How to Interpret the Bible
This page presumes that the reader already has some understanding of the big picture — God’s Purposes for Humankind. This page also presumes that the reader already has an understanding that much confusion can arise from reading certain meanings into Scripture that does not apply to a particular age.
The Bible gives us principles of interpretation in 2 Corinthians 4:2 and Proverbs 8:8–9:
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2).
All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; There is nothing crooked or perverted in them. They are all straightforward to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge (Proverbs 8:8–9).
In other words, we are to read and understand the Bible in a plain or straightforward manner. This is usually what people mean when they say “literal interpretation of the Bible” (this phrase is common among those not well-versed in “hermeneutics”). We try to use the term “plainly” so we don’t confuse people.
Reading the Bible “plainly” means understanding that literal history is literal history, metaphors are metaphors, poetry is poetry, etc. The Bible is written in many different literary styles and should be read accordingly.
Reading the Bible plainly/straightforwardly (taking into account literary style, context, authorship, etc.) is the basis for what is called the historical-grammatical method of interpretation which has been used by theologians since the church fathers. This method helps to eliminate improper interpretations of the Bible.
We can get the literal truth conveyed by the figurative language as if it were expressed in literal language without the use of figures. (We maintain that there are no figures of speech of anything that is not real.) The Bible is an inspired revelation from ONE God.
Christ and His disciples prove this method of interpretation. In about 400 quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, the phrase “It is written” is held as all that is necessary to prove the sense of God’s message. God could not be honest and seek to hide from people the very things He will judge—serve justice for—them by in the end.
This is not to say that one cannot get lessons and illustrations from historical passages and make applications in sermons, but that is different from the interpretation.
The chief fundamental principle is to gather from the Scriptures themselves the precise meaning the writers intended to convey. It applies to the Bible the same principles, rules, grammatical process, and exercise of common sense and reason that we apply to other books. In doing this, one must take the Bible as literal when it is at all possible. When a statement is found that cannot possibly be literal, as Jesus being a “door” or of a woman being clothed with the sun and standing on the moon and on her head a crown of twelve stars, or of land animals coming out of the sea, and other statements which are obviously not literal, then we know the language is figurative. In such cases we must get the literal truth conveyed by the figurative language, and the truth intended to be conveyed will be as literal as if it were expressed in literal language without the use of such figures. After all, figurative language expresses literal truth as much as if such figures were not used. In an abbreviated general sense, the true method of Bible interpretation embraces the following ideas:
Twelve Rules of Interpretation
1. Learn the native tongue in which one reads his Bible. For example, master the English language if the English Bible is to be used.
2. Give the same literal meanings to words, and apply to the Bible the same rules of grammar, figures of speech, types, symbols, allegories, parables, poetry, prophecy, history, and all other forms of human expression that you would if they were found outside the Bible.
3. Learn the Bible manners, customs, and peculiar idioms (these will be found in the notes of this Bible).
4. Get acquainted with the geography of all Bible lands.
5. Get a general knowledge of the history of the biblical peoples and kingdoms so as to understand biblical history.
6. Get a general knowledge of the plan of God in the Bible-of the ages and dispensations and the ultimate purpose of God to defeat Satan, restore man's dominion, rid the earth of all rebellion, and establish an eternal kingdom on earth ruled by God, Christ, and the resurrected saints (Genesis 8:22; Genesis 9:12; Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:32-33; Rev. 11:15; Rev. 20:1-10; Rev. 22:4-5).
7. Recognize the three classes of people dealt with in Scripture-the Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Cor. 10:32).
8. Keep in mind the historical background of each book and the circumstances under which it was written.
9. Never change the literal meaning of Scripture to a spiritual, mystical, symbolic, or figurative meaning unless it is done by God Himself. Take everything in the Bible literally unless this could not possibly be the meaning. When the language is used in a figurative sense get the literal truth conveyed by it.
10. Get a complete concordance such as Strong's and Young's to look up any subject and to define any Hebrew or Greek word if there is any question of proper translation.
11. Be just as intelligent and fair with the Bible as with any other book. Study it, not to disprove it, but to master its sacred contents and conform to its teachings and you will find it to be in unity.
12. It must be settled once and forever that the Bible does not contradict itself and all scriptures on a subject must be harmonized. It has a way of confusing its enemies and blessing its friends. The only thing difficult about the Bible is that it is a very large book and it will take time to master its contents enough to get a general understanding of it. Read it over and over and practice its teachings and it will soon become a very simple and practical book.
When all these facts are kept in mind by the pupil and all Scriptures interpreted in harmony with all these principles, there is little if any misunderstanding of any part of the Bible.
“What about all the ‘contradictions’ in the Bible?”
Summary of the False Methods of Interpretation
1. An undue reverence for the Scriptures manifesting itself in an effort to find hidden meanings for every letter and every word. This amounts to idolatry of the letter and leads us away from the real meaning of Scripture. This is the reason so many persons today can find more written between the lines than in the lines of Scripture itself. Many persons can by this method tell one more about what is not plainly written than about what is written. They can find out more about many subjects of the Bible than God Himself has revealed. They can seemingly prove many doctrines that are not one time mentioned in Scripture, but they seem never to be able to prove those that are found many times in the Bible.
2. A positive hostility to the text resulting in a vain attempt to eliminate there - from the supernatural element and the means of redemption through Jesus Christ. This amounts to utter destruction of the Word of God as far as actual and real benefits to the individual in this life and the life to come are concerned.
The Bible states: “The [reverent] fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). “The [reverent] fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10); “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
“Trust in the LORD with all thy heart; and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)
This site relies mostly on the message of the “King James Version” (KJV) of the Bible. Here are some of the reasons.