Knowing the Bible for Yourself
A teaching series equipping believers to interpret and understand the Bible for themselves. Please click on the PDF links to read each article in full.
Part 1 – Why Do We Need to Interpret the Bible?
As one opens the Bible, one quickly comes to discover that what they hold in their hand is not a single book, but a volume of ancient literature (some 66 books). In fact, there are some 780, 000+ words all found sitting within a careful and purposeful grammatical structure with the oldest sections being more than 3 ½ thousand years in age and the most recent, 2000 years! There are many different ways in which God could have communicated his will to mankind; he could have appeared at a given location every fifty years to speak to man in person or sent an angel to speak on his behalf. Instead, God in His sovereign wisdom has chosen to communicate His message to mankind through the medium of written language.
In this first teaching part, we ask the question; “Why do we need to interpret the Bible?” As soon as one begins to read any literature, the need for interpretation comes immediately into play!! This not only applies to the Bible, but all pieces of literature, because the underlying question that inevitably will arise is; “What does that mean?” You cannot escape this question, and as soon as one asks this question, one by default has moved into the realm of interpretation. The aim of all true Bible study is to uncover the plain meaning of the text so as to arrive at the proper understanding of truth. Having understood what God’s Word was to those first receiving it, we are then in a position to correctly apply the Word of God to our lives.
Part 2 – Basic Tools for Bible Interpretation (Pt. 1)
It will never do to be hearers of the word only and not doers of it; James makes this very clear (Jms 1:22). Yet at the same time, to be a doer of the word without first hearing what is being asked is to walk in ignorance. How many, armed with good intentions and loaded with zeal have gone out of the starting blocks with pace, only to be later disqualified because they were in breach of the rules. You cannot compete in a race without obeying the rules and you cannot obey the rules unless you first know what those rules are. Thus, it is incumbent upon us as students of the Word of God, to rightly divide (Grk. to cut straight) the word of truth that we might not be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15).
If the Bible was a single book, composed by a single contemporary author, that would be one thing. If we had any questions or doubts about the meaning of what is written, we could simply ask the author. What happens when you have a book written by upwards of forty different authors, across a number of continents with the earliest of these writing some 3500 years ago? In this second teaching part, we explore the role of dictionaries and commentaries in serving to better aid our study of the Bible, especially when bridging the gulf of history and culture.
Part 3 – Basic Tools for Bible Interpretation (Pt. 2)
In deciding to translate the Bible from one language to another, two questions must lie at the heart of the translation process. #1, Accuracy and #2, Readability. On one hand, one wants a translation that is as accurate and as close to the original languages as possible while at the same time being readable. You may be thinking, why are we discussing Bible translations in a study looking at how to better interpret the Bible? Isn’t the Bible just the Bible? It is, but as will be demonstrated, one can make use of a range of different translations of the Bible in order to make better sense of the Bible.
In this third teaching part, we explore the various translations available to the student of God’s word and the pros and cons of each.
Part 4 – Interpreting the Epistles (Pt. 1)
When we speak of an epistle, we mean by this a letter. The English word for epistle comes from the Greek word “epistolē” which means a written message. There are 21 such Epistles found within the Bible which comprise a third of the whole New Testament. The New Testament Epistles are vital to the Believer in Christ because they contain the doctrines which he/she is to live by!
In this teaching, we examine some of the key principles for interpreting the New Testament Epistles.
Part 5 – Interpreting the Epistles (Pt. 2)
Having examined some of the key principles for interpreting the New Testament Epistles in the last teaching session, we seek in this teaching to put these principles into practice.
Join us as we take an exegetical walk through the first four chapters of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, covering the first major theme – Divisions in the Church. By studying the Epistle in this way, it allows us to give a practical example of the effectiveness of studying the Epistles thematically and will hopefully allow us to see how the verses and chapters connect with each other as part of this wider theme.
Part 6 – Interpreting the Gospels (Pt. 1)
As one opens the New Testament, one is immediately confronted in succession by four books that each bear the title “The Gospel According to…”. The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Mark, The Gospel According to Luke, and The Gospel According to John. Though these books comprise only four of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, they make up just under half of the New Testament (46%) due to their word content. God could have given us just one Gospel, but instead, He chose in His wisdom to give us four, which tells us that what is contained in these accounts is of tremendous significance.
In this first part of our studies in the Gospels, we seek to bridge the gap of distance that sometimes separates the reader from being able to rightly understand and interpret the accounts. The first two matters that we shall explore in this teaching is that of the historical and cultural separation and the Law.
Part 7 – Interpreting the Gospels (Pt. 2)
God has always emphasised that which is important through repetition, He did in with the Law by giving Israel in effect, four complimentary books of the Law (Exodus – Deuteronomy), and He does it again in the New, giving to His people four complimentary books of the Gospels. As one reads through the Gospels, one will notice that whilst they are very similar and alike, they are not exactly the same. Some things that appear in one book, for example, will not appear in another. How are we to harmonise the apparent discrepancies and contradictions that appear between them? Can something be said in two different ways and yet at the same time, both ways be correct? What also of the parables? Are we free to interpret them as we wish? Is it okay to use allegory when seeking to interpret them?
In this second and final teaching part exploring the Gospels, we provide some answers to the above questions as we continue our studies looking at how to harmonise the Gospels and interpret the parables of Jesus.
Part 8 – Interpreting Historical Narrative
It seems an absurd question to ask, how one should read historical narrative since we do it intuitively all the time. In picking up a biography to read or a story in the newspaper, we are naturally handling material that would rightly be defined as historical narrative and yet we do it effortlessly without thinking. We pay close attention to the facts and the details - the dates and names, the places and characters. We all know the difference between facts and fiction and handle both accordingly. No one for a minute would take a novel like Alice and Wonderland and read it as they would a WW2 journal. One is fact and one is fiction. Whilst we can be inspired and entertained by fiction - learning very many valuable lessons - it is still at the end of the day fiction – it’s made-up, it’s not a faithful representation of historical fact but instead concerns itself with imaginary people and imaginary events. I’m sad to say, there are some, most notably those in liberal circles, who approach the Bible in this way. God creating the earth in six days! A global flood! Noah and the Ark! Jonah and a great fish! Virgin birth! Resurrection from the dead! Miracles and healings! Far from being taken as fact, at best these are embellishments to enhance the narrative and at worst fanciful stories (myths and legends) made up by the imaginations of men.
In this teaching, we look at the historicity of the Bible. Rather than giving a definitive how-to, we seek to give some cautionary pointers in approaching the historical narratives contained in the Bible and to clearly set out what these narratives are and are not. It is my hope that in doing this, it will help guard against the misuse of these passages and set a firm foundation upon which we may learn from the history recorded in the Bible so as to serve the Lord better in our day.
The last two decades have seen a steady stream of teaching into the Christian Church with a major emphasis on the need for the return to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. The argument goes as follows: the first Church was Jewish in culture and practice and so what went wrong? What went wrong (they’ll say) is that the Church veered from its Hebrew roots and allowed the influence of Greek philosophy to Hellenise a faith that was once deeply Jewish and what we have been left with a paganised Christianity that is need of desperate reformation! Thus, the general consensus of those belonging to the Hebrew Roots Movement will be an insistence on a return back to Torah observance as a way of life, since this was (they’ll argue) the life that Jesus, the disciples, and the early Church practiced. This includes Sabbath observance (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), abstaining from the consumption of unclean animals (pork, prawns, etc.), observance of the Jewish Feasts, and in some cases, even the practice of male circumcision! The long and short of it (no matter how it may be dressed up) is this; unless you keep the Law of Moses, you cannot be truly saved!
In this teaching, we endeavour to understand what the Torah (the Law) is and in so doing, offer some help on how to interpret it and bring the proper application in light of the New Covenant. This will then lead us to answer the crucial question; are we obliged as New Testament believers, to keep the Law of Moses?
Part 10 – Interpreting the Psalms
The first recorded song sung in the Bible was the Song of Moses and the last recorded song that will one day be sung is also the song of Moses (Rev. 15:3). Did you know that there are some 185 songs recorded in Holy Scripture, most of which are found in the Book of Psalms? If you were God, would you choose to include in your collection of books, a book solely consisting of songs? Would you choose to make this book the largest book in your collection of books and would you have it contain the longest chapter? What does all of this tell us? It clearly sends a message, telling us that songs are important to God! It has been calculated that there are 283 direct quotations from the Tanakh (Old Testament) found in the New Testament. Did you know that the greatest number of quotes coming from any one book is the Book of Psalms!
One cannot overestimate the role that David played in bringing structured praise into the House of God. In the days of the Tabernacle of Moses, there was no designated place for the worship of God via song and music in the instructions given to Moses on the Mount. However, in the instructions given by David for the construction of the Temple praise and worship played a prominent part. In this tenth teaching part, we take a look at this fascinating book and provide some practical helps that will enable us to better interpret it.
Part 11 – Interpreting the Books of Wisdom (Pt. 1)
When one thinks of wisdom, what thoughts come to mind? What images fill the head? The response of the Christian to such questions will inevitably differ from those outside the faith. The most up-to-date entry in the Cambridge online dictionary defines wisdom as: “The ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments”. The Biblical definition of wisdom whilst not contradicting this, begins from an entirely different premise from where the world begins. The world begins from a worldview that excludes the God of Holy Scripture; whereas the Biblical definition of wisdom begins and ends with God (Prov. 9:10).
There are five books in the Bible that have been rightly identified as belonging to the Wisdom Literature. These include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. In this first teaching part of two, we begin exploring this wisdom and endeavour to offer practical helps to enable one to better interpret the Book of Proverbs in order to understand the great wealth of wisdom that is contained in this precious book.
Part 12 – Interpreting the Books of Wisdom (Pt. 2)
It has often been said; “If it’s in the Bible, then I believe it!!” Whilst I understand the sentiments of what is seeking to expressed by such a statement, the statement is only as good as one’s interpretation of the text. If one misinterprets a portion of Scripture due to poor exegesis, then what one thinks they understand God to be saying, is not actually what He has said. To then apply this to one’s life to miss the mark and to end in error.
In this second part of a two-part teaching, we look at three unique books that have caused problems for some in their interpretation due to the difficult nature of their composition and structure. We endeavour by the grace of God to shed some light in these Books, namely Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Solomon.
Part 13 – Interpreting the Prophets
ItOf all the different literary genres found within the Bible, by far the most unique, is that of prophecy. Where the historical books document history, those books falling under the category of Prophecy have an extra layer to them which documents the future! Who can claim to speak with authority on things that are yet to happen? The best historian can comment on what has past, and to a degree, he can predict what he may think to happen in the future based on past cycles; but at best it is a prediction with much uncertainty attached to it. When it comes however to the predictions made in the Bible, these are not based on a critical examination of data; they are based on “thus saith the LORD”.
In this thirteenth teaching part, we give a basic overview of the Books of Prophecy and offer helps that will aid in their interpretation and application. As part of a teaching series looking at Biblical interpretation, we look holistically at the nature of the books of prophecy themselves, as a pose to the individual prophecies contained within them. We seek to understand the historical setting in which they were written in the hope that one will see the common pattern running throughout.
Part 14 – Interpreting the Apocalyptic Literature
When one holds the Bible in their hand, one ought to have an immediate sense of feel for what he/she is reading. The Book of Proverbs for instance, is immediately recognisable as being literature of wisdom. The Book of Psalms as poetry. The Gospels as historical and biographical; the epistles as written letters. The thundering “Thus saith the LORD’s” mark out the books of prophecy and the “Thou shalt not’s”, the books of Law. Just as these books have distinguishing factors that serve to identify their type, so it is also when it comes to the Apocalyptic Books - they are instantly recognisable. Both the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation carry the hallmarks of apocalyptic literature. Imagery and symbolism pervade the books and the visions and dreams found within, concern themselves with the rise of fall of future empires, not least penultimately, the coming kingdom of the antichrist and the overthrow of this kingdom in the final coming kingdom of Messiah.
In this teaching, we endeavour to equip the student of Scripture with some helpful hints and tips that we trust will enable them to begin the process of interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying and by the grace of God, light shall be shone into obscurity.