By Pastor Doug Pretorius
1. First, understand that it is the Word of God.
- If you understand the Bible to be mere moral wisdom, then you will interpret it like any other time-tested classic literature.
- If, however, you understand that it is God speaking to us, then you will interpret it differently.
- But, what does it mean, God speaking to us?
- Not necessarily God’s audible voice transcribed by a human being.
- Instead, it is a variety of authors in a variety of circumstances in a variety of places over a vast time period who wrote down their experiences, knowledge, and understandings of God.
- The church in its collective wisdom decided which books and authors wrote what is true and authentic about God and excluded all those books which did not meet that criteria.
- Thus we understand the process was guided and directed by the Spirit of God and therefore utterly reliable and authoritative for all faith, teachings, and life.
2. Second, read it, read it, read it.
- When studying any particular passage, read it several times.
- Read it in different translations.
- A good resource for looking at multiple translations is BibleGateway.com.
- Read what comes before it and what comes after it.
- As you read it apply all the rules and understandings that you bring to any other book, so that you can understand what is being said.
- You know that you will have been able to accomplish this when you can summarize the passage.
3. Third, read it for the plain meaning of the text.
- This means to read it as the original hearers would have heard it.
- Start with whatever knowledge of original author, audience, and context that you already know.
- Dig for more information.
- Commentaries are helpful.
- One easily accessible resource is EnterTheBible.org.
- DON’T stretch the meaning of the text to unusual or highly subjective interpretations.
- DON’T look for codes or hidden meaning. (The one exception to that is apocalyptic texts.)
- Interpret passages according to their type so that poetry is read as poetry, history is read as history, parables are parables, etc. For example, parables are not historically factual stories, but stories that bend or twist reality in an unusual way so that we look at the reality being discussed newly.
4. Fourth, recognize what shows forth Christ.
- The whole of the Bible points to Jesus Christ and his saving message to us.
- Lutherans are Jesus people and the Bible is a Jesus book.
- We worship Jesus, not the Bible.
5. Fifth, scripture interprets scripture.
- Individual scripture passages (some difficult, even contradictory) are interpreted in the light of the whole Bible’s central message and themes.
- We avoid isolating passages as proof texts.
- Some scripture is more important than other scripture.
- The plain meaning of the text – scripture is understood in the sense that would seem obvious to their original readers. It respects their context and how they would have heard and experienced the passage.
6. Sixth, look for both law and gospel.
- Look for messages throughout the Bible of both law (that which accuses and judges us; commandments) and gospel (that which comforts and saves us; promises).
- Texts may function as either or both.
7. Seventh, seek public interpretation.
- Passages should first seek the public meaning of the text – what it would mean to all people.
- Listening to folks from cultures and generations other than our own ensures that our sense of public is not too narrow.
- Then we can ask what it means for us – consistent with what it means for everyone.
Enjoyed this resource by Pastor Doug? Please also read his Top 10 Ways to Hear God.