Help Interpreting the Bible

The simple thoughts today are important because they could help us to understand the Bible in a better way. These guidelines are not meant to be a scholarly approach, such as examining the New Testament Greek and the Old Testament Hebrew texts, but meant to be a laymen’s guide to interpreting the Scripture. Thank you for letting me share these pointers with you today.

Robert Sabin, one of my seminary professors once said, we should interpret the Scriptures that are difficult to understand with Scriptures that are more clearly understood. The Bible is a consistent and connected inspired document. The Scripture is an amalgamation of very different historical periods, written in the context of a diversity of cultures, and penned by approximately 40 authors over thousands of years. These writers were of unequal social, economic and political status with distinctively different missions in life, clashing approaches to their messaging and mismatched personalities. Yet, their writings and verbal testimonies are supernaturally consistent and connected. Consequently, a fair share of the Biblical record is somewhat strenuous to understand: so it is best to take the more arduous and shadowy passages and interpret them in the bright light of other texts and verses that are more easily understood.

Second, the purpose of any passage in Scripture has precedence over any language or event disparity when two Biblical authors are writing about the same event or passage. To illustrate, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the Gospels. The Gospels are the record of their experiences and conversations with Jesus, and others, when He was on earth. If you compare the writings of all four of these Apostles, it is evident that some of the events and language describing the parables, miracles, and conversations with Jesus are recorded with some variance. The same is often true when New Testament writers are quoting Old Testament Scriptures: even many of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus.

These kinds of disparities can cause us interpretive difficulties. Yet, a close examination of the Gospel disparities as well as any Old Testament passages brought into New testament writings are always congruent and consistent with the purpose of the passage. Simply put, it is the purpose of the Scriptures that ultimately counts. One influential teacher in antiquity, speaking to this interpretive stumbling-block once wrote, it ought always to be observed whenever any proof from Scripture is quoted or written by more than one writer, though they do not translate word for word, and sometimes depart widely from the language, yet it is applied correctly and appropriately to the subject. Let the reader always consider the purpose of the passage or verse of  Scripture. When two passages are recorded by two authors in Scripture, or quoted from the deep wells of the Old Testament to the surface water of the New Testament, we should uncover the purpose of the passage and let that be our guide to it’s interpretation.

Thirdly, there are many interpretations of the tenants of the Christian faith, and many denominations and a myriad of sub-cultures within Christendom. Not withstanding, a cultish or harsh legalistic or extreme liberal interpretation of Scripture and it’s application to our faith, our differences are probably just a matter of what we emphasize and what we don’t choose to move to the top of the list.  And I’m very sure that there is more that unite us than divide us as fellow citizens of the community of faith. My experience is most Christians are persuaded that the Bible is very clear about the efficacy of faith toward God, salvation by and through grace, perseverance when we are tested, treating and loving others like we like to be treated and loved, recognizing that we are not alone and it is needful to be a part of a community of faith. And many other principles like loyalty, honesty, decency, trustworthiness, generosity, and much more. If we are serious Christians, these principles are clearly indisputable in the inspired Word of God.

When we attempt to decipher the true meaning of Scripture the indisputable principles in the Christian faith can be used as a compass, guiding us through the choppy waves of Biblical interpretation. When we are convinced that these principles belong to the Christian Faith, we weigh them against our thinking and our interpretation of what God is trying to say to us through His Word. There is little wiggle room with this approach to Scripture.

Joe Hutchison / Executive Director / Christian Counselor Directory /

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