You may already know that I love the Inductive Bible Study method and how it teaches you to discover truth for yourself. The second part of this process, after observation, is interpretation. An important part of this method is knowing how to interpret the Bible for yourself.
In the observation step, we are asking the question, “What Does It Say?”. The interpretation step takes it a bit further by asking the question, “What Does It Mean?”.
Think of it as being on an airplane. If you were to look out the window while the plane was still at a high elevation, everything below looks small. It may be hard to determine the landscape and the structures. As the plane begins it’s decent you begin to see more clearly. Then, as it descends even further and you are able to see even more details.
This is how the first two steps of the Inductive Bible Study process work. Reading and observing the text helps us to see the big picture. Then, we can begin to dive deeper into the passage we are studying as we discover it’s meaning.
Why Do We Need to Know How to Interpret the Bible?
We must know how to accurately interpret the Bible so we can apply it appropriately. If we do not have a right understanding of God’s truth we cannot correctly order our lives according to it.
“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” Psalm 86:11
Principles to Help You Interpret the Bible
There are a few principles of Bible interpretation that can be applied as we study any book or passage.
Look for the Original Meaning
There is one original meaning that the author had in mind as they were writing the book. This is the interpretation we are looking for. Sometimes, the meaning is clear. Other times it is not. When it’s not, don’t try to force an interpretation just for the sake of understanding.
I have found that God’s revelation of His word is sometimes progressive. What doesn’t seem clear now may become more clear in the future days, weeks, and even years of faithful study. If you don’t understand a concept it’s ok to say, “I don’t know”.
Determine the Type of Literature
It’s important to determine the type of literature you are studying. Different books of the Bible are written in different styles which determines how it should be studied. For example, you will find more metaphors in poetical and prophetic literature than in Historical literature. So make sure you interpret passages of scripture according to its type of literature.
Historical – ex: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles
Poetic – ex: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
Prophetic – ex: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Revelation
Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Epistle: – ex: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Timothy
Understand the Context
In order to interpret scripture correctly, you need to have a basic understanding of the context in which it was written. Is your interpretation of a particular passage consistent with the theme of the book in which it’s found? Also, is it consistent with the full counsel of God’s Word? If it seems to contradict another passage of scripture in the Bible, that should be a signal to study further.
Which brings us to the next point…
Bible Contradictions Do Not Exist
Scripture does not contradict scripture. If there appears to be a contradiction between two passages in the bible, the error is within our understanding. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed. Therefore, there cannot be contradictions in the Bible because God does not contradict Himself. Keep studying and asking the Lord for clarity.
Tools to Help You Interpret the Bible
Let’s look at some practical ways you can interpret the bible for yourself. My favorite study tool is Blue Letter Bible, which can be used online or in their app. This tool can be used for word studies and looking up cross-references. Check out the video below where I show you how to use this tool.
Do Word Studies
A biblical word study is simply taking the keywords that you marked in the observation step, and looking at their definition in the original language. You can also look at other passages where the specific word was used.
Cross-Reference Related Passages
When you are seeking to understand a certain passage, it’s always good to consider the full counsel of God’s Word. Cross-reference other verses that relate to that scripture you are studying. This is a great way to help bring more clarity to difficult passages.
Consult Good Bible Commentaries to Help Interpret the Bible
Commentaries are a great tool when used at the right time.
Puh-lease do not go to your commentaries too early!
There is such an amazing joy that comes when you discover truth for yourself. If you look to outside sources prior to your own diligent study, you rob yourself of this joy.
However, commentaries are great in helping us check our interpretation. If our understanding of a passage deviates substantially from trusted commentaries, it may be appropriate to reconsider our interpretation.
I Would Love to Hear From You!
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