How to Accurately Interpret the Bible for Yourself What It Says, What It Means, How It Applies – Man in the Mirror

187 – How to Accurately Interpret the Bible for Yourself What It Says, What It Means, How It Applies

Written by Patrick Morley

Tuesday, July 20 2010 00:00

What’s the first thing we do when you read a Bible verse? It’s the same thing we do when we look at a picture. We look for ourselves! We ask, “How does this apply to my world?”

The answer? That depends on what it meant then, and what it means now. How do we find that out?

The Bible wants to be interpreted. The purpose of this article is to equip you with a worksheet so you can take a text and…

  1. Figure out what the author originally meant,
  2. Discover the timeless message it has for us today, and
  3. Personally apply the text in order to lead a more powerful life in Christ.

Suggestion: Read the bolded parts first. That will give you the big picture. Then start over and read everything together. There’s an abbreviated example at the end.

 

 Interpretation Worksheet

 

 

 1. Meaning: What Was God Saying Then?


Each biblical writer was addressing the needs of his own generation.


The Goal: To find out what the author meant.


Questions To Ask: (selectively, not necessarily every question every time)*  

  • Who wrote, to whom, when, and why (occasion, problem, question, need, opportunity)? ____________________________________________________
  • Where does it fall in the history of redemption/revelation (i.e., didactics interpret history)? ____________________________________________________
  • What is the question/problem/situation that called this text into being?** ____________________________________________________

**From Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics in The Preacher and Preaching, p. 136.

  • What are the key words? ____________________________________________________
  • What subject is the text talking about? ____________________________________________________
  • What does the text say about the subject? ____________________________________________________
  • What other Scriptures help interpret/understand this text? (word studies***) ____________________________________________________

 ***Use Strong’s Dictionary numbers to find Greek words and definitions, also to locate same words in other verses and see how used.

  • What was the purpose of the text when written? ____________________________________________________
  • Key Question: What did the writer/Spirit want to communicate to his readers then? ____________________________________________________

*Rules For Interpretation:

  • What is the authorial intent? Everyone who writes, writes with a purpose; this is essential to understanding a text. A text only has one original meaning to its author, but can have many applications. Always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Use clear texts to understand the obscure ones; related texts enrich each other.
  • Read the Bible literally according to genre.

The 6 Main Types of Literature in the Bible:

    • Narratives. These are both historical and biographical, which, if necessary, should be interpreted by didactics.
    • Poetry. Hebrew parallelism is a dominant feature, meaning the second phrase of a verse restates, amplifies, or contrasts with the first phrase; Psalms is a primary example.
    • Prophecy. This is throughout the Old and New Testaments, but especially Isaiah through Malachi.
    • Didactics. These are normative, spiritual and ethical teachings and since they are written later in progressive revelation they are especially useful to interpret historical narratives, especially those of Jesus and the epistles.
    • Proverbs. These are axioms that are generally, but not always, true — especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
    • Parables. This is a special kind of literature to make a spiritual point by drawing from everyday situations, especially in the gospels: “Jesus did not say anything to the crowd without a parable” (Matthew 13:34).
  • Don’t interpret beyond the text. Recognize the difference between a possible, probable, and necessary meaning for words and doctrines (concepts, ideas). However, there’s a limited role for imagination and drawing inferences and, because a lot of details are left out, it’s acceptable to speculate, but keep it to a possible or probable and not a necessary interpretation (e.g., what happened between 1 Kings 11:39-40). History is not necessarily normative, so use didactics to interpret narrative (e.g., first occurrence of tongues and Holy Spirit, Acts 2:1-4, versus Ephesians 1:13).
  • The normal rules for literary devices apply. Examples: Figures of Speech (Judges 9:5 “killed all 70 sons…but Jotham escaped”), Figurative Language and Metaphor (“the door” or “drink my blood”), Hyperbole (“pluck out your eyes” or “mustard smallest seed”), Idiom (“a piece of cake” “pour out heart” “unclean lips”), Parallelism (Psalm 119:120),  Anthropomorphisms (Acts 7:50, “Has not my hand made…”), Personifications (“let the mountains sing”).

2. Message: What Does the Text Mean Today?

God always intended the Scriptures for us today (John 17:20, 2 Timothy 2:2, Matthew 28:18-20).


The Goal:
To discover the timeless message.

 

Questions To Ask:

  • What would we say is happening in today’s language (e.g., no straw but same quota = downsizing)? ____________________________________________________
  • What are the cultural (and other) similarities and differences (e.g., judicial law “gored ox”, ceremonial law “sacrifice goats”, moral law “10 Commandments”)? ____________________________________________________
  • What about this text is true for all people, in all places, at all times, in all ways? ____________________________________________________
  • What’s the unique contribution this passage makes to understanding God, ourselves, and his purposes? ____________________________________________________
  • What inferences can we draw that do no violence to original meaning? ____________________________________________________
  • Subject: Exactly what is the biblical writer talking about? ____________________________________________________
  • Complement: What is the subject saying about what it is talking about? ____________________________________________________
  • Exegetical Idea: A complete statement of the main idea presented in the passage (Subj + Comp)****
    ____________________________________________________

****(Subject, Complement, and Exegetical Idea from Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson)

  • How does this text confirm, alter, challenge, or enhance any prior understanding? ____________________________________________________
  • What is the purpose of the text today?
    ____________________________________________________
  • Key Question: What’s the timeless message the Spirit wants to communicate to his readers today? ____________________________________________________

3. Application: How Does It Apply to Us Now?

The Bible is truth, but also an urgent message that calls for a response.

The Goal: To lead a powerful life transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ

Questions To Ask:

  • What is an urgent problem screaming for immediate solution that this text addresses?
    ____________________________________________________
  • What is the unique insight and message of this text to that problem? ____________________________________________________
  • What is the application of the unique insight and message to my circumstances? ____________________________________________________
  • So what? Where and how does God want to transform my life as a disciple and Christ follower? ____________________________________________________

    How does this text call me to live “in” Christ?

______________________________________

How does this text equip me to live “like” Christ?

______________________________________

How does this text send me to live “for” Christ?

    ______________________________________

  • Now what? How will I let it change my life? What will I think, feel, say, or do differently? ____________________________________________________
  • Key Question: How does the Spirit want me to personally apply the text’s message? ____________________________________________________

Abbreviated Example

 

Text: “To this John replied, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven'” (John 3:27).

1. Meaning: What Was God Saying Then?
The Goal: To find out what the author meant.

What did the writer/Spirit want to communicate to his readers then?
John understood and accepted his God-given role

2. Message: What Does The Text Mean Today?
The Goal: To discover the timeless message.

What’s the timeless message the Spirit wants to communicate to his readers today?
God has a role that he has determined for each man (see also Ephesians 2:10, Acts 17:26-27)

3. Application: How Does It Apply To Us Now?
The Goal: To lead a powerful life transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ

How does the Spirit want me to personally apply the text’s message? (Remember: one meaning, many applications.)
1. I will find contentment when I accept my lot in life
2.
God may use ordinary men to do extraordinary things, or vice versa


Pat Morley is the Founder and CEO of Man in the Mirror.
© 2010.  Pat Morley.  All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced
for non-commercial ministry purposes with proper attribution.

Dr. Patrick Morley
After building one of Florida’s 100 largest privately held companies, in 1991, Dr. Patrick Morley founded Man in the Mirror, a non-profit organization to help men find meaning and purpose in life. Dr. Morley is the bestselling author of The Man in the Mirror, No Man Left Behind, Dad in the Mirror, and A Man’s Guide to the Spiritual Disciplines.

187 – How to Accurately Interpret the Bible for Yourself What It Says, What It Means, How It Applies – Man in the Mirror

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2 Responses to How to Accurately Interpret the Bible for Yourself What It Says, What It Means, How It Applies – Man in the Mirror

  1. Ikedi says:

    The interpretation of the bible can be done by the individual, but a teacher is always a good addition, even if the teacher is not always teachingand interpreting the way a listen may see it, just to hear the words read from the bible can be a great teaching tool.

    Fo instance many say that the bible doesn’t contradict itself, but the bible its self never made this claim it says that no

    Isaiah 34:16 (King James Version)

    16Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath

    So knowing this we know that if we find slight inconsistencies within the historical books such as Chronicles or Kings, it is because they are witnesses to the events just like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not always explain things exactly the same.

    But when we see prophecy the things said will always come to pass no matter what. Peace and keep spreading the words

    You can find out How to iinterpret the bible by doing the required studies your self

  2. Pingback: Resources for 1 Kings 11:39 - 40

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