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8 Keys to Understanding Scripture

August 23, 2010

Here are few guidelines for reading Scripture and understanding what you’re reading;

1) Read with Eyes of Faith
Your approach to scripture will determine your understanding. While you can gain head knowledge by reading Scripture, your heart will only hear if God speaks to you. You are reading the Word of God. Be serious about it. And read with faith, as well as your mind.

2) Read with a Plan
While it’s enjoyable to just open your Bible and begin reading where the pages fall open, you wouldn’t read a novel that way. Have a plan and read through the Scriptures. I recommend that you read it through without any other aids. Then look at the commentaries, and read it though again looking at the details. I like reading the New Living Translation without any notes, then I read it again with my study Bible,The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (NIV), and NASB .

3) Look for the Original Meaning
a critical key to properly understanding what a passage might say to you is to first understand what the passage said to its original readers. You need to understand the writer, the intended reader, the situation, and the culture.

To understand the original meaning, you’ll need to be sympathetic with author. If you read looking to find fault, you’ll only be frustrated.

To read for the original meaning also you may need to look up some words, or check a cultural commentary. Checking other translations is sometimes helpful. A little homework goes a long way.

4) Interpret the Vague by the Clear
Interpret the more difficult or vague passages by the clear passages. For example, if one passage could mean a, or b, or c; and another passage clearly means b, then it’s very likely thath the first passage should be interpreted as b. To find the comparative passages sometimes means studying a little theology or doing some topical studies. Looking for common words in a concordance is usually too specific to find the comparative passages.

As a rule, the Old Testament is interpreted or explained, and fulfilled by the Gospels and Acts. The Epistles in turn interpret or explain what happened in the gospels and Acts. So to understand what something means you can look to an epistle for the explanation.

5) Read within the Genre
The Bible is a collection of several types of writing. Reading poetry is different than reading history, or reading a letter. It takes some study, but learning to see the key elements of the different genres of literature in Scripture makes reading more enlightening. For example, reading a Pauline epistle means looking for his distinctive style of developing an argument. Reading poetry means looking for the parallelisms, imagery, repeated phrases, and inclusios (opening and closing phrases). Reading history means looking for the hand of God within the course of events.

6) Read from the Context in
Reading snippets of Scripture and looking for meaning is about as effective as watching the evening local news and understanding the Intricacies of world politics. To understand a passage, you must first see how that passage fits into the life of the writer, the book, the chapter. Understanding the book will clear up many confusing passages within the book. One aspect of the context that’s often overlooked is the paragraph structure, sentence structure, and construction of arguments within a book of the Bible. Reading a verse out of the grammatical context is a very common error.

7) Look for Redemptive History
The ultimate scriptural context (rule #6) is God redeeming His people.
Remember as you read that all of Scripture is about Christ. He’s what the Old Testament is looking toward, and what the NT is demonstrating. And the cool thing about reading for redemptive history is that it’s like watching a taped ball game – you already know the final score. Regardless of how desperate the present may seem, Christ is already victorious.

8) Trust the Sufficiency of Scripture
e thought, and heard others say, “If only the Bible addressed topic (fill in the blank) more clearly, or with more detail”. It’s a faulty wish and a wrong question. God’s word is exactly as God intended it to be.

My grace is sufficient for you – 2 Corinthians 2:19

That God has given us His word is an act of grace. Is there any chance that God’s grace is incomplete or lacking?

Warning Signs
It’s easy to lose your way when reading Scripture. Here’s few signs that you may be headed in the wrong direction.

  • If your interpretation is a completely new revelation that no-one else has ever understood then you’re probably off base. God didn’t wait around for you to reveal Himself to the church.
  • If your interpretation doesn’t lead you toward worshiping God then you’ve gotten it wrong, because worshiping God is the primary purpose.
  • If you’re trying to determine the date of Christ’s Second Coming – You’re already wrong.
  • If your interpretation contradicts the wisest students of scripture, you may be right, but probably not.
  • If your interpretation leads you away from Christ as the central theme of Scripture, away from grace as the primary message of Christ, then you’re in the swampland of thinking.
  • If you’re finding lots of contradictions in scripture, then you’re misunderstanding the whole thing.
  • If you’re trying to read Scripture without a submissive spirit or without asking God to teach you, you will become frustrated and confused.
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