“How to Interpret the Bible”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The Bible is the breathed out word of God. God has revealed what He wants us to know about Him and His plan of redemption. God has told us that all men are creatures. He is the Creator. The Bible reveals His only Son, Jesus, through whom we know God personally. This unique and precious book is a collection of 66 books. Men whom the Spirit of God carried along wrote it. It contains everything necessary for life and salvation. God has preserved what we have today.
God gave us the Bible because He is a God of revelation. He desires that we understand what He has said. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible is understandable. Yet, it seems that many are lost when it comes to interpreting the Bible. One would think that God’s book would have specific interpretations. But, Christians are faced with a myriad of interpretations. We are faced with choices. Who has the “right” interpretation? Whom should we follow? What is “right” doctrine? If we look at this issue of biblical interpretation logically, we must conclude that all interpretations cannot be right. When there are contradicting views of the Bible, one or both may be wrong. One thing for certain is they all can’t be right. There is only one right interpretation of a passage of Scripture. For difficult passages, we may never arrive at the right interpretation this side of heaven.
But, don’t lose heart. The entire Bible does not fall into the category of “difficult”. The vast majority of biblical doctrine is clear. For example, the doctrine of salvation is one such doctrine. It is clear that God has revealed that men are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
As a general rule, how do we know what God has said?
The answer is hermeneutics, interpretation. There are two principles by which we are able to interpret Scripture. The first is called the biblical principle. The second is called the literal principle. The biblical principle is also called the analogy of faith. The Protestant Reformers recovered this principle of interpretation. They understood that the Bible interprets itself. This means the clear passages of Scripture shed light upon the more obscure ones. It is also understood that one place of Scripture must not be placed against another. In other words, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There may be apparent contradictions, but once studied we find that the Bible is consistent with itself, because God does not speak with a “forked” tongue.
The second principle, the literal one, is also called the historical/grammatical principle of interpretation. You may have heard the saying that, “Text without context is pretext.” The words of Scripture find their meaning within the broader context of the passage. For example, because of the difficulty in understanding Hebrews 6:4, it would not be accurate to base a theology on the possibility of losing one’s salvation! Keeping that verse within its context makes it clear that the writer is speaking of one who may profess faith, but does not possess genuine saving faith. In other words, the writer was speaking of those who are called apostates.
Further, to interpret literally means to understand that which is plainly meant. It is how we read and understand any literature. Therefore, in interpreting the Bible: grammar, meaning of words, context, time in which it was written, etc. are involved in understanding the meaning. It is important to remember that the literal interpretation of the Bible is not the same as a literalistic interpretation. For example, we know that when the prophet Isaiah wrote that the “trees of the field shall clap their hands” he didn’t mean that trees have hands. God was describing the joy of all Creation when His plan of redemption is finally consummated. Or, when Jesus said that He was the “door of the sheep”, He did not mean that He looked like a door! John 10 was declaring that Jesus is the only way for His people to have safety and security.
Finally, the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice that God has given to His people. He means for us to understand it. I encourage you to apply these principles of interpretation so that your life will be lived for His glory and your blessing.