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Oct 01 2010

How to Read the Bible

My last post, I discussed how conclusions are drawn in reading the Bible  that are downright silly and/or absurd but also can be dangerous or even deadly.  Today, I thought I would share what I have learned about reading and understanding the Bible. While the Bible is unlike any other book ever written as it is the very Word of God, it should not be read with the intent of finding hidden meaning within the pages of scripture.  We should read the Bible literally, historically and grammatically.  Using this approach is to understand the writer’s intent as to the meaning.  Each book is written to a target audience.  To gain a proper understanding, we need to understand what is being conveyed to that particular audience.  To do so, we must use a literal, historical and grammatical method of interpretation.  For instance, when Jesus is speaking , it is important to keep in mind the culture of the times, i.e., the Jewish culture.  The Jewish people are His audience and He speaks to them from a Jewish background and culture.

Literal Interpretation:

This means we take the Word of God at face value unless otherwise indicated such as parables, figures of speech, metaphors, etc.  This method means that we are to understand the text by taking into account the background, culture, grammar and the target audience.

Historical Interpretation:

This means that when reading the Word of God, we must put into perspective the thoughts and/or attitudes of the people at the time of the writing.  We have to understand the message as the target audience would have understood it.  The target audience at the time of the writing do not think and feel like we do in our western, 21st century culture.  We cannot apply our way of thinking.

Grammatical Interpretation:

This simply means that the words used in Scripture are to be understood as it would have been comprehended by the target audience in the original language at the time written.

Not unlike any other book that we read, we apply these standards if we are to understand the author’s intent.  If we were to pick up a book written in the 18th century, the author’s target audience does not think nor have the same culture as we do today and that is understood by us 21st century folks who read a book from the 18th century.  We would not try and understand a book written 200 years ago by filtering it through our our 21st century western culture and thought process.

Fortunately in this age of technology, we have available at our fingertips means to understand the culture of biblical times.  The phrase “what this means to me” should not be used in understanding the Bible.  Rather, we should ask “what is God’s intent with this passage?”  God’s intent will never change but if we were to ask 10 different people what a particular passage means to them, likely we will get very different answers to the same passage.

The outlandish teachings and behavior that has spread through Christianity would cease if we did not treat the Word of God like it has hidden meaning that must be uncovered by some really bizarre methods of interpretation.

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  1. Margaret

    Tishrei,

    Thank you for posting this much needed instruction…. There are so many false preachers around using mass media techniques to spread their falsehoods…. It is their intent to take people away from the truths of God’s word….. Throughout scripture, we read how they are bringing down an awful judgment upon themselves…. Either they are unaware of the punishments they will receive, or they don’t care because of their innate unbelief.

    We can thank God that His word is eternal…. It’s here for all who humbly turn to the Lord with their whole heart. :)

    1. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      I was reading a book by John MacArthur. Anyway, one of the things he said in his book as an illustration was an email or phone call he received (I don’t remember which). What the woman said to him was to “put down his bible and quit reading it and instead listen to the Holy Spirit.” Wow, can you imagine that? If someone said that to me, I’d probably choke as I wouldn’t know how to respond.

      1. Margaret

        Tishrei,

        I’ve come across that very same “sentiment” on the Internet….. It was actually vehemently stated, with very similar words…. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from this person, who claims to be very spiritual and have a close relationship with the Lord…. I don’t think they know “who” they are actually being “close” to, as they much prefer listening to their own imaginations, rather than the word of God Almighty.

        I seem to be considered a stubborn prude now for proclaiming the vital importance of listening to and studying the word of God….. But, that’s okay…. God’s word is the truth we all need to guide us through this life….. We are so blessed in having His eternal word.

  2. liz

    Hi Tishrei,

    wow it has been a long time but thank you for your comforting words I will pray for you that God leads and guides you in your situation.

    I like this post.

    I have neglected my blog also for a time, I am not a good writer but I have been able to express myself and am enjoying my new photography blog. Feel free to check it out…http://liz-artandphotography.blogspot.com/

    well stay in touch.

    Liz

  3. JS Park

    Can I put this up as a link in my blog? (as a guest post or otherwise). I agree with everything you said here and believe this is crucial in excavating biblical truth.

    1. Tishrei

      Oh sure. I think if more people did not go outside the bounds of how we read any other book and look for some hidden meaning, then Christianity would not have so many strange teachings.

      p.s. I’m enjoying your blog. Just discovered it today.

  4. Bible Study

    We must indeed take the word of God as “face” value. If we seek to take it any other way, we will be led astray. I agree that parables and such have a metaphoric message and are intended to be taken with spiritual intent. I believe there are many who try to twist the word for their own justification, not taking it at “face” value.

  1. guest post: How To Read The Bible. « Struggling Pastors

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