What is the best way to interpret the Bible? Is there one interpretation of the Bible or many? How do we know the Bible is trustworthy and true? Is everything in the Bible still relevant today?
There are many questions about the Bible and how we should interpret it. Above are just a few common questions I’ve come across recently. I’ve heard some great answers, but I’ve also discovered misleading responses and misconceptions about how to approach the Word of God. If you have asked any of these questions or someone else has asked you a similar one and you didn’t know how to respond, this post is for you! Let’s take some time to break down how to approach the Word of God and accurately interpret it.
Trusting the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is “living and active” and that it discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In other words, God spoke through the men who wrote the books of the Bible, but it is His written Word to us. It is without error, alive, active, and still completely relevant today! All of it helps us understand who God is and who we are. We can trust it, because God is unchanging, His ways are perfect, and His Word literally proves itself true (2 Samuel 22:31 & Psalm 18:30).
Many today believe truth is relative – what’s true for one person may not be true for another. But, the God of the Bible makes it very clear His will and His commands are not up for debate. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He is not passive – He speaks intentionally, purposefully, and authoritatively. Therefore, we must accept that there is only one accurate interpretation of the Bible. He has our best interest in mind and is worthy of our trust! Our approach shouldn’t be: “What does this passage mean to me?” But instead, it should be: “What does God want me to understand from this passage?” And we should be diligent in seeking His truth – the only truth.
Interpret the Bible Accurately
So, how do we seek the truth? How do we know when our interpretation of a passage is in alignment with God’s intended message to us? A simple way to start is following 4 steps:
Before opening your Bible, pray that God would give you humility, wisdom, and discernment to accurately understand what He has spoken through His Word. Pray that He would make you teachable and inspire you to live differently because of what you’ve learned.
Ask: What is the context? Facts? What’s happening? What is literally being said?
Read surrounding verses to understand the context of a verse. What is happening in the passage? Is it a story? A prayer? A Psalm? Get to know what’s happening in the passage in a literal sense. If you have a study Bible, read the introduction to understand who the author was writing to, why, when, etc. This is crucial to having an accurate understanding of God’s Word.
Ask: What do I learn about God? Myself? Humanity?
Once you’ve explored the above question, think about what the passage is communicating about God, yourself, and/or humanity as a whole. If you’re not sure, ask God what He wants you to learn. The answer might come easily or it might take some time and that’s okay too!
Ask: How can I apply this truth to my life?
As believers, we are meant to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). The Word of God should change us and inspire us to live differently. This is such an important question to ask and not a step in Bible study we should skip!
Other helpful resources and tips
It’s important to get into the habit of praying and asking the questions above as we learn to interpret the Bible with accuracy. But, there are also many helpful resources out there to help us dive deeper. One of my favorite resources is GotQuestions.org, where you can look up specific answers to Bible questions and get a biblical response. If you are wanting to dig into the original Hebrew/Greek, Blue Letter Bible is a fantastic resource! You can also find commentaries to help you understand the context, themes, and messages of entire books and specific passages. I’ve used the Matthew Henry Commentary a lot in my studies when I really want to dive deep and understand – it’s free on the Blue Letter Bible website!
And lastly and probably most importantly, make sure you are reading a solid Bible translation. There are many translations out there and I’ve learned that just because it’s on the Bible app, doesn’t mean it’s a good one. I mostly use the ESV, but I sometimes refer to NASB and NIV. Each Bible translation falls on a spectrum of word-for-word and thought-for-thought. NASB is closer to the word-for-word end of the spectrum, where ESV and NIV fall more in the middle, and translations like the NLT are more thought-for-thought. The Message is a paraphrase, and some “translations” are not accurate and should be avoided, like The Passion Translation (TPT) (See this article for more information on TPT). If you are unsure about a translation, do some research online!
The best way – really, the only accurate way – to interpret the Bible is by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must trust the Bible is complete, perfect, living and active Word of God, useful for understanding Jesus’ message of salvation and how to live life the way God intended. Approach Scripture prayerfully and humbly. Be willing to set aside our own opinions, feelings, perceptions, and desires in order to understand God’s intended message through His written Word. Pray that God would make you teachable and give you discernment. Pray He would reveal what’s true to you and that He would give you a soft heart, willing to accept all He says, even the more challenging truths.
Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” God promises to reveal Himself to us when we earnestly seek Him through His Word.
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