Bible Interpretation: Why Reading The Bible Is Not Enough

Bible Interpretation Is More than Just Reading the Bible

I like to play ping pong. When I was in college I got pretty good or at least I thought I was. One day I visited a ping pong club in San Francisco. Yes, there is such a thing. I knew I wasn’t as good as any of the members but I thought I could hold my own. I was wrong. After losing two games 21-0 I realized how far I was from being an expert.

ping pong is like Bible interpretation

Every skill or trade or area of expertise has three different levels of proficiency. There is beginner, intermediate and advanced. This is true of playing ping pong, speaking a foreign language, gardening and Bible interpretation (determining what it means).

Bible interpretation is like ping pong. Anyone can do it. Just open the Bible, read it and decide what it means. Sometimes that works just fine. If you read John 3:16 and you decide that means Jesus loves you, died for you and you should believe in Him, you got it right! Many parts of the Bible are simple and easy to interpret. Anyone can read the Bible and benefit from it.

At the same time there’s much in the Bible that can be misunderstood if we don’t know how to interpret it. Here are 5 reasons why Bible interpretation is necessary.

5 Reasons Why We Need to Learn How To Do Bible Interpretation

  1. The Bible is literature. There are basic literary rules that apply to the Bible just like any other book. Many of us didn’t learn those rules in school or forgot them. This includes things like context and genre. We need to apply literary techniques to our study of the Bible.
  2. The Bible is an old book. Historians give us insight into elements of it we would not know otherwise. Without accessing historical information many things in the Bible are meaningless to us.
  3. The Bible is a foreign book. It was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. There are words and grammatical constructions that are different from English. Our English translations are good but it’s still possible to gain greater insight if we know the original languages.
  4. The Bible was written for different cultures. There are many manners and customs in the Bible that are very different from our culture. We need someone who understands them to explain them to us.
  5. Bible interpretation means using consistent methods. Without consistent methods it’s possible to make the Bible say many things it does not say.

This may seem intimidating but it isn’t. If you’ve been a Christian for a while you already use Bible interpretation methods. For example, when you read a verse with a cultural reference, like building an altar Genesis 12:5-7, you know what that means. At some point you learned about animal sacrifices, why they were done and that altars in the Bible aren’t the same as those in our churches today.

Can everyone get good at Bible interpretation? Absolutely! Your pastor wishes you would. There are many good books to teach you how. Here’s one.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss some basic methods to use in Bible interpretation.

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