Interpreting the Bible (a 4-part study)

"The Bible can mean anything you want it to mean" is a common enough claim and there is a sense in which that is true. The Bible can be made to say anything you want it to say if you approach it with a certain frame of mind that fails to observe some basic rules of interpretation. The existence of cults confirms how a bad interpretation of Scripture produces bad results. And even "mainstream" Christians sometimes have beliefs and practices that owe their existence to a wrong interpretation of Scripture.

The importance of interpreting the Bible correctly can be illustrated by the story of a very discouraged man who decided to seek comfort from the Bible. He randomly opened the Bible and placed his finger on a verse in the hope that it would say something uplifting. His finger landed on Matthew 27:5, which said, "Then Judas went away and hanged himself." Finding no comfort there he repeated the procedure. This time his finger landed on John 13:27 which said, "What you are about to do, do quickly."

God has revealed his will in the Scriptures with the obvious intention of being understood. So when we read the Bible we need to know if we are reading historical narrative, poetry, psalms, prophecy, doctrine or an account of the life of Jesus. Furthermore, we need to appreciate the distinctive style of each writer and the cultural background against which he wrote.

The Bible was never written to answer specifically every possible eventuality that may arise in life, but there are principles in Scripture that give us divine guidance concerning the issues we face today. Jesus taught that such principles exist. He said, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread – which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests." (Matthew 12:3-4)