Foundation Topic

How to Interpret the Bible

God wrote the Bible in a way you can understand, because he wants you to know him. However, like any book, the Bible requires thoughtful reading, and sometimes careful study if you want to understand what it means. Like the author of Psalm 119, when you are having trouble understanding God’s Word, ask God, “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:34 NIV).   

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If the Bible Is Clear, Then Why Do People Disagree About What It Says?

If the Bible is clear, then why are there so many disagreements about what it means?

The answer, simply put, is that people often stumble into missteps when reading it. Here are six reasons we may fail to understand and interpret the Bible clearly.

1. Sin

The Bible tells us that living with sin that we are not sorry over, nor willing to forsake, can cloud our understanding of God’s Word (Romans 12:2; 1 John 1:9).

2. Fear

We might find ourselves becoming afraid of what other people might think of us when we interpret the Bible in a way that opposes their views. So, we choose a watered-down view of the Bible that doesn’t cause conflict so that we won’t be disliked or persecuted by others. (Proverbs 9:10). 

3. Stubbornness

Some people don’t see the Bible as their authority. Instead, they favor their own personal or cultural preferences over what the Bible says. Or, they prefer another source of authority that is contrary to God’s Word (e.g., non-Christian leader or another religious book). They are not willing to have the Bible correct them (Psalm 94:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

4. Unbelief 

Bible reading requires genuine faith in God to understand his Word properly (Hebrews 3:15). Although they read the Bible, some people are not willing or prepared to believe what it says (John 7:17).

Simply put, we all make mistakes! To err is human. Even if a passage is clear, we are capable of misunderstanding it.

5. Isolation

People read the Bible alone. But no person is a theological island. Interpreting the Bible is meant to be exercised corporately in the Body of Christ, not in isolation from the people God has given the Church to help understand it properly (e.g., pastors, teachers, fellow Christians).

Productive Bible study takes time, hard work, and commitment (Psalm 111:2). Often, we may misunderstand a passage because we aren’t willing to invest the effort to really think about and study it.

6. Ignorance

Some people don’t know enough of the Bible to understand how to interpret individual parts of it. How can someone claim to understand a book they spent little time reading and studying?

Recognizing these stumbling blocks will go a long way to helping you properly read God’s Word. However, there’s one more thing you need to know in order to interpret the Bible correctly.

You must pray. Ask God to help you understand his Word. This is the best guard against misinterpretation. We need God’s help to understand God’s Word, and he is glad to give it (Proverbs 2:6).



Theme Verse

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 PETER 1:20-21 ESV

How To Interpret The Bible
Article: 7 Min

Seven Simple
Tips to Help You
Interpret the Bible

Article: 10 Min

The Importance of Biblical Context

by Unknown Author at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute



The task of hermeneutics is to discover the meaning of the text in its proper setting; to draw meaning from Scripture rather than reading one’s presuppositions into it.

by John MacArthur

Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics

Article I

We affirm that the normative authority of Holy Scripture is the authority of God himself, and is attested by Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church.
We deny the legitimacy of separating the authority of Christ from the authority of Scripture, or of opposing the one to the other.

Article II

We affirm that as Christ is God and Man in one Person, so Scripture is, indivisibly, God's Word in human language.
We deny that the humble, human form of Scripture entails errancy any more than the humanity of Christ, even in his humiliation, entails sin.

Article III

We affirm that the Person and work of Jesus Christ are the central focus of the entire Bible.
We deny that any method of interpretation which rejects or obscures the Christ-centeredness of Scripture is correct.

Article IV

We affirm that the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture acts through it today to work faith in its message.
We deny that the Holy Spirit ever teaches to anyone anything which is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

Article V

We affirm that the Holy Spirit enables believers to appropriate and apply Scripture to their lives.
We deny that the natural man is able to discern spiritually the biblical message apart from the Holy Spirit.

Article VI

We affirm that the Bible expresses God's truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute.
We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts.
We deny that, while Scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation, biblical truth should be defined in terms of this function. We further deny that error should be defined as that which willfully deceives.

Article VII

We affirm that the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite and fixed.
We deny that the recognition of this single meaning eliminates the variety of its application.

Article VIII

We affirm that the Bible contains teachings and mandates which apply to all cultural and situational contexts and other mandates which the Bible itself shows apply only to particular situations.
We deny that the distinction between the universal and particular mandates of Scripture can be determined by cultural and situational factors. We further deny that universal mandates may ever be treated as culturally or situationally relative.

Article IX

We affirm that the term hermeneutics, which historically signified the rules of exegesis, may properly be extended to cover all that is involved in the process of perceiving what the biblical revelation means and how it bears on our lives.
We deny that the message of Scripture derives from, or is dictated by, the interpreter's understanding. Thus we deny that the "horizons" of the biblical writer and the interpreter may rightly "fuse" in such a way that what the text communicates to the interpreter is not ultimately controlled by the expressed meaning of the Scripture.

Article X

We affirm that Scripture communicates God's truth to us verbally through a wide variety of literary forms.
We deny that any of the limits of human language render Scripture inadequate to convey God's message.

Article XI

We affirm that translations of the text of Scripture can communicate knowledge of God across all temporal and cultural boundaries.
We deny that the meaning of biblical texts is so tied to the culture out of which they came that understanding of the same meaning in other cultures is impossible.

Article XII

We affirm that in the task of translating the Bible and teaching it in the context of each culture, only those functional equivalents which are faithful to the content of biblical teaching should be employed.
We deny the legitimacy of methods which either are insensitive to the demands of cross-cultural communication or distort biblical meaning in the process.

Article XIII

We affirm that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study.
We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.

Article XIV

We affirm that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact.
We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated.

Article XV

We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support. the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

Article XVI

We affirm that legitimate critical techniques should be used in determining the canonical text and its meaning.
We deny the legitimacy of allowing any method of biblical criticism to question the truth or integrity of the writer's expressed meaning, or of any other scriptural teaching.

Article XVII

We affirm the unity, harmony and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.
We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another. We deny that later writers of Scripture misinterpreted earlier passages of Scripture when quoting from or referring to them.

Article XVIII

We affirm that the Bible's own interpretation of itself is always correct, never deviating from, but rather elucidating, the single meaning of the inspired text. The single meaning of a prophet's words includes, but is not restricted to, the understanding of those words by the prophet and necessarily involves the intention of God evidenced in the fulfillment of those words.
We deny that the writers of Scripture always understood the full implications of their own words.

Article XIX

We affirm that any pre understandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.
We deny that Scripture should be required to fit alien pre understandings, inconsistent with itself; such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism.

Article XX

We affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extra biblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else. We further affirm that in some cases extra biblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations.
We deny that extra biblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.

Article XXI

We affirm the harmony of special with general revelation and therefore of biblical teaching with the facts of nature.
We deny that any genuine scientific facts are inconsistent with the true meaning of any passage of Scripture.

Article XXII

We affirm that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.
We deny that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.

Article XXIII

We affirm the clarity of Scripture and specifically of its message about salvation from sin.
We deny that all passages of Scripture are equally clear or have equal bearing on the message of redemption.

Article XXIV

We affirm that a person is not dependent for understanding of Scripture on the expertise of biblical scholars.
We deny that a person should ignore the fruits of the technical study of Scripture by biblical scholars.

Article XXV

We affirm that the only type of preaching which sufficiently conveys the divine revelation and its proper application to life is that which faithfully expounds the text of Scripture as the Word of God.
We deny that the preacher has any message from God apart from the text of Scripture.


The true meaning
of Scripture is the
natural and obvious

Video: 11 Min
by Rob Plummer at Southern Seminary

Before and after
you read the Scripture,
pray earnestly
that the Spirit
who wrote it
may interpret it for you,
keep you from
unbelief and error,
and lead you
into the truth.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 ESV

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts 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 understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit o