How Can I Interpret Scripture Accurately?
by Jonathan Hamilton
While I do not purport to offer anything remotely exhaustive on this question, it is still a worthy inquiry to pursue. The Scripture speaks volumes about itself, and does not leave us wondering whether or not it is important to our daily lives.
Psalm 119 is a veritable treasure trove of Scriptural self-descriptors. Verse 105 likens it to a lamp and a light. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells is it is God-breathed and profitable. Hebrews 4:12 addresses the Word as living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. We are commanded to long for it like newborn babes. We see the psalmist and Job both likening it to the delight of physical sustenance, and better. There are dozens and dozens more. The Scripture leaves no doubt what place it ought to hold in the life of a Christian.
While Scripture is vital to us, the vast majority of Christians that I know are ill-equipped to read and understand it. Admittedly, I struggle here as well. And the problem with this reality is that when one does not have a good grasp on interpreting Scripture well, erroneous thinking and living remain quite easy to bask in. This leads to all sorts of problems, not the least of which are a refusal to even attempt serious Bible study (while inexplicably continuing to hold strong opinions on its meaning), or a sinful superiority complex which, ironically, is based on a truly erroneous understanding of my latest proof text. These errors often pair nicely with a total lack of awareness of the fallaciousness of my screamingly half-baked interpretations, and woe to the one who disagrees with me!
Admit it, you’ve either heard or thought it yourself: “If David danced before the Lord, why don’t we do that in my church?” Or how about: “Is my pastor the New Testament version of the King (or prophet) of Israel?” Or this: “If God made animal skin outfits for Adam and Eve, why don’t we require that dress code of Christians today?” Wait, you’ve never heard that last one? I admit it, that was just my inner caveman shining through. This viewing of historical texts as permanently binding is just one type of Bible interpretation error. There are others to be sure.
So how should we approach Scripture? Are there helpful principles of interpretation that we can learn and begin implementing right now?
For a helpful starting point to begin shaping your thoughts in this area, I am going to direct you to an outstanding pair of articles by Dr. Kevin Bauder of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, Minnesota). These articles are the recent impetus behind my own thinking through the proper principles of biblical interpretation, and I encourage you to train yourself in this area. While it is tempting to simply summarize the articles for you and quickly give you the three tools he lists, the fact that the articles are short and easily grasped by the informed reader makes me want you to read them for yourself. It will prove worthy of your time.
Read them. Think about them. Print them off and start a notebook of Christian “Continuing Education” that you can refer to for your own benefit, and for the sharpening of others. If you like them, dig around the many dozens of articles Dr. Bauder has written at the same website. Titled, “In the Nick of Time,” his weekly Friday releases are informative and helpful to the body of Christ. If you like them enough, I encourage you to sign up to receive them via e-mail each week.
The two articles are below, and my hope is that at the very least they will challenge you to carefully consider what criteria you use when interpreting the Bible. If you’re drawing a blank in the criteria department, here’s a good place to start shopping for the right tools.