Accurately interpreting the Bible is crucial to understanding God’s communication to us. Therefore, we should take our Bible study seriously and commit ourselves to being life-long students of the Word. The study of interpretation is called “Hermeneutics” and the undertaking of this study of hermeneutics (interpretation) requires some special tools. Think of it like this: you have a tool box with tools inside. This particular tool box was assembled especially for you and for the express purpose of providing tools that will help you with the task of interpreting Scripture. On the outside if the toolbox is the word “Hermeneutics—Interpretive Tools Inside”. On the inside of the toolbox are the actual tools you will need to properly interpret the Bible. They are labeled as follows: Genre, Literary Context, Historical/cultural Background, Word Meanings and Grammar. Each of these tools is a huge study in and of itself! Though most of us will not have any formal education in these areas, we can, nonetheless, learn the basics of interpretation and use those skills to properly interpret the Scriptures. Here’s how you can get started:
When you choose a particular book of the Bible to read, ask yourself a few beginning questions:
- What is the genre of this book? In other words, is it a letter? A Poem? A Narrative? Ask yourself questions like: How would a letter read differently from a poem? Will this affect how I interpret it?
- What is the flow of thought in this book? In this chapter? In this verse? How are the ideas related?
- What were the times like when the author wrote? What was the audience like? How was their situation different from ours today and how was it like ours?
- Am I sure that I understand what individual words mean? Is there a wide or narrow semantic range? Have these words changed meaning over time? For example, John 6:26 in the King James Version says “Verily, verily, I say unto you…” Is this how we talk today? What does this mean?
If the Bible is written and compiled by man and man decided what should be included and what shouldn't be, how can it truly be holy?
I think it would be best to start with the question, “Who wrote the Bible?” The Bible is a collection of 66 texts and was written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 authors. Obviously, these authors wrote in human language, using human literary forms and are a product of each author’s personality, literary style, vocabulary, and cultural background. But at High Pointe, we believe that the Bible is without error. In fact, this is a non-negotiable for us! How can this be?
The answer to this has to do with a concept called “inscripturation”. Inscripturation is the process by which God’s message was made permanently available to humankind in the Scriptures. The process moved the truth which God wished to communicate—His special revelation to humankind—to inerrant, written form. Inscripturation denotes the method by which God superintended the writing of each human author so that the exact message that He wanted communicated was in fact communicated. God did this without overriding the authors’ humanness. The result of the process of inscripturation is the inspired, inerrant (without error) Scriptures—the Holy Bible. (See “Inspiration” below)
How can we be sure there aren't any misinterpretations, misperceptions, and mistakes?
The value of inspiration (see above explanation) for the believer is that it ensures that the Scriptures originate from God and are, therefore, without error in, and only in, the autographs—the original biblical texts. The interesting thing is that we do not have any of these original texts today! What we do have is a large number of very early copies of those original texts. By comparing these early copies, we can arrive at a text that accurately represents the original texts to a very high degree. Are all of these copies identical? Actually, no, they are not. These copies are not inspired and therefore were subject to scribal errors. However, by comparing all of the texts, we feel that 1) we can be sure that we have in the Bible a text that is extremely close to the inspired original and 2) in the few places where textual errors may exist and we may not be exactly sure how the original text would have us translate it, we can none-the-less be sure that these very minor differences do not effect the message or meaning of our faith. Therefore, we may, to the degree that the copies accurately reproduce the original texts, consider them to be God’s word to humankind and we can rely on them as sufficient for faith and practice.