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Tips for interpreting your bible

Updated: May 28

Maybe you're like me and you used to (or still do) pick up your bible and just spontaneously open it and read. I remember one time at a youth camp where I was outside and would just let the wind turn my bible to a random page and assumed God was doing that on purpose. Not only this, but half the time I didn't even really understand what I was reading! I was amazed at how preachers could interpret the bible and make it seem so easy. I was also confused as to how people knew that certain preachers were interpreting the bible wrongly.

Now looking back, the skills I have learned by God's grace allow me to no longer feel this way when I read my bible. Instead of feeling lost and confused, I feel fed and instructed about my life and my own heart. It really all changed when I realized that you can't just pick up a bible and read it like any other book. It's not just any book. See, the bible comes with its own set of interpretive rules.

Weird to think of it that way right? Yet over time and careful study, brilliant men and women of God have helped us to see this reality. As the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15)

There is a "right way" to handle the word, and therefore, a "wrong way". Sometimes it is hard to know the right way, but we know the wrong way when we hear it. It triggers something inside of us that says "That's not right". That's because we have some of these interpretive rules already living within us. Especially because we have the Spirit of God in us who will guide us to all truth, and the Spirit is the author of the scriptures.

So let's get practical, here are 2 interpretive "rules" to get better at interpreting your bible as you sit down to read it each day:

  1. Scripture is unified.

    1. This may be one of the most important principles I've ever learned. Simply put, the scripture has one central message and cannot contradict itself. God cannot tell a lie, and so we cannot ever assume that when His word seems to contradict, God got it wrong. We assume that we are getting it wrong! Whenever we come across more obscure, or challenging passages that make no sense or seem to contradict other passages, we need to make sure we interpret them in such a way that it harmonizes with those other passages!

    2. This means we let scripture interpret scripture. This is why we need help! If we are not careful, reading things out of context and not knowing what the whole bible teaches can cause us to misinterpret the scriptures.

    3. BONUS TIP: A good rule of thumb is that the most clear and repeated passages/ideas should be used to interpret the less clear passages. If scripture says over and over that we are saved by faith and then one time it says we are not saved by faith alone, we should let the clear and repeated passages help us interpret the other one. Now we can dig to see what the author must really mean!

  2. Context, Context, Context!

    1. This is another one that cannot be overstated. One of the issues with the way I used to read the bible as a teen, was that just jumping into random passages made it way harder! Why? Because I have no context! Is this poetry? Where are we in history? What has he just been talking about? Who is he writing to? All of these things can be of varying degrees of importance in interpreting the Holy Word of God.

    2. Maybe one simple tip you can begin to implement this week is this: keep in mind where you are in the history of redemption. The Bible tells one big story, how the God of the universe created that universe and its inhabitants, and how despite their rebellion he has made a way to salvation and to eventually be united in fullness with Him again! Yet this story is a long story! So where are you in it? Has Christ come yet? Are there Kings yet? Does the application of this passage look forward to Christ, or backward at what he has done?

I hope these 2 tips help remind you or teach you some great principles to interpret and read your bible better. Tune in next week for part 2!

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