How To Interpret the Bible For Yourself

As we gather each week to study the Word of God together we seek to approach Scripture in a way that is consistent with the command to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.”

Pastor Charles Wood has been retired for a number of years.  Once and awhile I get an email from him with helpful material that he has used in his ministry.  Here are seven principles for biblical interpretation Pastor Wood shared recently.  I know you will find them helpful in your own study of the Word:

You can “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” without seminary training or any knowledge whatever of the Biblical languages if you will assimilate these seven principles.  But first, a basic definition (of Hermeneutics – Biblical Interpretation): the science of interpreting the Bible in order to determine its true meaning.

1.  Literally: Scripture should be taken to mean what it obviously appears to mean.  Deal with a literal interpretation, not a literal translation as a  completely literal translation is not possible.

2. Grammatically: Words should normally be taken to mean what they obviously mean.  Words do have meaning.  If that meaning is ignored, language makes no sense whatever.  The obvious meaning of words ought to be accepted as the proper meaning unless there is a strong reason to do otherwise.

3. Culturally: The Bible should not normally be given any meaning that would not have been obvious to those to whom it was written.

The Bible was written in history.  This may sound a bit confusing, but a little thought should clarify it.  Most of it was written to those to whom it was written, but some was written “for our admonition” but even that has primary meaning for those to whom it was written. Absolutely critical point:   we should always ask, “would those to whom this was originally written understand this particular interpretation?”  If the answer is “no” then our interpretation is probably wrong.  (If it takes many pages to establish an interpretation, it is also probably wrong).

4. Contextually: Scripture must be interpreted in the light of its context.  Thus these points come into play:

  •   Always identify the context of any verse or small portion
  •   Always remember that context comes in various forms:  immediate,larger, general)

Scripture must be interpreted in the light of and in accord with its context.  Some proposed interpretation simply fail on the   fact that they are out of context.  A particular problem with “proof-texting” taking a passage a certain way and then looking for  verse that appear to support it.

5. Singly: There may be many implications  of a passage BUT only ONE interpretation (and probably only one basic application). Two or more interpretations may be possible – no problem if both agree with the general tenor of Scripture – but only one can actually be the correct one.  Caution: in a Bible study with several participants, don’t ever ask, “What does this passage mean to you,” or leave a passage open-ended.

6. Theologically: No Scripture should ever be taken to mean anything out of accord with the rest of Scripture.  Stated more succinctly:. All Scripture must be interpreted in the light of all others, no Scripture can ever be held to teach anything contrary to the teaching of the rest of Scripture, and the interpretation of obscure passages must give way to clear passages.

7. Historically: All interpretations must be checked against the history of doctrine.  Make no mistake, since we believe revelation and inspiration both ended with the close of the canon; there is no new truth.  There may be new emphases, but new truths aren’t true. Conclusions should always be checked, especially if they are unusual or “different.”  Good commentaries are good sources of the history of doctrine.  If there is no evidence that anyone else held something, it is well to tread carefully with it.  (This is the basic meaning of , “No Scripture is of any private interpretation.”

CONCLUSION:  If the Bible contains all we need to know for life and Godliness, then we need to know what the Bible really says.  Hermeneutic principles help us determine what it is the Bible really means so that we can apply those truths to our lives.