True faith – confidence – is based on our exposure to, and understanding of, God’s words and testimonies contained in the Bible. How we interpret it is vital to ensuring we “get it right.” Getting it wrong could have devastating consequences. Those who mislead others will be judged accordingly. Ignorance could lead to experiencing God’s wrath, disappointment, deception, a falling away from the Christian faith, etc.
Rule number one of Bible interpretation: do everything possible to determine the writer’s original intent. Rule number two of Bible interpretation: see rule number one. Figuring out what the text writer meant to say to the intended audience should be your primary focus.
The next goal of Scripture interpretation should be to find out how the message applies today (there’s only one meaning of the text, but possibly multiple applications). A good understanding of grammatical principles and attention to format and message context will help ensure your success.
Here are some tips for effective biblical study:
- Be prepared to study through guidance by God’s Spirit (having a teachable spirit and a good attitude, etc.)
- Take Scripture literally whenever possible and look for the simplest meaning first
- Consider the author and audience
- Consider historical/cultural background first
- Compare translations for consensus
- Consider apocalyptic symbols and look for explanation in Scripture (nearly all are explained somewhere in the Bible!)
- Use study tools (like e-Sword) and aids whenever possible (i.e. concordance or dictionaries)
Work to understand what God, His son, the prophets, or the apostles intended to say to their audience – not what you’d like their words to mean to you. Remember: only one meaning, many potential applications.