I recently received an email from a friend about a text in the book of Daniel. It seems his friend had sent him a reference to the text to try and prove a point of theology. The only problem with this proof texting was the text had nothing to do with the issue my friend’s friend was trying to prove.
People who are trying to prove a point by seemingly grabbing texts out of mid air to prove their point is very common in Biblical discussions. With this in mind, I thought it might be appropriate to look at a few basic rules for studying the Bible.
Whenever we read the Bible we should first of all remember to whom the verses were written and the circumstances around the writing of the verses. For instance when reading through Revelation we must always remember that the text was written for Christians who were being persecuted in the first century.
It takes a bit of work to check out Encyclopedias and Biblical dictionaries as well as commentaries to understand the background to what was going on that brought about the writing of Revelation but every bit of information gleaned helps us to have a better understanding of what we are reading.
Also, as Christians, we need to be careful about proof texting. We can make a verse say just about anything we want it to but that doesn’t mean we have the right interpretation of the verse. Any verse we are studying should always be understood in context of the verses that surround it as well as the entire chapter and, in some cases, the gist of the entire book. I can’t stress this enough. If we don’t understand that a verse like 1 John 3:23 is the key to understanding the use of the term commandment in 1 John, we possibly could end up with very wrong conclusions about what John is saying. Context is important.
While talking about context I should mention that the context must come from within the verses we are reading. It is unfair to impose onto the Scripture a preconceived idea of what a verse is saying based on our view of what we think the verse should be saying.
Let us go back to 1 John 3:23 for a moment, “And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He has commanded us.” When we understand this verse as the definition of commandment in 1 John we must be careful not to impose other definitions of commandments on the text of 1 John.
If we look at 1 John 5:2 in light of 1 John 3:23 we understand what it means to obey His commandments. It means to believe in Jesus and love each other. This verse is really about grace, love, compassion, and putting God first in our life. It is absolutely not a verse about trying to keep the Ten Commandments perfectly to please God through our efforts and good works. (See also 1 John 1:9-10)
We should take the time to define our terms. I know this is not what a lot of people want to hear but it should be done. When we don’t understand the Biblical word—look it up. It is important to understand what words mean.
Let me give you a simple illustration. In Greek the words allos and heteros both are usually translated another in English. However, they have slightly different meanings. Allos literally means “another of the same type,” and heteros means “another of a different type.” This may sound like I’m being overly picky but the word used for another can have a major impact on how we understand the text.
We need to use logic when studying the Bible. Does the interpretation we give to a verse make sense? Most of us could write entire books on the wild use of verses that if the person just took the time to think through logically would never attribute to the verse.
There are other more complicated rules but these will suffice to give us a glimpse into how the Bible should be interpreted to allow it to be true to itself. I know it is a lot easier to allow a church or a trusted friend to tell us what we should think about a verse but it is more accurate to study for ourselves and seek out God’s leading concerning the verse.
I know there are people who are thinking, well with this approach you can come up with all kinds of interpretations for a verse. No. This is the reason for using rules of study (hermeneutics) so that we don’t have private interpretations of texts. (see 2 Peter 1:20)
Above all we must pray before we study and ask God for wisdom and direction in our study. And yes we should be studying our Bible’s not just reading them. If we are going to stand against error and speak boldly for God then we must have an idea of what we are talking about. Fewer and fewer Christians are studying to show themselves approved unto God (see 2 Timothy 2:15) but we must make sure we buck the trend.
“A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels; to understand a proverb, and the interpretation.” Proverbs 1:5-6