The Bible is an ancient and complex book, yet it is God’s revelation to us. How can we be sure to interpret it correctly? Pastor Mark Driscoll explains seven key principles of biblical interpretation in this third installment of his blog series, which provides a guided tour of topics such as what is the Bible, where the Bible came from, and misconceptions about the Bible.
Interpreting the Bible is so much fun that theologians came up with a word to describe the entire field of study: hermeneutics.
The work may sound difficult—and it often is, when we encounter a challenging verse, passage or doctrine—but there are a few key principles of hermeneutics that can make anyone’s Bible reading a more fruitful endeavor.
1. Listen for the truth.
It used to be that the first thing you’d want to know when it came to interpreting the Bible was context. I’m going to put that second, because in our day, the first thing you have to understand has to do with truth.
If we fall into one trap of postmodern thinking, “truth” is no longer objective and, as a result, authors are no longer to be taken at their word. Truth, in this sense, becomes whatever we want to make it; in other words, relativism.
As far as the Bible is concerned, truth is what corresponds to reality. Biblical authors, and the God who inspired them, never intended for readers to twist the Scriptures into pretzels that suited them. Instead, they had a very specific meaning they wanted us to grasp.
This is crucial to recognize because Scripture is God’s revelation of himself to us. Revelation is about getting to know God, so it is essential that we understand the truth of what God is revealing to us in order to know him truly.
2. Understand the context.
Context is a very important part of interpretation.
First, there is the original context and cultural setting of the Bible. It’s important to have some understanding of this so we can grapple with passages and apply them meaningfully to our lives today.
Second, there’s the immediate context of a passage. Sometimes we read a single verse in isolation, forgetting that it has an immediate context: It is part of a flow of ideas before and after it.
It is essential that we understand the truth of what God is revealing to us in order to know him truly.
Furthermore, each word is part of a sentence, which is part of an argument, which is part of a book or letter. Each book of Scripture is also written within a specific genre, and exists within the larger context of the Old Testament or New Testament, as well as within Scripture as a whole.
This leads to the next principle.