For those of us who depend on the bible as our primary authority in decision making, the way we interpret the scriptures is critical. Unfortunately, what we often see and hear is people with good intentions coming to incorrect conclusions. How does this happen?
We have been taught by our secular schools and news agencies that we can come to our own conclusions about things apart from biblical authority. So what we often see happen within the church is folks coming to decisions about different issues, and then finding individual verses to support their conclusions. This type of process will cause the bible to be able to justify almost anything.
So what is a better process? First, we must interpret scripture within its own context. Biblical meaning almost always stems from the paragraph, not just one verse. Therefore, we must look at the entire argument that the author is making. In fact, we should really look at not just the paragraph, but also the chapter, the book, and the place of the book in the canon. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of preaching, "You must take your text in its context, and you must be honest with it. You must discover the meaning of the words and of the whole statement." (Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, 1971)
We must also remember that some texts are clearer to us than others. In light of this, we should interpret difficult, seemingly vague texts with those that are straightforward. We should avoid at all costs coming to important conclusions based upon only one text that may be ambiguous.
Keep in mind that a text should be interpreted literally unless there is an obvious reason for not doing so. As a general rule, when we move away from literal interpretations, soon afterward almost any interpretation is up for grabs.
When we are in the process of interpretation, let's also remember to be humble about our conclusions. We are faulty after all. Enlisting the insight and advice of others in this process is a must.
Why does all this even matter? The answer is simple: if we want scripture to be the decision maker in our lives, we must strive to correctly interpret the words of the God who inspired the text.
When we interpret in context, interpret difficult texts with clearer texts, interpret literally, and try to stay humble, we will then be on the right track for accurately understanding what the original author intended.
If we follow the above process, it will make it much simpler for us to understand key teachings in scripture, follow the commands of scripture, and model our lives after what we see in scripture. This pleases God.