Proper interpretation and understanding of the Bible requires three basic tools;
- Understanding of biblical context,
- Understanding of historical context, and
- Understanding of original languages.
The Rule of Context is
In order to understand scripture we must always take the context of scripture into account.
- What was the author saying in the whole chapter, the whole book?
- Who was he talking to?
There once was a man who wanted to know God’s will in his life, so he randomly opened his Bible. It fell to the scripture where Judas killed himself.
Wondering what this meant for him, he randomly opened his Bible again. This time it fell open to the scripture where Jesus says;
“...Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37)
Was this God telling him to kill himself? Of course not.
You must take scripture in its context. You CAN NOT take a verse here and a verse there and put them together to form a doctrine. This is mis-handling of the Word of God.
God tells some people to do things He doesn’t want everyone to do.
For example, all believers are not to go preach to Nineveh as Jonah was told to do.
Or build a large boat and gather a bunch of animals onto it.
Or lay in the middle of the city, naked, eating nothing but bread and not talking for an entire year like Ezekiel was told to.
We must pay attention to who each scripture was written to and why. The moral lessons taught in every scripture can be applied to our lives, but the fact of the scripture applies to who it was written to.
The second rule of biblical interpretation requires we see what was happening in history.
For example, when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh (the capital of the Assyrian empire), it was because the Ninavites were very cruel conquerors of the entire region. They would cut the heads off of the leaders of each city-state they conquered and often torture the inhabitants.
God was fed up, so He sent Jonah to warn them to change their ways or else.
Of course we know that it worked; they repented and God spared the city. Well, for a while anyway. History tells us that the city relapsed into its old ways and was destroyed for its cruelty a generation or so later.
We must understand the history surrounding an event to truly understand what the Bible is telling us.
The third tool we need to really understand the Bible is a knowledge of original languages. This is not so hard as it used to be.
Any Internet-connected computer has access to a Strong’s Concordance (and they are available in book-form from any book seller for as little as $10.00).
A concordance is a list of each word in the Bible and its location AND its definition in the original language. You simply look up the words in a verse and see what the original author meant.
The Concordance A concordance is an assemblage of every word in the Bible in alphabetical order with all of its locations. The Strong's concordance also links you to the original Hebrew or Greek word and gives the definition of that word. This better allows you to know what the author really meant when he wrote that scripture.
Let's say we want to know where the verse "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but shall have ever lasting life" is found.
First we will pick a word to look up- “world.” In the alphabetical listing we find that the word "world" is listed 249 times. This means that in 249 verses the translators translated a Greek or Hebrew word to mean "world."
Forty-six of these are in the Old Testament. In the 203 New Testament occurrences, three different Greek words (represented by three different numbers; 165, 2889, and 3625) were translated into the word "world."
By reading the part of each verse listed we find that the one we want is John 3:16.
“World” in this verse is number 2889. We turn to the Greek Lexicon in the back and find that this "world" is κόσμος or in the English alphabet; kosmos. It means:
- The world, the universe
- The circle of the earth, the earth
3. The inhabitants of the earth, men, the human family
4. The ungodly multitude; the whole mass of men alienated from God, and therefore hostile to the cause of Christ
5. World affairs, the aggregate of things earthly
- The whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ
6. Any aggregate or general collection of particulars of any sort
- The Gentiles as contrasted to the Jews (Rom. 11:12 etc)
- Of believers only, John 1:29; 3:16; 3:17; 6:33; 12:47 1 Cor. 4:9; 2 Cor. 5:19
Thompson Chain Reference Bible
This is the Bible required by many Bible colleges. It is King James.
Down the sides of each page are two columns with numbers and scriptures. The scriptures take you to other scriptures on the same subject as the adjoining verses. The numbers take you to a supplement in the back that lists scriptures by subjects. These numbers correspond to the numbers in the Strong's concordance. Before this supplement is a Table Of Contents that lists all the different subjects so you can look up whichever one you need.
The Thompson Chain also has:
- A concordance (not as complete as Strong's, of course),
- Charts about the life of Christ and other prominent Bible characters,
- Summaries of each book in the Bible,
- And an archaeological supplement.
(No longer in print, but there are several similar Study Bibles out there)
In the front of it is a very good dictionary with scripture references.
In the back, the concordance also gives a definition.
It also has:
- In-verse definitions.
- “The Life of ….” outline pages.
- A chart of tables and measures,
- A timeline and synopsis of each book,
- And chapter, maps, and other helps.
(Cambridge is one brand)
These Bibles have a column down the middle of the page with small numbers or letters followed by definitions of words in the corresponding scripture and sometimes other verses on the same subjects.
This is a dictionary specific to giving you the Biblical definitions of words and terms.
This is a Bible that has more than one translation in the same book. It will have one translation in one column and another right next to that. These are good for Bible studies to see how each translation words each verse.
They have from two to twelve different versions. (A great online comparative Bible is Here. It has many different version, commentaries and Strong's all in one place.)
This is a book of maps, pictures and information about the biblical region of the world (modern day Palestine).
They usually have different maps of the same area marked for different time periods. For example, one map may be marked for the travels Moses and the next for Joshua’s, while a later one is marked for Christ and another for Paul.
Remember that commentaries and all these helps, as well as the Internet, are written by human beings.
They are fallible.
They may help us understand the Bible or they may confuse us, or even lead us into lies.
Use them carefully and always check EVERYTHING out with the Bible itself.
EVERY Christian should read the entire Bible, cover to cover, at least three times before reading any commentaries and frequently thereafter (I try to read it through every year).
This applies to the Internet also. In fact, this may even be true for listening to preachers on the radio who are not your pastor.
It is important to be well founded in what really is in the Bible before you listen to humans.