9 Tips to Help You Study and Interpret the Bible Correctly
By Jamey Escamilla • February 11, 2021
Last week, I asked this question:
“Why are there so many disagreements between Christians about scripture?”
What do you think?
I think that it’s because we’re all interpreting the scriptures differently, and we all think they say something different.
But we also learned that we can’t all be right about our beliefs from the Bible.
Again, we should all agree that the original author had one, intended meaning behind what he wrote.
He had something in mind – a message he was trying to convey when he wrote that scripture.
And THAT’S the correct interpretation of any scripture in the Bible.
So, our job in studying the Bible is to figure out what his intended meaning was.
Not to apply every scripture to our personal life and make the Bible mean whatever we want it to mean.
This week, I’m going to try to help you guys by showing you how to study a better way!
So, I’m going to give you 9 tips to help you from doing that. Let’s dive in!
1. Stay in the Biblical context
I hear it all the time from every Christian/preacher when they’re talking about scriptures:
“You have to keep this scripture in context.”
But to many, the context of a scripture is just whatever “context” that’ll make their interpretation sound more right.
It’s not good to talk about the importance of context, but then proceed to create our own context.
So, we don’t just need context – we need BIBLICAL context.
You see, context is more than just the who, what, where, when and why of a scripture.
Don’t get me wrong – we should know WHO wrote what, WHERE they wrote it, and all that.
But who cares? The question is: What are we supposed to DO with that information?
Here’s the answer: We use this information to understand the culture surrounding a scripture.
Because it’s hard to understand a culture that’s 2000-6000 years old in ancient Palestine.
I mean, do we really think they THOUGHT and SPOKE like we do in America of 2021?
Understanding Biblical context will help us understand the culture, which will help us ask good questions that will REALLY help us understand a scripture.
Why did they use THIS word in this scripture? What was going on when they wrote it? Did they use words that just don’t exist anymore, or ones that aren’t even in our English language?
What other teachings were floating around during this time? What were the politics like? What were their primary concerns in daily life?
All I’m saying is this: When you read the Bible, just know that there is a deeper context behind it.
And when we get some type of idea about the true, Biblical context, we should stay there, and form our beliefs from it.
2. Avoid surface readings
A surface reading is when we read a scripture and then interpret it based on what it SOUNDS like it’s saying to us.
It’s not studying a scripture... it’s guessing.
For example, we might read a scripture that says something like:
“The stars are going to fall from the sky, and the sun and the moon will no longer shine.”
If we do a surface reading, we’re probably going to walk away thinking that the stars are literally going to fall towards the earth.
After all, that’s what it SOUNDS like it’s saying, right?
But maybe if we study, and keep the scripture in its Biblical context, we’d find out that it means something else?
Maybe in their culture, this was a common, Jewish figure of speech, not to be taken literally?
I think this happens all the time with the Bible, because we just don’t know how to study.
We don’t want to put in the time or do the hard work.
And we’ve just kind of grown up believing that we should read the Bible, and whatever we think it means to us is the TRUE interpretation.
But we have to stop doing this.
Now, I’m not saying that when you read the Bible, you have to stop and put hours of study in on every single scripture you read.
But if you come across something that confuses or interests you, or something you think is really important, it pays to dig a little deeper.
3. Read the chapters before and after a scripture you’re looking at
This is an easy way to understand something in the Bible.
A lot of times, the previous verses, or the ones after it, will tell you what a verse means.
Or the surrounding verses will give you more information that’s crucial to know, otherwise, the verse you’re reading will be taken out of context.
We have common sense rules for reading that tell us that we wouldn’t read one part of an article or a letter and say that this one part is all we need for today.
We also wouldn’t read one part, guess what that one part means, and then walk away feeling accomplished, as if we got the true meaning of the letter.
If we did, we would walk away thinking, “Wait, there was more to this letter that I didn’t read.”
So, we shouldn’t throw normal, common-sense reading rules out the window for the Bible, either.
Simply read the surrounding verses to see what else is going on.
If it’s one of the short, New Testament epistles, like Galatians, I would say to go ahead and just read the whole letter.
4. Read commentaries for the scriptures you’re reading
Bible commentaries are just notes written by someone, usually a Bible scholar, for each scripture of the Bible.
The person who writes the commentary is just trying to tell you what HE thinks it means.
So, if you read something that you don’t understand, you can read a commentary about it, and they’ll tell you what they believe it’s saying.
Now, the commentaries aren’t always right. I’ve read plenty that I disagree with about some scriptures.
But they’re good, because a lot of what they say IS true, and it can help steer your thinking in the right direction.
The person who wrote the commentary has usually done a lot of study, so they’re trustworthy.
There are a lot of commentaries for free online.
Some commentaries I like are from Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, and John Lightfoot.
5. Read your scriptures from different Bible translations
As you know, there’s a bunch of different English Bible translations out there.
They aren’t “different Bibles”. They’re the same English Bible, just written a little differently.
They might be a little different with their grammar and words, but they’re all trying to get the main message across to you.
Sometimes, you might read something out of a New International Version (NIV) that doesn’t make sense to you.
But if you read the same scripture from a New King James Version (NKJV), it DOES make sense.
I think it’s important that you don’t just stick to one translation.
When you’re really studying, it helps to read others, because you never know…
… one translation might be more correct to the original meaning than others.
6. Read the scripture in Hebrew or Greek
No, you don’t have to be able to read, understand, and pronounce Greek and Hebrew words.
But as you know, your Bible was originally written in Greek and Hebrew.
Nobody spoke English in the Bible.
Some of the English words we have in our Bible don’t fully cover the scope of the original Greek and Hebrew words.
Most of the time, our Bibles do pretty good at conveying the message to us in English.
But other times, there are deeper meanings behind those words.
Or there is a meaning behind that word that makes more sense than our English.
For example, Luke 2:1 KJV says:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
To me, this scripture sounds a bit funny, because nobody can just tax the whole WORLD.
But the Greek word for “world” here is oikumene, which means the known, inhabited land of the Roman Empire.
In other words, Augustus was taxing the Roman Empire (their land of jurisdiction), not the world.
But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t know the Greek word BEHIND that English word.
So, go to blueletterbible.org and look at the “interlinear” of a scripture.
It’ll show you every Greek or Hebrew word in that verse, and what they actually mean.
7. Look at online resources about it
Other than commentaries and Greek words, there are tons of things online that can help you.
Many times, I’ve been stumped about a scripture.
And just reading an article about that scripture from an average Joe somewhere in Indiana has helped me understand it.
Of course, there are also YouTube videos about scriptures and topics from the Bible.
These are great people who are just trying to help you understand the Word.
It starts with just a simple Google search. Google is your best friend when studying the Bible.
You’ll find videos, articles, podcasts, PDF books, sermons, and so on.
I mean, you’ll probably get many different viewpoints about the scripture you’re researching.
But that’s a good thing.
You’ll see other viewpoints that’ll help you make your decision about what you believe.
And many resources are free!
8. Look at other scriptures that are related to the one you’re looking at
It’s called “cross referencing.”
Have you ever noticed that by some of the scriptures in your Bible, there are little letters or numbers?
On the bottom of that page, you’ll see that letter or number, and next to it will be another scripture.
That’s telling you that there is a verse that sounds like that exact one or teaches the same thing.
So, you can go to that scripture and see if it explains that verse a little more.
Sometimes, that other scripture might go into more detail about that topic you’re researching.
There might even be “parallels” to that scripture.
A parallel is the exact same story in a scripture told by ANOTHER scripture a little differently.
There are a lot of parallels in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
Something Jesus said might be recorded in Mark, but it’s a little hard to understand.
But over here in Luke, that same statement that Jesus made is recorded, but in more detail, and it’s easier to understand.
Here’s a great tool from the Open Bible that helps you cross reference scriptures.
Simply type in the verse you’re researching, and it’ll show you all the scriptures that are related to that one.
9. Read a book about the scripture or topic you’re researching
You never know, there might be a book written about that scripture that explains it.
Really, it’s not the whole scripture itself that confuses us, if that makes sense.
It’s something that is discussed in that scripture that confuses us.
So, a good idea might be to find a book about that “something” that can teach you what it means.
Usually, these books will list the scriptures that talk about that “something” and break them down.
I have TONS of books about all kinds of things that help me understand the Bible.
I have ones about doctrine, theology, Bible study, history, fiction, biographies… you name it.
It’s a good idea to read other books, because you’ll learn that there are other opinions out there.
I realize that a lot Christians are turned off to the idea of reading any book other than their Bible.
But if you ONLY read your Bible and DON’T use tools, books, or resources, what it means is this:
Whatever interpretation you come up with is just simply what you’re going to believe, and you’re not willing to see other points of view.
And this leads to a mindset that OUR view is “strictly from the Bible” and the Holy Spirit.
This isn’t good, guys.
Be open and read a book every now and then.
Read one about something you’re struggling with, and I guarantee it’ll help you.
I usually get mine used on Amazon, so they’re really cheap.
I hope these tips will help you learn your Bible more!
I KNOW they can, because they’ve helped me.
I’m curious to know: How do YOU study the Bible?
Any tips you offer would greatly help me!
Love you guys!