Misunderstandings stink. I once got cussed out on the phone because of one.
The guy who did the cussing thought I’d scheduled an event on a certain date in order to purposely exclude him from attending. Well, he had misunderstood, and I wish he’d asked more questions before jumping to conclusions.
If he’d asked, I could have given more information (for example, I had no idea this fellow was unavailable on the proposed date, and I primarily chose the date to avoid conflicts with other events).
It is possible to misunderstand the Bible, but with careful interpretation it’s also possible to rightly understand it. God’s Word is a Knowable Word.
These three steps will help you to interpret any passage of the Bible.
If you’ve observed well, you’re ready to interpret.
Take your observations and ask questions of them. Lots of questions. Tackle those observations from every direction.
Be as inquisitive as possible. Get better at asking questions, and you’ll get better at interpreting the Bible.
Note that your questions should be about your observations of the text. Don’t ask just any old questions. Don’t feel the need to be particularly clever. Your job is not to innovate, but to uncover. (Note how the disciples didn’t observe well, and so asked the wrong questions in John 21:22-23.)
Once you’ve asked your questions, answer them. There’s one critical rule, though: answer questions only if they are answered (explicitly or implicitly) in the text (Prov 30:5-6).
Don’t go on rabbit trails. Don’t use minor details to make the text say what you want it to say. Don’t build a whole theology from one verse. Instead, answer only those questions that are either assumed or addressed in the text. Let the rest go.
As you answer all your questions, pull them together into a big picture. Your job is to understand the main thing the author is communicating through the passage (2 Pet 3:15-18).
Most theological disagreements among Christians take place when people focus on things other than the main points of passages. I’m not saying that theology is bad (in fact, it’s very important). I’m simply saying that it’s important to focus on the main points of the Bible and not on secondary, questionable, or implied points (Matt 23:23-24).
Missing the main point means misunderstanding the text. And misunderstandings stink.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll unpack each of these steps in greater detail.
Which of these steps seems most obvious to you? Which one is most difficult?