How Can A Person Understand And Interpret The Bible?


This question is one of the most difficult and divisive topics that Christians and non-Christians have to deal with when they try to communicate regarding the bible, what it means and who truly knows how to decipher it's meaning.

When this question comes up, non-Christians are quick to offer the tenets of their own belief system when they offer statements such as: "The Bible has been translated so many times over the centuries that no one can say for sure that the writings we have now are anything like what was originally written." I'm familiar with this argument, it was one of my favorites and I emphatically expressed it when I had the unfortunate experience of bumping into a "Bible Thumper" who wanted to convert me.

Back in 1981, during one such "Bible Thumper" encounter, I was challenged to support my anti-Bible belief statement. I said, "How am I supposed to do that? The same lack of documentation that limits your ability to prove the Bible, limits my ability to disprove it." He said, "At least you are honest but you were so adamant in the statement of your position I thought maybe you had some bit of evidence to support your view." He went on to say, "You might be interested in knowing that your position isn't new and if you're willing, I can direct you towards evidence that might cause you to rethink your position." Even though I dreaded the thought of being proved wrong, his words seemed innocuous enough. I had no sense that I was being bullied. I told him I might be interested in seeing such evidence.

In the past, my adamant declarations had a way of disarming most Christians, (at least that was my impression), but this fellow was different. No one had ever taken time to tell me of the existence of evidence that could refute the script that I had so repetitiously rehearsed. The thoughtful response of this fellow definitely had my attention.

I asked him for examples of such evidence and he told me about a book written by Josh McDowell entitled, "Evidence that Demands a Verdict." I learned that the writer of this book had set out to disprove the veracity of the Bible and after a significant amount of effort came to the opposite conclusion. He concluded that the Bible was a supernaturally preserved collection of divinely inspired writings. The writer became a Christian and he uses his story to convince others regarding the veracity of the Bible.

I was told of another example, a person who had set out to to the same thing Josh McDowell was attempting to do. His name was Simon Greenleaf.

Simon Greenleaf was one of the principle founders of the Harvard Law School. He originally set out to disprove the biblical testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was certain that a careful examination of the internal witness of the Gospels would dispel all the myths at the heart of Christianity. But this legal scholar came to the conclusion that the witnesses were reliable, and that the resurrection did in fact happen.

Simon Greenleaf became a Christian. A copy of an article written by him is posted on this website.

Anyway, my 1981 "Bible Thumper" encounter served as the catalyst which led me to the life changing decision to believe in the divinity and truthfulness of the Man, Jesus Christ. I believe He really did live and approximately 2000 years ago He came into the world to show us what the Father is like and to show us what really matters in life. He came to show us what this life is about and to tell us why we're here. He met the greatest need of man by giving Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of mankind.

Now back to the original topic of: 

How Can A Person Understand And Interpret The Bible?

The answer that is offered on this page is a summarized version of the answer most frequently given by Pastors, Bible Scholars and Theologians.

To begin with, Christians adamantly declare that the Word of God, (the Bible), is the final authority on every issue confronting man. The core, fundamental component of every challenge in life whether, internal, external, personal or relational, will find it's best answer in the Word of God.

Pastors, Bible Scholars and Theologians recognize the that God's Word is the single best source information regarding the most important questions of life.

One of the most important principals necessary in understanding and interpreting the Word of God, is that every idea or principal must be consistent with the theme of the Word of God in it's entirety. To understand and interpreting the Word of God accurately, one must make certain that the interpretation of the individual section is consistent with the theme and teaching of the “whole counsel of God.”

Allow me to clarify:

It is a common source of misunderstanding for people to take one particular verse and build a belief system upon it. This is not how one is to “rightly divide the word of truth.” Someone once said, “If you torture the Word of God long enough, you can get it to say whatever you want.”

Consider the following quotes are from the “Westminster Confession of Faith”.

“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

This portion of the “Westminster Confession of Faith,” provides the basis for the manner in which one should seek to understand scripture.

Consider the following passage from the bible:

2 Timothy 2:14-15
14    Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.
15    Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We are told that we should not strive, (wrangle, dispute, struggle, argue, and bicker) regarding words but rather we should be diligent to learn how to rightly divide the word of truth. To rightly divide the word of truth, one has to be familiar with the word of truth. To be familiar with the word of truth, we have to spend time studying God's Word as a whole, not just sections.

To illustrate the importance of using the whole counsel of God to interpret scripture, I offer the following as an example of incorrectly interpreting scripture.

In John 3: 3 we find a verse that most Christians are familiar with.
John 3:3
3    Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

People involved in new age, occult and other mystical belief systems offer this verse as a proof text for their belief in reincarnation. This verse has nothing to do with the subject of reincarnation but what can I offer as proof for my position? If we read further in the same chapter, we learn that the verse speaks of the fact that every person is born into this world physically and that we must be born of the spirit if we are to perceive the reality of the kingdom of God.

When we look through God's Word we find several verses dealing with the subject of being born again and we are never told that the term has anything to do with reincarnation.

1 Peter 1:22-23
22    Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the Brethren, love one
another fervently with a pure heart,
23    having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides
forever . . .

John 1:11-13
12    but as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
13    who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

1 John 2:28-29
29    If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.

Each of these verses speaks of being born again, born of God or Born of the Spirit, and not one of the verses make any reference to the subject of reincarnation and if we search the bible diligently we find other verses that make it absolutely clear that reincarnation is not a possibility. Man dies once and then he stands in the presence of God.

Hebrews 9:27
27    and as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment . . .

I apologize for laboring this point but it is important that you understand this principal as you seek to understand the Bible. It is from the perspective, the whole counsel of God, that I will offer answers to the questions you have presented.