16. Biblical Interpretation

Proper interpretation and understanding of the Bible requires three basic tools; 
  • understanding of biblical context, 
  • understanding of historical context, and 
  • understanding of original languages.

In order to understand scripture we must always take the context of scripture into account. What was the author saying in the whole chapter, the whole book? Who was he talking to? Why?

There once was a man who wanted to know God’s will in his life. He randomly opened his Bible. It fell to the scripture where Judas killed himself. Wondering what this meant for him, he randomly opened his Bible again. This time it fell open to the scripture “...Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. .” (Luke 10:37) Was this God telling him to kill himself? Of course not. You must take scripture in its context. You CAN NOT take a verse here and a verse there and put them together to form a doctrine. This is mis-handling of the Word of God.

God tells some people to do things He doesn’t want everyone to do.

For example, all believers are not to go preach to Nineveh as Jonah was told to do.

Nor build a large boat and gather a bunch of animals onto it.

Nor lay in the middle of the city, naked, eating nothing but bread and not talking for an entire year like Ezekiel was told to.

We must pay attention to whom each scripture was written to and why. The moral lessons taught in every scripture can be applied to our lives, but the fact of the scripture applies to who it was written to. The rule of context is that context rules.

The second rule of biblical interpretation requires that we see what was happening in history. For example, when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh (the capital of the Assyrian empire), it was because the Ninavites were very cruel conquerors of the entire region. They would cut the heads off of the leaders of each city-state they conquered and often torture the inhabitants. God was fed up. He sent Jonah to warn them to change their ways or else.

Of course we know that it worked; they repented and God spared the city. Well, for a while anyway. History tells us that the city was destroyed for its cruelty a generation or so later, after they forgot God and had gone back to their old ways.

Jonah didn’t even want to give them the chance to repent. He was a bigot and wanted them destroyed immediately. He was not afraid of them as many children’s Bibles tell us.

We must understand the history surrounding an event to truly understand what the Bible is telling us (In the case of Jonah, God loves everyone no matter what their nationality and we should obey Him no matter what).

The third tool we need to really understand the Bible is a knowledge of original languages. This is not so hard as it used to be. Any Internet-connected computer or smart phone has access to a Strong’s Concordance (and they are available in book-form from any book seller for as little as $10.00).

This is a list of each word in the Bible and its location AND its definition in the original language. You simply look up the words in a verse and see what the original author meant.

We must be diligent to interpret the Bible and what God has to say to us correctly. Otherwise, we risk disobeying God thinking we are obeying Him.