Six Principles for Interpreting Scripture

“No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11b NIV)

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, that’s just your interpretation of the Bible”? It’s as if that little phrase disproves everything that’s been said. But it really doesn’t disprove anything.

There are right ways and wrong ways to interpret Scripture. There are some methods for interpreting the Bible that’ll always give you the wrong interpretation every time. Here are six principles of interpretation that are accepted just about everywhere.

  1. You need faith and the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture. The Bible doesn’t make sense to non-believers. It is God’s love letter to believers. When an unbeliever reads the Word, he is reading someone else’s mail. The Bible is a spiritual book that must be understood by spiritual people. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:11, “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (NIV).
  1. The Bible is its own best commentary. Scripture interprets Scripture. Practice this principle by getting a Bible with cross-references in the margin. By looking up other cross references, you’ll get a much bigger and clearer picture of what God has said in all of his Word, not just that one context. 
  1. Read the Old Testament with the New Testament in mind, and read the New Testament with the Old Testament in mind. The New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament.
  1. Always interpret unclear passages in the light of clear passages. Look at the full counsel of God in Scripture to get a clear understanding when you find a passage that seems contradictory or confusing. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:29 has a very obscure reference to baptism for the dead. It's the only time the idea is mentioned in Scripture. Paul isn’t condoning this. Nothing in Scripture condones it. Let clear passages about salvation and baptism interpret this unclear one, not visa versa.
  1. Don't form a doctrine based solely on an historical event. Take historical passages of the Bible for what they’re meant to be: good lessons. Don’t build your doctrine upon them. For example, in Mark 1:35, the Bible says Jesus got up very early, went into a place of solitude, and prayed. Does that mean you must get up every morning at 4 a.m., leave your house, and go somewhere and pray? Of course not! God may convince you that’s a good idea, but it’s not a command. Use doctrinal passages to base doctrine on. Use narratives to teach lessons.
  1. Never interpret Scripture based on your own experiences. The point of Bible study is not to shape Scripture to agree with your subjective opinions or your experiences. Feelings lie. Emotions lie. Instead, discover God's timeless truth and let it shape your life. Study the Bible with an open heart and invite God to conform you to his will.

God doesn’t want to leave you in the dark when you study Scripture. Following these basic rules of Bible study can help to ensure you read the Word from God’s perspective.

Talk About It

  • With these points in mind, re-read a passage from one of your quiet times this past week. What new insight does God reveal to you?
  • Are you open to letting the Holy Spirit work in your life? Do you have an open mind when interpreting Scripture so that the Holy Spirit can direct your thoughts?

 

Learn how to be a DOER of God’s Word.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

This devotional © 2012 by Rick Warren. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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