Biblical interpretation is one of the most important skills for a Christian. This is something not just for a pastor or a professor. The Christian who reads five verses before bed needs to know how to interpret the Bible.
Here are seven keys that will help you to interpret the Bible correctly. This does not guarantee that you will do everything perfect but it will get you on the right track.
1. Start with the Bible and not your own opinion. Too often people begin with what they think is correct and then look for biblical passages (proof texts) to support their opinions. This is very dangerous. If you look hard enough, you can find a verse to support anything. Remember Satan in the wilderness tempting Jesus.
2. Read the passage in its context. Do not read just a phrase or a verse by itself. Read the paragraph before it and the paragraph after it. The only verses you can read out of context are the Proverbs and even then you need to take into account the next tip.
3. Read passages according to their genre. The Bible is comprised of many different genres. You can’t read a poem like history. You can’t read a biography like an apocalypse. Find out what genre the book is and learn about the nature of that genre.
4. Do not build a doctrine on one verse. There are many verses that we don’t understand fully and we must be careful with them. For example, Paul mentions baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29. It is only mentioned once and we have no idea what it was. We should not create a theology around that verse.
5. Be teachable. You may study a passage, examine the context, read the commentaries and be pretty confident about what it means. That is great but you still might be wrong. Do your best to understand a passage but be humble enough to be corrected.
6. Interpret difficult passages by clearer passages. If there is a confusing passage that deals with love, interpret that passage by the many verses that are clear about what they say about love.
7. Use the Bible to build up and not to tear down. God did not give us the Bible to attack other Christians. Even when the Bible is used to respond to false teaching, it should be used in a positive way. Think of the Bible as a scalpel bringing healing in surgery rather than a switchblade slashing in a street fight.
If you want to learn more about how to interpret the Bible, I recommend How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth.