I. How To Understand The Bible: Interpretation

“Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15

One thing I often hear about personal Bible reading is, “pastor, the Bible is too hard for me to understand on my own!” If you have ever thought this, you are not alone. I also know that everyone can become a comfortable, confident and knowledgeable Bible reader. All you have to know is a few principles to help you read the Bible for all its worth. In the next few weeks I will present some of the principles that will help you interpret the Bible correctly.

The first thing to remember is that every Bible reader is an interpreter. When anybody reads the Bible, he/she brings their own background, knowledge and abilities to help interpret or hinder interpretation. However, we need to be sure that we do not bring a new meaning with us to the text. This is called eisegesis, which tries to force a new meaning onto the text that is not intended. We want to avoid eisegesis! To be sure, the Bible is for us, but it originally had a meaning for the first hearers. In order to interpret the Bible correctly, we need to discover the original meaning. This is called exegesis, which allows the text’s own meaning to be interpreted without our own modern biases getting in the way. Once the original meaning is discovered, the principles and truths of the text can be applied to our lives today. The applying of Biblical principles to contemporary life is called hermeneutics. A pastor’s sermons and Bible studies are the fruits of this process of exegesis and hermeneutics.

So as we read the Bible ourselves, we first want to constantly ask ourselves what the text meant to the original hearers. This is why study Bibles with notes are so helpful. Many times the notes will explain the historical context and the original meaning for us. The second thing we want to ask ourselves is, what are the principles we discovered in the original meaning and how can we apply those principles to our lives today.

Here is an example of correct (exegesis) and incorrect (eisegesis) interpretation of a Bible passage. Take the following passage from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Eisegesis would seek to only apply human experience to the text. So if I am a high school football player and I just scored the winning touchdown against insurmountable odds, I might shout into the crowd of cheering fans, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” So a pastor who uses eisegesis might have a sermon on the triumph of the human will in the name of Christ.

Exegesis would seek to find out St. Paul’s context for writing these words. In so doing, one would find that Paul was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting execution, and thinking about the first church he planted on the European continent in Philippi when he wrote those words. He had sacrificed everything to plant churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). Paul had “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” His secret strength was not found in material things and fluctuating circumstances, but in the firm foundation of Christ alone. So a pastor who uses exegesis might have a sermon on being content in Christ and not in the world, and when we lose everything on earth, we still have everything in Christ by faith.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel