How to Understand the Bible for Yourself
Perhaps you have come across a disturbing passage in the Bible, but you don’t know how to decipher the meaning. A passage may seem to to downplay your entire belief system. Maybe the passage is disturbing simply because of the mystical language used by ancient Bible writers. How do you respond in this moment of struggle for definition of God’s word? Before anything else, remember what Paul said to Timothy in 1 Tim. 1:5-7. Paul reminded Timothy to always maintain a pure heart, a good conscience, and be sincere in his faith. Being sincere enough to admit error when presented with the truth of God’s word is foremost. Diligence and care come only a breath behind sincerity. Being diligent to study God’s word with integrity and a systematic method is paramount. Jesus did not call fishermen like James and John for their laziness, ineptness, or disregard for properly understanding His teaching. These men consistently asked Jesus questions to better understand His mission and call to discipleship (Mark, 9:10-13, 10:10 & 13:3-4). Consider consistently asking yourself systematic questions when studying any given Bible passage. The questions to follow will hopefully guide you in this effort and lead you to Truth’s doorstep.
The questions in this article are a bare bones skeleton of what should be asked whenever seeking clarity on a Bible passage. These questions also assume the reader to be established in two principles of thought: there is such a thing as absolute truth, and the proper interpretation of a passage is that which was intended by the original author. No more will be said on these points. Now, for the feature presentation, read on.
1. The Bible is a book of literature. This literature consists of poetry, history, narrative, argumentative discourse, and figurative/prophetic texts. With this knowledge, ask the question: What type of literature is this single verse found within, and how might that affect how I interpret the verse?
2. Why is the author writing this book? Does my interpretation of this single verse agree with the author’s ultimate purpose in writing the book?
3. What is the immediate (surrounding) context of the verse I am studying? Does my interpretation of this single verse fit the immediate context?
4. Before I make personal application of what is taught in the verse, do I understand what the passage originally meant? Personal application should never be made until the verse’s original meaning is understood. Otherwise, you are dangerously near to making an application the Holy Spirit never intended to be drawn. This fallacy is at the root of many a belligerent and ignorant internet blogger.
5. Does anything within the passage allude or echo back to an Old Testament passage or teaching of Jesus (i.e. John 8:58)? If so, go back to the passage alluded to and gain a better understanding of that text. Many times, New Testament writers allude back to an Old Testament prophecy, teaching, story-line, character, or theme, making a parallel application to the audience of the New Testament.
Paul wrote God’s revelation down so that his audience could read and understand it (Eph. 3:3-4), not be confused. God’s word is not beyond our grasp, our grasp just has to reach farther than the TV remote. Now close your screen, pick up your Bible, and glean from God’s treasure chest, “things new and old,” (Matthew 13:52).