The first course I studied in Bible college was hermeneutics (Methodical Bible Study). It was a mandatory course that lasted two semesters and had to be completed before students could proceed to other study areas – a wise decision by the college. It prepared students for everything else that would come during their education. I was a relatively young Christian, having recently come out of atheism, so I needed to understand the hard work that would be necessary to spend the rest of my life rightly dividing the Word of Truth. Methodical-inductive Bible study takes a tremendous amount of time and discipline, but the results are beyond explanation. It’s so important that we know why we believe something and be able to explain that to someone else so they can understand it and apply the Truth of God’s Word to their life.
The Second Step of Interpretation
The second step of interpretation is finding answers and reasons for the questions we’ve asked. You’ve chosen a portion of Scripture to study, preferably at the beginning of a Book of the Bible (e.g. Mark 1:1; Romans 1:1). You’ve carefully looked at everything in the verse(s) and written all of your observations. You’ve looked at all your observations and asked every question you can think of that needs to be answered.
Questions to Ask
Terms – the definition of each word … the significance of the grammatical structure
Form – the literary form used by the writer (e.g. history, poetry, parable, psalm, proverb)
Tone – the atmospheric tone used by the writer (e.g. joyful, sad, serious, urgent)
Rationale – the why questions
It’s important to remember the spiritual aspect of Bible study –
“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:10-16
We need to remember that the writing of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. He searches all things, including the deep things of God. Isn’t that what we want to know from studying the Bible – the “deep things” of God? Paul taught and wrote those things the Holy Spirit taught him, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. The work of rightly dividing the Word of Truth is not a natural thing to do and it is something the natural man cannot do. Only spiritual can interpret spiritual.
When we study spiritually – attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit – we will find that Truth is often obvious. God is not trying to trick or fool people. God Speaks openly and clearly. The correct interpretation of a passage of Scripture is usually the obvious interpretation. You might call it “spiritual common sense.”
Because we are human beings and the people who the Holy Spirit inspired to write the Bible were human beings, we can understand the meaning of Scripture from a human as well as Divine perspective. Writers like Mark, Luke, Peter and Paul gave readers their human perspective of Truth even as they shared God’s View. We learn so much through their human experiences. We understand what it’s like to be human and filled with joy or overcome by grief. It is more difficult to understand what it’s like to be God, so God sent His Only Son Who became both human and Divine to die for our sins and help us bridge the gap in understanding the “deep things of God.” As John reminds us – “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus Christ is the Word of God – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”(John 1:1-4)
These methods of interpretation are subjective. In the next part of our study we will look at those methods that are objective.
Also, read our companion study about trusting God’s Word.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”