"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.

So how can we interpret the Bible correctly? When we come to Scripture we must do so in a spirit of humility and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. The author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit and he is its best interpreter. We need to keep the following scriptures ever before us:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." (1 Peter 1:10-11)

"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21)

Divine Enlightenment

We must come to the Bible, not to have our opinions confirmed, our prejudices reinforced, our pet issues endorsed, or our "proof texts" approved, but to hear the voice of God and learn of his will for our life. We must have a spirit of obedience and submission to the authority of his word each time we read the Bible. The attitude of the Psalmist is one we would do well to imitate:

"Open my eyes," he says, "that I may see wonderful things in your law." (Psalm 119:18)

The psalmist is asking for enlightenment, for insight, for understanding; he is asking God to reveal his will. Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit we will remain in darkness and not know the meaning of the Scriptures. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus whose mind the Lord opened so they could understand the Scriptures, we too need our mind to be opened by the Lord. (Luke 24:32) But we must also exercise our mind through reflecting and meditating upon what God has said. A blessing is pronounced upon the man whose "delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." (Psalms 1:2) This man is engaged in prayerful reflection upon the word. God's people have always sought spiritual enlightenment. A very perplexed prophet sought insight into what God had said and an angel came in answer to his prayer and said to him, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them." (Daniel 10:12).

Paul gives this instruction to Timothy: "Reflect" he says, "on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this." (2 Timothy 2:7) And to the community of believers in Philippi he says, "And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." (Philippians 3:15) The use of our mind, along with the guidance of the Spirit, is indispensable in our interpretation of the Bible.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like to have a look at the rest of our 4-part study on the topic of interpreting the Bible. Please click here to access this material.