Scripture is not difficult to understand. You don’t need a seminary degree to interpret the Word of God. God created man with the ability to communicate through language and He has revealed himself to us in that language so that we might know Him. Even though it is not difficult to understand, it does take careful work to get it right. It requires time, thought, and discipline.
The first thing we need to remember when we approach the Word of God is that there is a right and a wrong way to interpret it. Scripture itself implies this with statements like: “rightly handling the Word of Truth”, and “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” The logical question then is, what is the correct way to interpret Scripture? Let me mention a few simple principles to guide you in your study of God’s Word.
The overarching idea to keep in mind when reading Scripture is, “What does the author mean?” The literary term for this is authorial intent. While there may be many ways to apply a verse, that application must always be based on the one correct specific interpretation of the text; the authorial intent of the text. This prevents us from twisting God’s Word to our own devices and helps us focus on what God has actually revealed about Himself and His redemptive plan in the text.
Since all Scripture is inspired by God; literally God-breathed, it stands to reason that, when trying to understand authorial intent, we let Scripture speak for itself. Take James 2:17, for example: “also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” At face value, this would seem to indicate that faith in Christ is not enough to bring salvation. However, combined with Ephesians 2:8-10, we realize that works do not save but are instead the evidence of our salvation through faith alone. This introduces the principle of context, which is how each verse relates to the verses surrounding it, to the specific book of the Bible it is in, and to the Bible as a whole. We must resist the temptation to pull out random pieces of Scripture and use them as proof texts. A good example of this is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Christ is actually condemning hypocritical, harsh judgment while approving humble judgment from someone who knows his own sinful position. Authorial intent also must take grammar and styles of writing into account. If the Bible passage is written as historical narrative, then we treat it like historical narrative. If it’s poetry; poetry. One more crucial element is the importance of understanding the historical setting in which the text was written.
Why is it so important to do all this work? Why does it even matter? When you fail to let Scripture interpret Scripture, when you pull verses out of context, when you don’t use a historical-grammatical method of interpreting Scripture, and when you ignore the historical setting in which the text was written, then you can make Scripture say anything you want. The god you serve is no longer the God revealed in Scripture but a god of your own making. That is why there must be a systematic way to read and study the Word of God.