How can I arrive at an accurate understanding the Bible?
When we read the sports section of the newspaper we naturally understand what the writer of the column intended to communicate. The columnist will usually disclose the event, time, place, people involved, what happen, how it progressed, and the conclusion. In describing the action that took place, he will often employ figures of speech in order to emphasize a dramatic play or moment. For example, when a baseball player hits a ball out of the park, he will say that the batter “hit that ball to the moon.” He does NOT mean that the ball traveled all the way to the moon, but he uses hyperbole to emphasize how well the player hit the ball. This type of literary form of communication (figures of speech) is a common among people of every culture. Moreover, every culture has its own unique way of expressing itself through idiomatic language. Therefore, anyone who seeks to understand literature from another culture and time needs to be sensitive to these differences. The method of interpretation that we employ that recognizes these differences is called the Grammatical-Historical-Cultural-Contextual method. Within this methodology there are basic rules and principles that govern the interpretive process that will help guide and direct the interpreter to a proper understanding of the original author’s intent.
Because the Bible was written long ago in a foreign language and culture, it is imperative that we learn and utilize these rules and principles to avoid a distortion of the text by reading into it something that is not there or deemphasizing critical points of a passage. Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy in regards to organizing a relatively new church at Ephesus. He said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Notice that the phrase “correctly handles the word of truth” implies that there is a wrong way to handle it. Contrary to popular belief the Bible is not open for interpretation. Early on in my walk I actually bought into this fallacy. I remember going to my first home bible study with a friend from church. As I entered the room we all sat down in a circle. The moderator read a particular passage, then went around in a circle and asked each of us individually what that passage meant to us. I thought, “Wow, I can’t mess this up, because there does not seem to be any wrong answer.” Yet this is clearly not the case. According to Paul there is a right and a wrong answer. The right answer is what the original author intended to communicate and everything else, apart from his intention, is wrong. As you can see hermeneutics (the art and science of biblical interpretation) is critically important in gleaning a proper understanding of Scripture. Remember if you want to get it right, your understanding must be grounded and based in authorial intent!
Pastor Derek Greenhalgh
1.) Roy B. Zuck, “Basic Bible Interpretation”
2.) J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hays, “Grasping God's Word: Learn How to Read, Interpret, and Apply the Bible.”
3.) Henry A. Virkler, Karelynne Ayayo, “Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation,” Second Edition
4.) Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching”
5.) D.A. Carson, “Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition”