in a Study Bible. Take note of the impact of the passage when you read it with this new understanding. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me takes on a whole new meaning. As always, I’d love to talk more with you. Let me know your thoughts.
I know exactly what you are thinking, what is the deal with all the Bible translations? I mean, if the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, why are there so many versions. If you are like me and had to look up what inerrant means, it means there are no errors in it. You’re welcome. Your question about all the translations is a good one. I grew up in a church that only used the King James Version, then we moved, and our new church used the New International Version (NIV), which made me ask, is there an Old International Version and what happened to it? No, there’s not, and you probably didn’t have that question. After the NIV church, we moved again, and our new church used the New King James Version (NKJV). This one I understood because I read the King James Version and it definitely needed a new version, although I loved to read it with a British accent. For a long time, I assumed that the people of the Bible spoke in King James English with a British accent. Imagine my surprise when I realized the people of the Bible were in the Middle East and spoke Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and a few other languages. Just to clear things up, God does not speak in King James with a British accent.
One day, my mom asked me if I had ever heard of the Amplified Bible. Apparently, extra words are added in brackets to provide emphasis but to let you know the words were not in the original text. Then I saw commercials about the Good News Bible, an easy to read Bible that appealed to the masses because it was written in modern English. I share all of this to say, I’ve wondered the same thing, what is the deal with all the translations? Let me say this before we dive in, the Bible in its original form is the inspired, inerrant word of God. The words written by the original authors, in their original context, is totally inerrant.
There are a few of reasons we have so many translations, but I’m only going to give you two because I think they are the two major reasons. First, there are denominational differences and certain translations are preferred by certain translations. There is an inherent danger here. Translation under the guise of denomination leads to an implicit bias in the text. Some sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation, the New World Translation, and it is written to line up with their beliefs. In other words, they used their beliefs to shape their translation of the Bible instead of them allowing the Bible to shape their beliefs.
The second reason there are so many translations has to do with the purpose of the translation. I mentioned those commercials I used to see about the Good News Bible. The Good News Bible was originally published as just the New Testament in the 1960s by the American Bible Society, and the whole text was published in the late 1970s. It was written because people needed a Bible that was written in the same language they spoke. Just so you know, Americans in the 1960s and 1970s did not speak King James English. I know that seems like a long time ago, but it’s not quite that long ago. It is now known as the Good News Translation (GNT) and it was written to be the Bible for modern man. Some translations are written to be formal translations, meaning they follow the original language as closely as possible, even if it is more difficult to read. An example of a formal translation is the English Standard Version (ESV). It is written on an 10th grade reading level and is considered more of a word-for-word translation. Other translations are written to be functional translations, meaning they are written to be more easily readable. An example of a functional translation is the New Living Translation. It is written on a 6th grade reading level and is considered more of a thought-for-thought translation.
Why do you need to know this? It is important when you are picking a translation to study that you realize a few things. First, understanding the purpose of the translation will help you understand the wording used in the translation. Second, there are going to be differences in the wording used in the translations, however, not all differences are equal. Difference due to denominational biases or translators forcing the Bible to match their beliefs are dangerous. I would advise you to steer clear of those. Difference that are due to a translation being designed to be more easily readable verses more formal, word-for-word are perfectly acceptable. Lastly, although the Bible is only inerrant in its original form, the major translations available today are very trustworthy when compared to manuscripts from thousands of years ago. I know that the combination of so many translations with so much time passed since the original text can make it feel like a bad game of telephone, but it is important that you know that you can trust what you are reading.
One last piece of advice when choosing a Bible to use as your primary source for study, choose a translation that was done by a large committee or team of translators, not one done by a small group or single individual. My personal favorite is the English Standard Version (ESV), but you have to find one that works for you. I own at least 8 different translations and have access to even more through the Bible app that I use on my phone. A resource that helped me when I was learning about all of the translations and how to study the Bible is Journey into God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. It is an easy read with a lot of helpful information and dives a little deeper into the formal vs. functional translations and how to interpret the Bible consistently, so I highly recommend it.
Here’s my challenge for you, download a Bible app if you don’t currently have one. I use the YouVersion app. After you download it, pick a familiar passage of Scripture like Psalm 23 and read it in several translations. Take note of the similarities and the differences between the translations. Ask yourself which translation is the easiest for you to understand and apply. I’d also highly recommend getting a study Bible. They are a great resource because they have footnotes explaining the meaning behind most of the verses you read. I personally use the ESV Study Bible and the NIV Life Application Study Bible. As always, I’d love to talk with you more. Drop me a reply down below.
Quick question, what do you use from 2000 years ago? You may be thinking that there is nothing that you use from 2000 years ago, but that’s not true. Did you know that there are some forms of mathematics that are around 3000 years old but still utilized? Most experts agree that math became an organized discipline around 2500 years ago in ancient Greece, and don’t even get me started on the wheel. We all know that Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble invented the wheel back in the stone ages…and, I just revealed my age in that last statement. Here’s the deal, there are some really old things that we still use. Being old doesn’t make something irrelevant. I could argue the opposite, something that has been able to stand the test of time should be considered more relevant than something that is brand new. The truth is, you can’t trust something you haven’t tried, and by try, I mean put to the test.
While it is true that there are a bunch of old things that we no longer use because we found a better way to accomplish what the old thing was trying to accomplish. I hung up my Sony Walkman and all those cassette tapes years ago (again exposing my age). Something about needing to have a pencil handy for emergencies and having to rewind the tape to hear your favorite song seemed like a poor option when music went digital. But the Bible is different. The Bible is God revealing Himself to us and showing us His plan for us to have a relationship with Him, and the Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t change! His desire to have a relationship with us hasn’t changed, and if none of that has changed, then the Bible is still relevant. It is most definitely for today!
When we ask the question, “Is the Bible for today?” or “Is the Bible still relevant?” what we are really asking is, “Is God for today?” When the world cries out against the words of Scripture, they are really crying out against God. But here’s the deal…God told us that this would happen. Jesus said the world hated Him so we can expect the world to hate us. Paul tells us that the Gospel is foolishness to those who don’t believe it is the power of God to those who do (1 Corinthians 1:18). When people cry out against God and against the Bible, they are not really saying the Bible is not for today or God is not for today, they are really saying God is not for me. I don’t like what He says about the way I’m living or the things I believe. What has happened here is people have placed their thoughts, opinions, values, and beliefs above the thoughts and words of God. We have made ourselves the ultimate authority on what is right or wrong, good or evil, and when God’s words don’t match our words, He is the problem, not us.
Have you ever raised a teenager? Every parent of a teenager has experienced what God experiences with humanity. I shouldn’t say every because there are always outliers, but most teenagers believe that they are the ultimate authority on everything, and the words of their older, more experienced parents are irrelevant at best. I think it’s natural to question things. We are immersed in a culture, in a world that is totally going against God, and we don’t have the privilege of seeing the whole, eternal picture like God does. The thing that will totally change your perspective is a change in the question. Change the question from, “Is God for today?” to “Is God for me?” and the answer to that is a resounding, YES!” God is so for you that He sent His only Son to die so He could be in a relationship with you. The Bible is His way of telling you, “This is how this relationship works,” and He puts His Holy Spirit inside of you to give you the power and guidance you need to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
So, here’s my challenge for you, find a way to identify and set aside the cultural-based biases you have towards the Bible and write them down. One that I carried for a long time was why would a good God allow bad things to happen. It shaped the way I read and interpreted Scripture. It wasn’t until I began to understand human free will, God’s holiness, and the consequences of sin that I really began to read the Bible without that bias. So, write them down and pray about them. Ask God to help you see His word the way He intended and ask His Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’m not the only one to ask this question, am I? I’m assuming I’m not, which means at some point in life you have probably asked the same thing. Why do we need the Bible? Before I answer that, let me tell you a little about me. I am a pastor. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years. I was raised in a Christian home, went to Christian schools, and have spent most of my life surrounded by people who have told me about the importance of the Bible. I can quote a good portion of the Bible to you, so is it weird that I’ve wrestled with this question before? Well, I will tell you that my personal wrestling with the question of needing the Bible came from two things, both of which I hope to help you with today. First, it came from me not really understanding what the Bible is. Second, and probably the bigger of the two issues, it came from me not understanding how I am supposed to relate to the Bible. We’ll get to that one shortly, but first, let’s talk about what the Bible actually is.
So, what is the Bible? Some common answers I’ve heard are a collection of stories, a bunch of ancient writings, an epic (like the Epic of Gilgamesh), teachings from an ancient society, a religious book, and a book of analogies that attempts to explain things. I can fully understand why a non-believer would give one of those answers, but all of those answers came from people that claim to be Christ followers. It is true that the Bible is a collection of writings. The 66 books of the Bible were written over a period of approximately 1500 years, by roughly 40 men. The collection of writings is broken into two testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The two testaments are separated by a 400 year period of silence between God and man. The names of the books reveal either the author, the purpose, or the target audience of the book. For instance, the Gospel of John was written by John the Apostle, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Genesis, the first book of the Bible was written to tell the Children of Israel about the genesis (or beginning) of their people. The letters written by the Apostle Paul are all named for their target audiences. All of that data is great, but it doesn’t really tell the story of what the Bible is. The truth is that the Bible is God revealing Himself to man. The Bible tells us who God is, how we can relate to God, and it reveals God’s plan and desire to be in relationship with us. I’ll dive into how God did all of this in a later blog, but for the purposes of this blog, you need to know that the Bible is God revealing Himself to you and showing you His plan to make sure that you and Him can have a real relationship with one another.
Now, back to my second issue, not understanding how I am supposed to relate to the Bible. Relating to the Bible really comes through understanding what it is and answering the original question, “Why do I need it?” We just talked about what the Bible is: God revealing Himself to you and me and showing us how He plans to be in relationship with us, so now we need to talk about why we need it. The book of Psalms is what’s known as a book of wisdom. It is a collection of songs and prayers that give us a real picture of how the people of God related to God in the past. It provides us with songs of praise, prayers for help and support against things like depression and evil people, and it gives us hope. The first chapter in the book of Psalms gives us a beautiful picture of why we need the Bible. It warns us against following the advice of ungodly people, but it also shows us the wisdom of knowing and trusting God through His word. It encourages us to meditate of God’s word day and night and tells us the benefit of doing that is we become like fruitful trees planted by rivers of water. Psalm 119, the longest chapter of any book in the Bible provides us succinct way to understand why we need the Bible, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” So, why do we need the Bible? We’re lost without it. We can’t clearly see the path to life, the path to the Father without it. We cannot know the way to a relationship with God without the Bible. Without the Bible, you and I would never know how to relate to God.
I am a husband and a father of five. My wife and I have had plenty of times over the years where we wished each kid came with their own how-to manual. Each child, although raised in the same home, is so uniquely different. They are different in the way they receive love, in the way they give love, in the way they give and receive feedback, and in the way they receive instruction. It can be hard to relate to the kids that grow up in your own home, so imagine how difficult it would be to relate to a God that you can’t physically see and touch without some guide, some means of know how to relate to Him and how He will relate to you. The Bible isn’t just a collection of stories, it is God revealing Himself to you and showing you how to be in relationship with Him. He wants to be in relationship with you and He has given you a how-to manual. In the Bible, God has not only revealed Himself and His plan, but He has given you and me a way to know who we are, why we exist, and how to fulfill the purpose He has given us. Why do we need the Bible? We are alive but we can’t truly live without it.
There’s so much more to God’s word than what I’ve talked about here and we will dive into all of that in future blogs. For now, I will challenge you with this, read Psalm 1 and write down what it means to you to meditate on God’s word day and night. I’d love to talk with you about it more. Send me a message below. Let’s talk about what God is showing you.
 Psa 119:105 ESV