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5 Steps For Studying and Not Misinterpreting the Bible


Misinterpreting the Bible

If you’re ready to get more serious about studying and don’t want to make the mistake of misinterpreting the Bible, here are five steps you absolutely MUST take.


One of the biggest mistakes well-intended Christians make is reading the Bible and then misinterpreting scripture.


But hey, we all do it, and no one has perfect theology.


At times, the Bible is not always crystal clear on specific subjects. In other cases, it’s not the Bible but how our English translations are wording something.


You’re probably reading this article because you’re ready to take your studies to a new level but are having some difficulties.


Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m not even sure if I’m doing it right. Is there even a “right” way? What exactly is this scripture saying? I’m having trouble understanding what I’m reading!”


But even though you’re struggling, you might have one of these goals:


  • You want to read the whole Bible through and study things that catch your eye

  • You want to explore one book from the Bible

  • You want to pick a topic and research it in the scriptures

  • You want to understand one verse or chapter


All of these are great! If our goal is to study the Bible as opposed to just reading it, here are the five steps you must take to get a better understanding.


Assuming that you have already read your verse(s), start here:


Step 1: Find out what the text means to the original audience.


You should know that every verse you read has an author behind it who had a meaning for the people living in the day it was written.


In fact, the authors were not thinking of us when they wrote. We wouldn’t come on the scene for thousands of years later.


Of course, this doesn’t mean that the verses are not “for us” in any way, as we’ll find out later.


But it’s crucial for you to understand the original meaning from the original author to the original audience.


After you read, go back and read again. Really observe the words and see what’s going on. What is God telling them to do? How is Jesus encouraging those people?


You can catch the meaning for the Biblical audience in two ways: 1) Get the context by reading the surrounding verses, and 2) Reading commentaries.


Step 2: See the differences between that original audience and us.


Take some time to see how your current environment in life differs from the people the verses concern.


Culture, language, and time differences separate us from them. What are they, and how are they significant to your understanding of the passage?


Depending on what you’re reading, there might be more or less differences.


You can do this by intensely observing the verses more.


Jesus told the disciples that when they would see the “abomination of desolation standing in the holy place,” they should flee to the mountains and come down from their housetops. (Matt. 24:15-17)


That might be hard to understand if you’re reading it for the first time. But if you look at the differences between their culture and ours, it might help a bit.


For example, we can’t flee to the mountains of Judea, and nobody in my neighborhood just chills on their housetops.


But in their day, they could flee to the mountains of Judea, and they did relax on their rooftops as a way to beat the heat and get off of their dirt floors.


Understanding these little differences can go a long way in unlocking the true meaning of a text.


Step 3: Discover any principles that might exist.


A principle is usually described in the theological world as a lesson, rule, or way of living that can be derived from the text and applied to the original audience and us.


There are requirements to what a true principle can and cannot be. But for this step, focus on gathering the principle(s) that seem to exist and listening to the Spirit of the text.


What was the lesson in this scripture that could also apply to me? Is there a rule here I should follow, as well?


Now, I personally don’t believe that principles exist within everything you’ll read. Some scriptures can only be applied to the original audience.


The Bible is not always an abstract painting where we must figure out the “hidden meanings.” Sometimes, it’s just telling you what happened.


Therefore, if you’re struggling to see a principle in what you’re reading, don’t stress it.


You might see a lesson, rule, or way of living in your text, but it doesn’t seem to apply to us today. That’s OK. You’ve learned the original meaning, and that’s enough.


IMPORTANT: Every scripture fits into the overall story of your relationship with God and how you got to where you are today in Him.


But not every scripture is applicable to your life in the sense that it’s teaching you a way to live today. You can always learn something from it, but you can’t always apply it.


Don’t let this information scare you. Again, just focus on gathering the principle, even if it turns out there isn’t actually one (we’ll know for sure with the next step).


But if you don’t believe you can apply anything to your life from the scripture you’re reading, skip Step 4 and go on to Step 5.


Here’s an example of getting a principle:


We all know the story of Peter walking on the water and sinking because he gets his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the crashing waves.


The principle is simple: Peter should have had more faith and kept his eyes on Jesus.


For me, when I have to step out in faith in situations in my life, I should also have more faith and keep my eyes on Him, or I could also sink metaphorically.


Step 4: Test your principles.


Some “principles” Christians derive from scripture aren’t good and do more harm to the Gospel message. A principle is not just anything we can create out of the text.


I once heard someone teach on Acts 10:9-16, where God showed Peter a vision of unclean animals. God told Peter to eat them because they are now clean in the New Covenant.


The teacher said the “principle” was that God has now made homosexuality clean, and people who practice it are now clean, so we should accept it.


This is an example of a wrong principle. The passage is not teaching that.


To avoid this, let's regroup a bit.


So, you’ve read a passage carefully and figured out the original meaning. You’ve seen the differences that exist between their culture and yours.


You also feel that you’ve extracted a principle from the passage - something it might teach “between the lines” that we should all apply to our lives.


Here is how you can know for sure that this principle is genuine:


  1. Ask, “Is the principle clearly laid out in the New Covenant?” If the answer is no, there is no Biblical evidence that your principle is genuine.

  2. Ask, “Is the principle contradicted in the New Covenant?” If the answer is yes, then it is definitely not a genuine principle.


In the above example about unclean animals and homosexuality, the “principle” is not correct because that idea is not clearly laid out in the New Covenant.


But it’s also contradicted, according to Romans 1 and elsewhere. So, there is clear evidence of this being a wrong principle.


Notice how both questions revolve around the New Covenant. Anything we believe should be filtered through this new way of doing things.


There were old laws, rules, and ways of life in the Old Covenant under the Mosaic Law that don’t apply to us anymore because Jesus died on the cross.


This is the covenant we’re under, so we should know it like the back of our hand.


Step 4 is about seeing if the rest of scripture adds perception and allowance to your principle. It passes the test if it’s clearly laid out in the New Covenant and is not contradicted.


Step 5: Ponder ways to practice the principle and/or meditate on what you’ve learned.


If you had a principle and it passed the test, what practical ways can you apply it to your life?


A principle you might obtain from the story of David and Goliath is that God will give you victory over seemingly impossible enemies and situations in your life.


How can you apply that? The next time you encounter a daunting circumstance, do as David did and trust in the LORD. Have confidence that you will overcome.


You also might see that to have more trust in God requires more time in His Word. So, there could be multiple applications of a principle.


If you didn’t get a principle from your text, just grasp what you’ve learned and how it fits into your overall journey with God.


Maybe you’re reading through your Bible and just finished Leviticus 11, which tells the Israelites not to eat unclean animals.


What did you learn, and how does it fit? You’ve learned that God gave them specific guidelines about what they can eat.


If you continue reading the Bible, you’ll also learn that this command has ended (again, Acts 10) and that it was a law for specific people at a particular time.


This is how things were for the people of God in the past, but now, things are better for you and me.


It might not apply to you, but you have learned to appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus and what it accomplished - you are no longer required to keep this old law and are righteous based on faith.


Conclusion


Follow these five steps to go deeper in your understanding of scripture and get the answers you seek.


If you feel like these instructions were too advanced or would like more help, get my book in the link below:


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