How to Study the Bible Session 7

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How to Study the Bible Session 7

How To Study Your Bible – VII


We have come to the second major step of Bible study, interpretation. While observation involved “What do I see?” interpretation involves “What does it mean?” Turn to Acts 8. Philip was preaching a great revival in Samaria and the Spirit of God moved upon Philip to go south. He did and on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza he met a man who was the secretary of the treasury for his country. They got involved in a conservation. Philip noticed that the man was reading the Scriptures and Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian said “Well, how can I unless someone guides me?” Mark it down, this man had a Bible but needed help in understanding it. He was deeply involved in the process of Interpretation (vs. 34). Philip helped the man to gain some insight in what the text meant, and after he understood he was able to respond in faith. So, in a real sense the step of Interpretation helped to open Africa to the gospel.

What do we mean by interpretation? Every book of Scripture and every passage of Scripture has a message. 2nd Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is profitable.” Every Scripture has a meaning or a purpose. God is not playing a game of hide and seek with you. He wants us to understand His Word. If a passage of Scripture has only one meaning, how is it that two people can look at the same Scripture and come up with two different meanings? Because “many of us read our own subjective thoughts into the text rather than read God’s objective truth out of the text,” (Howard Hendricks). For many people, the meaning of the text is not in the text it is in their response to the text. That is when meaning becomes subjective and we get multiple interpretations. Interpretation involves thinking as the original author thought, feeling as he felt, and deciding as he decided. We are asking “What did this mean to him?” A text simply can never mean what it never meant to the author. So, interpretation is answering, “What does this mean?”

Why must we interpret Scripture? Time and distance has thrown up barriers between us and the biblical writers. These barriers block our understanding. We need to understand what they are and realize that they are not insurmountable.

Language barriers – Our bibles are written in English but the original language of the Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and some Aramaic. We lose some of the significance and the meanings of words in our English translations. The good news is that you do not have to know Greek and Hebrew. A good Bible dictionary and interlinear text will help.

Cultural barriers – The Bible was written in cultures far different from ours. To really appreciate what is going on in the Scriptures an understanding of cultural context is important. Areas of communication, transportation, trade, agriculture, Occupation, religion are very helpful. A good Bible handbook, an atlas, and commentaries help here.
Literary barriers – The Psalms are a different type of literature than the gospels. The Song of Solomon is different from the doctrinal book of Romans. It helps to know and understand what type of literature you are reading. Commentaries and Bible encyclopedias help.

There are not only some barriers to overcome in the process of interpretation there are some hazards to avoid. There are five of them.

Misreading the text – Jesus said, “I am the way,” not “a way.” “The love of money is the root of all evil,” not “Money is the root of all evil.” Reading accurately is so important. Folks will read Psalm 37:4 and say “God will give me the desires of my heart.” We must learn to read!

Distorting the text – It is one thing to struggle with understanding a text, it is something else to distort the meaning of God’s Word. A classic example of this is found in Genesis 3:1-4 where the devil distorts and contradicts the Word of God.

No wonder Jesus called Satan a liar. People all throughout the centuries have distorted and contradicted God’s Word. Is God a killjoy who delights in human guilt? Does God reward faith and good behavior with material prosperity? Is God for wild, sexual orgies? Is God for homosexuality, abortion, genocide of a race of people? Of course not, but people have used the Scripture to argue for these kinds of things.

Subjectivism – We have already talked about this. People will read their Bibles and violate all reason and common sense. Their Bible study will be totally subjective. They will wander around the Scripture waiting for the “Holy Ghost” to fall. The meaning of the text is in the text, not our response to the text!

Relativism – Some people think that the Bible changes meaning over time. The text meant one thing when it was written, and it means the same thing today. The meaning of the text is not relative. A text can have multiple, practical, application but only one interpretation. Some scholars today think that the resurrection of Jesus was simply a “spiritual resurrection,” and therefore it does not matter if Jesus really got up and walked out of that tomb. The important thing to these people is that you have a “newness of life.” That is a relativistic interpretation.

Overconfidence – The minute you think you have mastered a portion of Scripture you are in for a fall. “Pride goeth before the fall!” When a person sets himself up as the ultimate authority on a passage of Scripture, he becomes arrogant and unteachable. No one has ever mastered the Bible. Interpretation never ends. Let’s end our discussion tonight with 2 Timothy 2:15. Next week will get started on 5 keys to interpretation.