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Working with God’s Word: Interpretation

Happy Sunday, everyone! Today marks the beginning of a new subject series on Things That Are Above: Blog. Today, I begin my “Working with God’s Word” series with you. Biblical interpretation is a hot topic among all Christians—it’s our differing interpretations of the Bible that divide us. Unlike some who say that the Bible is full of relative truth that means something different to each person, I believe that the Bible is full of objective truth that has one clear meaning that applies to everyone, not just you or me or any one other person in the world. Learning what it is that the Bible says is important, then. If we do not properly interpret the Bible, we believe not the Bible but a false interpretation (which is just a euphemism for a lie). However, we must begin to learn how to interpret the Bible by starting out with the following foundational truths:

  1. The Bible is the authoritative, inerrant, infallible Word of God.
  2. Since it is the perfect Word of God, it must be obeyed.

If you cannot agree to the above two notions, you cannot interpret the Bible as the Word of God. If you interpret the Bible without the above foundation, you interpret not God’s Word but any old book. If you don’t hold the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, then you don’t need me to relate helpful truths to remember while interpreting it because you would interpret it as you would interpret any work of secular literature. For those of you who do hold the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, though, read on.

When you interpret the Bible, you answer this basic question: “What did the original author of this text mean? Why did he write this text; what was his (and the Holy Spirit’s) purpose?” (And the Holy Spirit’s purpose for any text is identical to the author’s purpose; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16.) If you seek to answer this question, you are better prepared to properly interpret the Word of God. By honestly answering this question, you perform exegesis—you take your answer from the passage. NEVER perform eisegesis—reading your own ideas into a passage—on the Bible!

To properly interpret the Bible, there are some basic rules to follow as you answer the above question:

  • Interpret unclear (vague) passages by clear (precise) passages.
  • Interpret verses in context. Never interpret a verse by itself; always interpret every verse while keeping in mind its context within its chapter (or passage) and book.
  • Interpret verses in light of their genres. You would not interpret a poetical passage the same way you would interpret a narrative passage. For example, a historical passage (such as those found in Samuel, Kings, and the Chronicles) would be interpreted literally. A parable, however, (such as those found in the Gospels) would be interpreted metaphorically. (Optimally, one would interpret a parable by the explanation Jesus gives. When Jesus is silent on this, though, context is vital for proper interpretation.)

Bible interpretation involves all this. Most of all, though, proper interpretation requires a thorough knowledge of the Scripture, and it also requires a whole dedication to Scripture’s authority and submission to that authority. Hopefully this post will better help you navigate and understand the Bible; in subsequent posts, I will provide various topics that will supplement Bible interpretation (i.e., understanding the Bible’s meaning): outlining God’s Word and paraphrasing God’s Word.

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  1. February 28, 2010 at 10:23 am

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