Every denomination believes they are teaching the right thing. Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
The idea that there are many legitimate interpretations of the Bible is a lie of Satan who wants to confuse us about what God has told us. Yes, there are many interpretations, but that does not mean each is legitimate. Interpretation is simply knowing what something means. When you communicate to someone, usually there is only one intended meaning.
We correctly interpret things every day. If we could not, society would cease to function. Words have meaning. Language orders concepts. If I say that I have a dog at my house, you would not expect to find an elephant there. Why? Because dog means dog. The goal of interpreting communication is finding the author’s intent.
Here are a few key principles we can apply to find the correct interpretation of Scripture.
Consider the immediate and wider context. When you come across a passage that could be understood in more than one way, it’s important to look at the context of the words. Start by looking at the verses around the passage, then the chapter, then the book, then the whole Bible. Scripture can’t contradict itself, so the right interpretation cannot contradict the rest of Scripture.
Take the Bible literally according to its genre. Some think that Lutherans do not take the Bible literally because we do not read the book of Revelation as historical narrative. Instead we interpret the book as apocalyptic literature. We do not read the Bible literalistically, which is to deny that there are different genres of literature. When reading poetry, we interpret it as poetry and watch for figures of speech and images. When reading historical narrative, we interpret it as we would someone recounting an event. The book of Revelation is a vision we don’t take literally.
Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Let the clear passages shed light on those passages that are more difficult. When reading the book of Revelation, for example, some of the images describing the Last Day can be hard to understand. How shall we interpret them? By looking at the clear passages about the Last Day such as in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. Those clear passages help us understand those that are not immediately clear.
Ask, “Is God glorified through this?” Every false teaching attempts to rob God of the glory due him. Those false understandings stem from either a misuse of reason or the desire to contribute to one’s own salvation. Reason is a wonderful gift of God to help us understand his revelation to us in the Bible. However, reason must not set aside what God says. We let the clear words of God stand even if we cannot fully understand the concept. Some truths of Scripture are above our ability to fully reason. God as Trinity or Jesus as true God and true man are examples. We must not allow our reason to be more important than the clear meaning of the words of Scripture. We also need to beware that inside of each of us, because of our sinful nature, is a strong desire to think we earn our own salvation or at least contribute something to it. We must be careful to give God all the credit for our salvation.
By using these principles of interpretation, you can be assured that you will not only come to an interpretation, but the right interpretation of Scripture. Give it a try in the Bible study!
Have a question, ask it here!
Author: David Scharf
Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021
- Q&A: Do parts of the Bible teach works righteousness?
- Q&A: How can I overcome my struggle with lust and pornography?
- Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?
- Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?
- Q&A: Is anger sinful?
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith?
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer?
- Q&A: Is God fair?
- Q&A: When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for?
- Q&A: How can I better manage what God has given me this year so that I glorify him?
- Q&A: What are ways to glorify God besides singing in church?
- Q&A: I have no special gifts, and I mess up all the time. Does God really need me?
- Q&A: How do I overcome the feeling that my life has no purpose and I don’t make a difference?
- Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?
- Q&A: How can my mother and I forgive my father for being unfaithful and causing my parents to divorce?
- Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?
- Q&A: Is Christianity the only religion that gives the certainty of heaven?
- Q&A: If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
- Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?
- Q&A: Can you explain Jesus’ words to the wailing women he met on his way to be crucified?
- Q&A: What if spouses don’t “love” each other anymore?
- Q&A: Is it wrong to have a cross with Jesus’ body on it?
- Q&A: Is our time of grace really unchangeable?
- Q&A: I know that we are saved by grace apart from works, but how can it be that easy?
- Q&A: Are there degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works?
- Q&A: Do Lutherans take the Bible literally and teach millennialism?
- Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
- Q&A: How can we be sure the Bible includes what God originally gave us?
- Q&A: Why does it seem like Christianity is so negative?
- Q&A: How can I explain how Jesus’ resurrection is possible and if the Bible is reliable?
- Q&A: Is it okay to live together if we are planning to get married?
- Q&A: How is the Bible God’s Word?
- Q&A: Were we “created to make a difference”?
- Q&A: Am I being judgmental if I point out someone’s sin?
- Q&A: Do I need to read the Bible to have a relationship with God?
- Q&A: Can a Christian vote for a political candidate who supports abortion?
- Q&A: Does God really care?
- Q&A: Does it really matter how God made the world?
- Q&A: Does God send people to hell?
- Q&A: Is death natural?
- Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?
- Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?
- Q&A: How can we say that the Old Testament God is the same as the New Testament God?
- Q&A: Is Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
- Q&A: Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
- Light for our path: Does God hate us?
- Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide?
- Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
- Light for our path: Is it a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?
- Light for our path: What advice can you give about applauding in church?
- Light for our path: Can you please explain Matthew 5:20?
- Light for our path: What is karma?
- Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
- Light for our path: Does the word Easter refer to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?
- Light for our path: What role does emotion play in contrition?
- Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?
- Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?
- Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?