Correctly Interpret and Understand The Bible

All kinds of people, from all kinds of religions; all claim some portions, it not all, of the bible are from God, or from a god, or from multiple gods.  They all can not be both true, and not true, at the same time; so how do we know? Biblical Hermeneutics is the study and method of how to correctly understand scripture.  In this article we will review three key elements of an effective method for correctly interpreting and understanding the Bible the way it was meant to be interpretative and understood.

As Christians, we are expected to correctly interpret and teach The Bible.  A text has one true interpretation but many applications; the mission here is to get that one true meaning and correctly interpret it and understand it; so it can be accurately applied in all ways of life.  Hermeneutics is the process and method of Textualism; where the readers interpret and understand the text and adhere to the meaning from the text in its conceived essence.

2 Timothy 1:13; 2:15

Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,3 a worker bwho has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

ELEMENT 1:  LITERAL UNLESS OTHERWISE

When reading a bible passage, it should always be read in a literal sense unless the context states otherwise or there is obvious symbolism and teachable poetic language like hyperbolas.

In Mark 8:19 we read that Jesus fed 5,000 people.  How many were fed? If we think “that number must be symbolic” or “There must be a deeper meaning within that number” we are adding into the text which is not there.  Numerology is a form of scriptural interpretation that injects unintended meanings into scripture and then produces heretical unbiblical ideas and assumptions.  Clearly Mark 8:19 is a historical story about an actual event.  Thus the 5,000 people is literally 5,000 people just as the story describes it. 

Numerical symbolisms are only true when God makes it explicitly known (via explicit in scripture).  The number of biblical unity = 1 (Deut 6:4; Eph 4:5).  The number of biblical division = 2.  Examples: The Son who has two natures: human and divine. There are 2 Testaments: the Old and New. Man is Male and Female. Rom. 9
speaks of two vessels: one for honorable use and the other for
dishonorable use. Two types of people: Sheep and Goats. There are two
ages: this age and the age to come: Matt. 12:32, 13:39, 40, 49, Mark 10:30.  The number of perfection = 3.  The Trinity consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are three qualities of the universe: Time, Space, and Matter (Romans 1:20).

Secret Knowledge is an idea that came about from the Gnostic era (100-400AD) of the early church and still lives in the ideals of countless cults and some religions today.  It is true that The Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and minds and gives us the ability to correctly understand scripture but this is not seeing what is not there to begin with.  In regards to Mark 8:19, the Holy Spirit would compel people to BELIEVE the miracle of feeding the literal 5,000 people from just small amount of fish and bread.  Belief in what the scripture declares is the illumination of the spirit and not a secret; but it is mysterious and foolish to all those who do not believe.

Element 1 Application:

The context and explicit described occasion of the passage lets us know if the statements should be taken literal or not.  It is describing an actual historic event that takes place or will take place in space and time.

The Law of Non-contradiction is very applicable here as well.  Since the bible is God’s word, we need to understand that when we run into a perceived contradiction, it is our understanding that is not compatible with the passage; not the passage.  Jesus’ genealogy for example.  Matthew gives one but it seems that Luke gives a different one.  Thus a close minded skeptic will jump to the assumption that they found an error in The Bible and the bible is the one in error.  They fail to ask a logical question: How many parents did Jesus have… He had a father (Joseph) and a mother (Mary).  Thus we see that Jesus’ blood line is one side of the family in Matthew and is of the other parent in Luke.

Where this applies to the element: The bible explicitly states that God is a spirit (John 4:24).  Yet Psalms describes God with having nostrils and mouth with smoke and fire coming out (Ps 18:8).  Both can not be true as it would be a contradiction; therefore we need to understand which is literal and which is a figure of speech or metaphoric.  The context shows that John is being literal and Ps is being Anthropomorphic (applying human characteristics to something non-human to relay equivalent understanding).  This is where a lot of teachers fail; in the application of literal and non literal.

  • Examine passage in the whole context
  • Compare passage with other obvious similar literal passages

ELEMENT 2: CONTEXT, HISTORY, AND LANGUAGE 

As we look at literal or symbolic portions of scripture, we need to apply the overall context; the historical meaning, undertones, the language style, and grammatical usages.  This element takes more dedication and learning to correctly apply.

The context also rightly guides us to understanding what is truly being stated.  The most out-of-context verse in our modern culture is Matthew 7.  If we just look at Matthew 7:1 we can jump to the ignorant conclusion that we should NEVER judge.  But when we look at Matthew 7:1-5 we see that we should never judge Hypocritically.  Thus this verse is NOT saying to never ever judge, but to not judge hypocritically.

The historical nature of the text sheds a lot of light on how to better understand scripture as well.  The celebration of Passover and Jesus being called the Lamb of God.   Understanding where Passover came from and why greatly helps us understand Jesus himself.

The Language usage is very important was well. We need to remind ourselves that they did not speak or think in English, Spanish, or Chinese.  They spoke and thought in Ancient Greek, and Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew.  Their sentence structures were not exactly like ours today. Metaphors and slang were different with different meanings.  When Jesus states “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” in Matthew 19:24, we think that is an odd thing to say. That was a common cultural metaphor that described the immense difficulty of something.  2,000 years from now, when someone reads “kill two birds with one stone” they are going to think the same about our metaphor.  Correctly understanding metaphors are important to correctly understanding the idea presented.

Failed interpretations like these: Luke 22:19, the Roman Catholic Church literally believes that the bread and wine literally becomes Jesus’ flesh when they do communion simply because Jesus says “This is my body”.  Jesus also states “I am the door” in John 10:6, so why do they not believe Jesus  literally turns into a door either?  Pentecostal churches will teach that Tongues of Angels of 1 Corinthians 13 is literally an angelic language that sounds like confused babble.  They fail to see that when angels speak, they speak in human languages in all parts of scripture and their justification passage is not correctly understood from a linguistic standpoint.  They fail to understand language and hyperbolic figures of speech. 

Element 2 Application:

Understand the current setting and occasion of the whole story and not just a snippet of the passage.  The desperation and emotion in the Psalms of David are better understood when you know that he is hiding out in cave for years because he is being hunted to be killed.

Similar to Element 1; detecting the use of literal, metaphoric (A comparison of two things that have some quality in common without
using like or as. Instead, it states that one thing actually is
something else) symbolic (the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities), hyperbole (A figure of speech in which a statement is exaggerated for emphasis or
for humorous effect. Writers often use hyperbole to intensify a
description or to emphasize the essential nature of something), personifications (A figure of speech in which a nonhuman thing or quality is written about
as if it were human. In the phrase the blue stars shiver, human
attributes are given to stars), anthropomorphism, simile (A comparison of two things that have some quality in common using like
or as. In a simile, the comparison is conveyed by means of the word like
or as), and puns ( A PLAY on words that depends on a word having two meanings). All help determine what the true meaning is and thus improving the understanding of scripture.

  • After Examining and Comparing:
  • Evaluate Historical context and setting
    • People, places, things, events
  • Evaluate Ideas and statements presented through word usage in their whole context

Also read Why Are There So Many Translations? | Tongues of Angels of 1 Corinthians 13


ELEMENT 3: LET SCRIPTURE INTERPRET SCRIPTURE

To understand meanings of passages we can compare one passage with another.  We can see why one prophet speaks against something by comparing previous texts with it.

When we read Isaiah 31:1 we would wonder why Israel would be greatly warned not to rely on horses.  Seems kinda random.  But when we look back at Deut 17:16 we see that God commanded this, and that is why it is such a big warning.  Without using Deut 17:16 to shed light on that, we would not fully understand the reasoning for the great warning.

When scripture makes it explicit that God is all knowing, then God knows all things.  Thus when we read other passages about God’s knowledge, we an apply the explicit passage to correctly understand the less obvious.  When Jesus explicitly states that all those who God The Father gave to Him “will come to me” and he “will never lose them” we can know for a fact those who are saved, will be saved, and will never become unsaved.  This understanding can then be applied to other less explicit passages about the longevity of salvation.

Element 3 Application:

When scripture says “you will have eternal life” than that means you will have eternal life.  Then we can allow scripture expand on itself and explain its self more.  Deut 24:1-4 is straight forward, but we can then ask “why” and “what else”. The topic here is divorce.  Jesus then addresses Deut 24 and expands and gets deeper in Matt 5:32; 19:3-12.  Thus we learn more about this issue just through allowing scripture to explain the why and how through itself.

  • After Examining, Comparing, and Evaluating:
  • Search for more related ideas and statements
  • Study additional ideas and statements side by side and continue Examining, Comparing, and Evaluating

Also read Freedom for The Law and Sexuality
EXEGESIS

These elements of biblical hermeneutics form what is known as the Exegesis approach to studying scripture.  The word exegesis literally means “to lead
out of.
” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by
following the text.  The text teaches what it teaches.  Where churches, teachers, and religions fail is when they “lead in to” textual meanings.  This is known as
Eisegesis and is highly dangerous and produces wrongful assumptions of what the text does not actually mean.

The Simple Process of Exegesis

  1. observation: what does the passage say?
  2. interpretation: what does the
    passage mean? 
  3. correlation: how does the passage relate to the rest
    of the Bible? 
  4. application: how should this passage affect my
    life?

 Eisegesis uses self imagination, invented discovery, the acceptance of a self generated idea through self seeking textual justification for the generated idea.  All heresies come from this method.

Also read God’s Truths are Not a Matter of Opinions | Scripture Alone


When Hermeneutics goes bad


When people mishandle the word of God and use Eisegesis drawn meanings from texts it begins in sublet errors like in the Pentecostal teachings, and eventually balloon into whole divisive doctrines like the Roman Catholic Church then into Mormonism and other religions.  Poor Hermeneutic practices of Texualism is a cascade effect of greater poor interpretation and misunderstand of God’s Word. 

Also read The Errors of The Modern Prosperity Gospel | The “Jesus didn’t say it” Reasoning | The Confusion with The Prophecy Gift | The Holy Spirit or Emotionalism?


Why Does The Holy Spirit Allow for Misunderstandings?


At the end of it all, it is the human heart that seeks to justify itself.  God hands us over to our sin (Romans 1) and we find ways to justify our self-righteousness or god-like desires.  Where WE dictate what God says instead of accepting what God actually declares.  If you want to be taught by The Holy Spirit and not another spirit or your sinful heart; be ready and willing to accept things that you naturally do not feel like accepting or agree with. Or be willing to accept things that you do not understand yet (because the Holy Spirit may not have revealed it to you yet).  At the end of it all, complete trust and dependence in God’s Word is necessary to avoid errors in understanding.

Also read Your Feelings Do Not Determine Truth | The Joy of TRUTH | Speaking In Tongues | The Gift of Supernatural Healing | Supernatural Positive Thinking


Summery:


The 3 Elements of Correct Interpretation 

  1. Literal interpretation unless obvious otherwise
  2. Know the Context, History, and cultural Language
  3. Let only Scripture expound on and interpret scripture.

Applying the Elements for Correct Interpretation

  1. Examine passage in the whole context
  2. Compare passage with other obvious similar literal passages
  3. Evaluate Historical context and setting
    • People, places, things, events
  4. Evaluate Ideas and statements presented through word usage in their whole context
  5. Search for more related ideas and statements
  6. Study additional ideas and statements side by side and continue Examining, Comparing, and Evaluating

Keep In Mind:

  1. Everything is done and said for God’s Glory in scripture.
  2. The Old Testament is about Jesus Christ 
  3. The Old Testament teaches physically what The New Testament teaches spiritually.

 Also read Personal Bible Study: Getting Started

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