By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
The science of interpretation is called hermeneutics. When we are seeking to interpret what we are reading we are engaging in a hermeneutical procedure. Every person who seeks to read the Bible properly must utilize the proper tools of interpretation if we are to get at what the scriptures are intending to teach us. It is often because of a lack of understanding as to how we are to interpret the scriptures, or any piece of literature for that matter that people come to strange and wild-eyed interpretations. In this article I would like to share “3” helpful tips when trying to interpret the Bible.
Tip #1: Consider Context! Words have meaning in context. Without context it is also most impossible to derive the proper meaning of a word, sentence, paragraph etc. Let the reader consider what is the localized or immediate context of what they are reading. Don’t read a verse in isolation, but rather look intentionally to the verses surrounding the particular verse in question. Often times the meaning of a word, sentence, paragraph becomes clearer when we consider the words, sentences, and paragraphs surrounding it. When seeking to interpret a passage in scripture, CONTEXT IS KING!!! Consider the following phrase that is found in the Bible: “There is no God”. Believe it or not this phrase is in fact found within the pages of the scriptures, but of course reading the words around it provide clarity: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
Upon considering the immediate context of the passage, it is helpful that we zoom out a bit and consider the broader context of the passage as it stands in relation to the chapter, or even broader, as it stands in relation to the entire book itself and indeed the entire bible itself if necessary. This zooming in (immediate context) and zooming out (broader context) allows us to see how the passage functions within its immediate context and broader outlook. This is a very useful tool in understanding the meaning of a particular biblical text.
Tip #2: Remember that Scripture is a Consistent Whole! In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told that “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Because the Bible is inspired by God it will be consistent in all that it teaches because God is always consistent with himself. Because the Bible is true, what it teaches and affirms will always prove true. An important feature of truth is that truth is always consistent with itself and hence Jesus himself says, “Sanctify them in truth, your Word is truth” (John 17:17). The acknowledgment of the Bible’s truth and consistency plays a significant role in biblical interpretation since it grounds us in the fact that however we may interpret a passage, we are never to adopt an interpretation that is in contradiction to other passages in scripture. Not every passage in scripture is easy to understand and there may and in fact are various interpretations to certain passages, but one who seeks to interpret the Bible faithfully while acknowledging its internal consistency and truth should never affirm a contradictory interpretation.
Tip #3: Let the Text of Scripture Speak! There is an important difference between exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis allows the text to speak for itself. Meaning is derived from the text. Eisegesis is when meaning is read into the text. Eisegesis finds in the text something that is not really there. We must avoid this at all cost. We are in no position to make the Bible say what we want it to say, but rather, we are to work hard in allowing the scriptures to speak to us directly and without filter as we further seek to submit to its authority given that the scriptures themselves are breathed out by God. It is all too often that’s we can come to the text with out preconceived theologies and philosophies thus making the Bible say something it has never intended to say. This is dangerous and unfruitful if our goal is to properly interpret the scriptures as it comes to us as God’s authoritative Word.
Following these “3” tips can help us go a long way in understanding what the scriptures mean. Our desire should be to allow God to speak to us through his Word so that we can conform our thinking and our lives to His will as revealed in the inspired text. Working toward this goal is itself an act of obedience to God as we seek to properly apply biblical principles to all areas of our lives.