Don't take the easy way out and believe what everyone tells you the Bible says. Check the facts out yourself. Don't assume there are many interpretations of a biblical passage. There may be many applications, but there is only one true interpretation.
God's Word is precise. It is not ambiguous. God has given us the ability to discover its meaning.
Don't spiritualize the text. The first sermon I ever preached was really bad. My text was, "The angel rolled the stone away" from Matthew Doubt, fear, and anger are all legitimate topics, but they have nothing to do with that verse! Picture a preacher saying this: "Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep. All over the world people are lost.
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And can't tell where to find them. But they'll come home—ah, they'll come. Yes, but unfortunately not too hard to imagine. Many people tend to do that with the Old Testament. They turn it into a fairy tale with all kinds of hidden meanings—anything but what the text plainly states. Don't spiritualize the Bible.
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It deserves more respect. Many of the Bible translations available today are excellent, but no translation can get across everything that the original language conveys. For example, in 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul says, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ. It is a lofty term. However the Greek word translated "minister" huperetes originally spoke of a third-level galley slave—hardly a lofty concept. Paul wanted it to be said of him that he was nothing more than a third-level galley slave for Jesus Christ. You would never get that out of the English term. That's why you need to bridge the language gap.
There are some excellent tools available. In addition, there are several language helps that are keyed to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, which has a numerical code to English definitions of all the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words in the Bible. You'll learn to trace how a particular word is used throughout the entire Bible, or just in the passage you are studying. Bridging the language gap will bring you to a new level of understanding.
Parts of the Bible may have been written as long as four thousand years ago. Times have certainly changed since then! If you don't understand the culture of the time in which your passage was written, you'll never understand its meaning. By studying the culture of the time, we discover that the term "the Word" [Gk.
To the Greeks, it was a philosophical term representing the sum total ofcosmic energy, or that which causes everything to exist. To the Hebrews, the Word ofthe Lord was the personal expression ofGod. John drew in both audiences by describing Jesus as the personal manifestation ofthe Almighty Creator. Similarly, if youdon't know anything about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other aspects of Jewish culture, you won't understand the book of Matthew. If youdon't know something about Gnosticism, you won't understand the book of Colossians. There are many geographical references in Scripture.
For instance, we read of going down to Jericho and up to Jerusalem. In 1 Thessalonians we read, "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth. Knowing something about the geography of the area explains how the word spread so fast. The Ignatian Highway, the main concourse between the East and West, ran through the middle of Thessalonica. Whatever happened there was passed down all along the way. Do you see how an understanding of geography can enrich your comprehension of the text?
Consult a good Bible atlas Barry J. Knowing the historical backgroundofthe text also enriches your understanding. In the gospel ofJohn, the key to understanding the interplay between Pilate and Jesus is knowing what happened beforehand.
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When Pilate was first assigned to Judea, he infuriated the Jewish population by trying to force pagan culture and emperor worship on them. There were several incidents, and Rome was displeased with Pilate's inability to keep the peace.
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Pilate was afraid ofwhat the Jewish leaders might instigate, and that's why he let Christ be crucified. He already had a rotten track record and his job was on the line. Be literal. Seek to understand Scripture in its literal, normal, and natural sense. Although symbolism and figures ofspeech appear in the Bible, they will be obvious from the context. When you study apocalyptic passages in Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Revelation, you will read about beasts and images.
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Those are symbols, but they convey literal truth. Interpret the Bible in its normal, natural sense.
Otherwise you're taking an unnatural, abnormal, nonsensical interpretation. For example, some rabbis were zealous advocates of gematria , assigning numerical values to the Hebrew letters to interpret the text. For instance, they said if youtake the consonants ofAbraham's name— b, r, h, m —and add them up with their numerical equivalents, you get Therefore, when you see the word Abraham it means he had servants! No, it means Abraham,period. Interpret Scripture in its literal sense, as you would any other piece of literature. Know the context.
The Bible must be studied in its historical context. What did it mean to whom it was spoken or written? You must also study its literary context. How does the passage or verse you're studying relate to the surrounding text? It has been well said that a text apart from context is a pretext. Analyze the sentence structure.
In school, we learn how to diagram a sentence—identify the verbs, nouns, prepositions, and other parts of speech to find out what it is saying. Apply that to the Great Commission of Matthew "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. But when you study the sentence structure, you find there's only one verb, matheteuo, "make disciples. So the Great Commission is to make disciples, which involves going to them, baptizing them, and teaching them.
You have to examine the grammar carefully to fully comprehend and appreciate the meaning of the text. Compare your interpretation with the totality of Scripture. This vital principle of interpretation is what the Reformers called analogia Scriptura , meaning that all Scripture fits together. One part of the Bible doesn't teach something that another part contradicts. So when you read 1 Corinthians , which speaks of baptism for the dead, you know it can't mean one can get someone out of hell and into heaven by being baptized on his behalf.
How to Study The Bible
That interpretation contradicts the clear teaching of salvation by grace through personal faith in Christ alone. Look for principles to apply. Reread the text and find out what spiritual principles there are that apply to you and fellow believers in Christ. You can do that only after you have literally interpreted your passage, analyzed its context and sentence structure, and compared your interpretation with the totality of Scripture.