How I Interpret the Bible

Reading the Bible

I’m explaining why I believe what I believe. Please read my introductory post if you have not done so already.

I previously explained why I believe in the Bible. Yet those who believe in the Bible have very different beliefs about what the Bible teaches. So I’m going to try to briefly explain how I interpret the Bible.

I believe, in accordance with 2 Timothy 3:16–17, that the Bible is “inspired” or breathed out by God. And according to 2 Peter 1:20–21, the Bible consists of written prophecies that came from God. (A prophecy simply means a word from God; it does not necessarily predict the future.)

This does not mean that every word of the Bible was simply dictated to men who then wrote it down. If that were true, we would not see the incredible diversity of style and form contained in the Bible. But it does mean that God was directly involved in the whole process.

The best way I know to describe my view of inspiration is by comparing it to a publishing house that commissions an author to write a specific book. The publisher selects the author, provides him with the information he is to present, and guides the editorial process to ensure that the book matches the publisher’s standards. In this way, the book was truly written by the author, but it is just as much a product of the publishing house.

In similar fashion, I believe that God chose certain men to write for him. He gave them the messages they were to write through prophecy. In some cases, this included portions that were directly dictated, but for the most part, the human authors wrote the prophecy down in their own words. Yet God guided the whole process, ensuring that everything they wrote is accurate. In this way, the Bible truly was written by human authors, but it is just as much the word of God.

Since the Bible comes from God, and since God does not lie or make mistakes, I believe that the Bible is 100% true, reliable, and authoritative. The Bible is therefore my absolute standard by which I evaluate the truthfulness of all other claims.

But the Bible can’t just be read; it must be interpreted.

The first step in interpreting the Bible should be prayer. We should always ask God to help us understand his word.

Next, we must examine the context. So much bad theology is the result of ignoring context. We have to understand the genre of literature, who is speaking, when it was being spoken, who is being addressed, what the culture of that day was like, and a number of other factors. In many cases, it is helpful to consult good commentaries and dictionaries at this stage.

We must also interpret Scripture with Scripture. Very often, a confusing passage from the Bible is made understandable when compared to a clearer passage on the same topic. Also, the Bible references itself a lot, and we need to be aware of these cross-references and examine the context in both portions.

It is also important to follow standard rules of language and grammar. We need to understand when the biblical author is speaking literally and when he is using figurative language. (The Bible contains a lot of both.)

I have also been convinced more recently of the need to interpret the Bible in community. We need others to check our interpretations and push us in the right direction.

In all of this, we must be sure to seek the originally intended meaning. We must never take a preconceived idea and try to prove it from the Bible. Rather, we must always come to the Bible with a sincere desire to learn what it actually states.

Finally, the whole point of reading the Bible is to apply it to your life. It does no good at all to learn the meaning of a passage if that understanding does not change you. During the whole time we study, we should be asking God, “How should I change as a result of what I’m learning?” Then ask him to help you do that.

The Conclusion of the Matter

I do hope you have enjoyed this series. More importantly, I hope it has challenged you to understand why you believe what you believe.

This will be the last post in this series for me, as this one determines everything else I believe. All of my specific beliefs about God and life come from seeking to interpret the Bible as accurately as possible and seeking to apply that to my life.

But don’t leave yet. Stick around the blog, and let’s continue interpreting and applying the Bible together!

“Why I Believe” Series