Introduction to the Bible: How do we Interpret it?

How do we interpret the Bible?

The Bible becomes the word of God when it interacts with human life. To understand what the word of God is saying to us today we need the interpretative tools of experience, reason, tradition and our knowledge and understanding of contemporary world affairs, culture and society.

The Bible is not a simple, uniform collection of books. Its study can easily cause confusion or disagreement. We cannot ask ‘What does the Bible say about this or that? – expecting definitive answers. The Bible doesn’t say anything, but gives us snapshots of God and God’s people so that we can work out answers for ourselves. There are three basic rules for bible study that can help greatly:

  • Respect the form. A passage could be a poem, a prayer, an account of an event, a parable, a drama, a testimony… Each brings a perspective from which the text can be read.
  • Scripture needs more scripture. That is, the whole teaching on one major issue is rarely captured completely in one passage, and it needs others to give a more rounded view. Many insights are better than one.
  • Jesus is Lord over scripture. If any teaching does not ring true to the mind of Christ as we can discern it from the New Testament, then it must give way to Christ. Jesus is God’s living Word, the revealing of God’s nature and will.

‘Come, divine Interpreter,

Bring us eyes thy book to read,

Ears the mystic words to hear,

Words which did from thee proceed,

Words that endless bliss impart,

Kept in an obedient heart.’ Charles Wesley

To read more in this series check out the Bible: the Origin and Bible: Writing and Reading

Barbara is a retired Methodist Minister.

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