Welcome! This is the inaugural blog of our monthly blog series where we are answering your questions. We will pick one question a month to highlight and answer on our blog. In our test run on Mercy Hill’s Instagram story, we received several questions. The one we chose was about interpreting Scripture correctly. This is a great question.
How Do We Interpret Scripture Well?
There are so many variables that seem to be at play. The Bible is God’s written word, which means that we should be able to have a good grasp on interpreting it well in order to get out of it what God desires. And yet, there are denominations that have been formed and split because of differences on Scriptural interpretation. The early church fathers didn’t even agree on every issue. So, how can we, 2000 years later, interpret it well? While I believe that it is true that we all have the Spirit, and it is the Spirit who understands his own words (1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Peter 1:20-21), on the other hand, God has appointed teachers in the church (Ephesians 4:11). So, there must be some things that the Spirit does not reveal directly to each believer and that these teachers can teach. Therefore, we shouldn’t become frustrated if we can’t figure certain things out.
All of these issues and I didn’t even mention that many very large books have been written on this subject (and if you want a shorter, accessible book, try this). So, what can we learn in a blog? I’ll point you in the big direction, recommend some resources, and give you some practical tools.
1. Remember the entire Bible is the story of Jesus.
Did you know that Jesus himself actually taught how to interpret the Bible?
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me . . . ” (John 5:40).
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
“Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
This last one is important because the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms was, in the first century, a saying that meant the whole Old Testament. The New Testament is certainly all about Jesus, and according to Jesus, so is the OT.
So, how do you do this practically? Learn the gospel of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and our sin and keep that story in your minds as you read. Here is a book to help: click here.
2. Let the Bible tell you what it means.
“Wow . . . big help, Alex.” I know, it sounds weird, but let me explain. We can’t escape reading the Bible through our own perspective. We always carry “interpretive-baggage” with us. If the situation were reversed and I had lived 2000 years ago and stumbled upon a newspaper article (of which I understood the language) about a baseball game, do you think I would know exactly what it was saying? Perhaps I may think that pitching had something to do with tossing water or sealing a ship; so, you see how who we are determines how we interpret?
Is all hope lost? Nope.
We need to learn the language of the Bible by reading it constantly. I’ve often told people that the best way to learn to interpret the Bible is to keep reading the Bible and never stop. It’s not a joke. There are so many instances in which a New Testament author simply alludes to an Old Testament text (without citing it directly) and assumes you are aware of the passage and understand what he is saying.
So, the more of the biblical puzzle that you have completed in your mind, the easier interpretation will be in the future. Here are a couple steps to try to fast-track you.
- Every time an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament, go back and read that verse and everything that surrounds it. Try to get a good sense of its context and what the OT passage is saying. Now see if this OT context actually helps you see what the New Testament writer was saying in a fuller sense. I’ve found that it nearly always does.
- Get a Bible with cross-references. If you are deeply studying a passage, check ALL of the cross-references. Is that a lot of reading? Yes! But like I said, the key to interpretation is becoming extremely familiar with the whole Bible.
- Get a study Bible that tells you about ancient culture here. While understanding the Bible’s own worldview is the top priority, learning how ancient people lived and thought can provide a good grounding for reading the Bible with ancient eyes.
3. Read study resources from trusted authors.
There is a two-volume set of devotionals by D.A. Carson that are a great place to start in learning how to interpret the Bible. Obviously, being able to read the Bible on your own and interpret it yourself is the goal here, but for those who are starting on the ground floor, God has given us great teachers like D.A. Carson to help us along the way.
In conclusion, let me say this: I know that we live in an instant culture, but we have to be OK with making mistakes as we go along. Go ahead and commit yourself to being a life-long student of God’s precious word, and you’ll never exhaust the wonders contained in it.
If you have a question for next month’s “You Asked” blog: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator)