One of the most reasons why there is so much false doctrine and false teachers is because people do not know how to rightly divide the truth of God’s word. That does not mean that you have to be a bible scholar but there are some basic principles that I believe that EVERY believer should know so that they are not carried away by every wind of doctrine that comes their way and there is a lot of ‘wind’ going around. 2 Timothy 2:15 says
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Below are 10 rules of biblical interpretation which I believe will spare you much pain. This has been taken from Tekton Apologetics Ministries.
- Pray! Pray! Pray! The Holy Spirit knows better then you do!
- Always know what the verse actually says, not what you think you remember it saying
- Take the verse in literary context, don’t just read what you want to read to prove your point and don’t forget the Bible is a mosaic of different kinds of literature meant to be read different ways.
- Take the verse in cultural context, just like you saying “it’s raining cats and dogs” is not what you literally meant
- Remember the Bible is a whole 66 books! Interpret all verses in relation the other 1000’s of verses
- Check the other translations, The variations are complimentary and show the whole picture
- The Bible was not originally written in English, go back to the sources
- Theological presuppositions are bad, scripture determines doctrine, not the other way around
- Check the Theologians’ opinions, The Ph.D, professor of heart surgery of Harvard is better then your uncle Ted’s heart removal service. Professional opinions matter! (but don’t assume they’re always right)
- Assume nothing, be ready to learn, don’t give up. Remember, only God knows everything.
“15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Tim 3:15-17 (KJV)
1. Pray! Pray! Pray! The Holy Spirit knows better then you do!
The Holy Spirit is vital in correctly interpreting scripture.
“13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Cor 2:13-16 (KJV)
The Holy Spirit is the teacher and spiritual things have to be discerned spiritually. This includes scripture that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Obviously the one who writes something knows what was meant by it best.
2. Always know what the verse actually says, not what you think you remember it saying
Modern human memories are fallible AND untrained. We forget phone numbers sometimes just by forgetting the order they’re in. Things get jumbled up a lot in our heads. This goes for Biblical Principals too, how many of you think that “God helps those who help themselves” is from the Bible? Guess what? It’s not! Nope, that’s something a lot of people honestly think they remember the Bible saying, but it doesn’t. (Or at least, I can’t find it)
3. Take the verse in literary context, don’t just read what you want to read to prove your point and don’t forget the Bible is a mosaic of different kinds of literature meant to be read different ways.
Context is important.
First: I’m always weary of people who quote only parts of verses like “…(a few words)…” All this shows is one section! Or sometimes only one verse is mentioned and this supposedly “proves a point”. I hear people all the time tell me “you shouldn’t judge” apparently they mean I shouldn’t tell people what right and wrong because of the verse “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). It’s funny they stop there though because if they had quoted the entire context: “1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Matt 7:1-5 (KJV) Did you notice that if you keep reading Jesus isn’t actually condemning judging as long as it’s not hypocritical? As long as you take the “beam” out of your eye you’re perfectly qualified to take the “mote” out of your brothers eye.
Next: In case you haven’t noticed the Bible is more then the same dry writing all the way through. Some of it is historical narrative, some poetry, some prophecy and some words of wisdom. So you have to read each section in the style it’s meant to be written in. “2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.” Psalms 14:2 (KJV) Obviously God is omniscient, but this is a figure of speech and poetic, it’s not to be taken literally.
4. Take the verse in cultural context, just like you saying “it’s raining cats and dogs” is not what you literally meant
Modern-day Americans did not originally write the Bible, we use cultural idioms and figures of speech that will probably die out in a thousand or so years. This goes along with #3 above. Sometimes the only way some verses make since is by knowing what was actually meant to the original audience. The famous verse Matthew 19:24 “24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matt 19:24 (KJV) Isn’t talking about a literal eye of the needle, this is a rabbinic figure of speech. It was very, very difficult to put a camel through. Jesus was not implying only the poor would go to heaven.
5. Remember the Bible is a whole 66 books! Interpret all verses in relation the other 1000’s of verses
Although many people wrote the Bible over a period of many years, it is still a collective whole. Here is an example of something I recently encountered: “5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.” Mark 6:5-6 (KJV) I suppose if all you read is this one verse, close the Bible you could say “see there! Jesus is not omnipotent it says he couldn’t do miracles!!” Or as the Faith healers say something like “This proves God’s power is limited by our Faith”. But we have to apply something called “scriptura scripturam interpretar”, a funny Latin phrase that means “scripture interprets scripture”. I’ve usually heard it stated like this “If you read an awkward verse, then you should first go to the verses that are more clear and interpret the awkward one in relation to them.” Scripture continually speaks of God being all-powerful so this verse is awkward. But it is easily cleared up by seeing if any of the other Gospels mention this even in more depth. And actually, Luke does in Chapter 4 verses 14-30. Reading this we see why there lack of faith actually hindered Jesus, it wasn’t because it stopped his divine energy from working, it was because they drove him out of town!(v.29) There lack of Faith was expressed by the majority of them driving him out, not by them letting him stay but just doubting too much.
6. Check the other translations, The variations are complimentary and show the whole picture
It’s a fact we don’t posses the original scriptures, they are lost, probably forever. We have copies. These copies, although divinely inspired and doctrinally inerrant, contain “variations”. Different Translations are made from examining different Greek text (but all good ones include footnotes giving alternate readings) Some times things don’t make a lot of sense in one translation as in another. This is just common sense I think. Sometimes these variations can be more “biased” theologically then others at certain points also. And because there is no such thing as a “perfect” translation, this makes sense.
7. The Bible was not originally written in English, go back to the sources
This like a lot of these just seem to make sense. Greek, for instance is more expressive then English. For example does Satan rule this planet? If you read just the English for 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “In whom the god of this world (Satan) hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Well first the idea of Satan ruling this world breaks rule #5, as this is the only passage that implies such a thing, God is always referred to ruling earth…which is the point. In Greek this word is “aion” witch is more correctly “age of time” The verse is saying Satan is in control of this age of sinfulness, he runs the “evil worldly system” not the planet earth. The other Greek words for “world” are “Kosmos” (all that is created) “oikumene” (globe, earth, world) “ge” (country, ground, earth).
8. Theological presuppositions are bad, scripture determines doctrine, not the other way around
I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one. If we claim to follow the Bible as God’s Word then we should follow what it says, not try to make it say what we want to follow
9. Check the Theologians’ opinions, The Ph.D, professor of heart surgery of Harvard is better then your uncle Ted’s heart removal service. Professional opinions matter! (but don’t assume they’re always right)
This one seems to be common sense also. Some people spend their entire lives studying scripture and have devoted themselves to following God and this study. They aren’t perfect and can be wrong sometimes. But they have spent the time, prayer, and research to try and figure out exactly what God is saying. Now anybody can pick up the Bible and figure out the basic stuff, but there is still A LOT in there that is not so easily discerned. There opinions should be valued greatly unless you have personally taken the time, prayer and study over an issue like they have.
10. Assume nothing, be ready to learn, don’t give up. Remember, only God knows everything
This sort of goes along with #8 and I added on that even I don’t always follow all these, although I try, someone who spends years correctly following God still might be wrong and be corrected. Only God will know it all, but the more you study the more you learn, the more God speaks to you through his word, the better you follow him.