Is Bible Interpretation Really Necessary?
Marvin Yoder

Is Bible Interpretation Really Necessary? by Marvin YoderYears ago the church I was attending got a pastor who was fresh out of seminary. He had a somewhat abrasive and egotistical personality, and he did not last long at our church (which did not make me sad). Yet I am indebted to him for this one thing; one Wednesday evening he shared a very basic teaching on the principles of Bible Interpretation. I remember becoming excited that evening because I felt that I had found some keys that would help unlock the great truths of the Bible to me.

A few years later in a used bookstore, I found a book on practical theology that had a chapter on Bible hermeneutics that helped me step into the world of Bible Interpretation! (Prior to this incident, I did not even know there were any books written on the subject.) This began my quest for more books on Bible Interpretation, and this has resulted in my study of the principles of Bible Interpretation for more than 30 years.

Doctrinal Challenges in the Church

Today’s world is filled with many anti-Christian attitudes. Some of it is provoked by Satan who challenges the truth of God’s Word wherever he can. In other instances, it is brought on by the way the Church has dealt with some things. One item that comes under constant criticism is how the Church has used the Bible.

Skeptics point to the myriad of doctrines within the Church and the fact that many denominations do not agree with each other. Many non-church people have expressed doubts as to the validity of the Bible, and the necessity of being a part of a local church. In R. C. Sproul’s book, Knowing Scripture, he commented, “The biblically illiterate Christian is not only inadequate but unequipped.” [1] In today’s educated society, there is an increasing need for Christian who can clearly articulate a reason for the hope that is within them.

Many “winds of doctrine” are blowing across the ecclesiastical landscape of the Church. Some of these winds are nothing more than short-lived fads, while others are truths that some are pushing to extremes. Over the years, I have seen Christians who were ignorant of their rightful place in Christ and their redemptive benefits, being taken advantage of by spiritual con men, and deceived by wonderful sounding words spoken by men who supposedly were sent by God.

Sometimes a person is absolutely sincere but is simply ignorant of the subject on which they are speaking. Numerous times I have thought to myself when listening to a person teaching the Word that if they knew the principles of Bible Interpretation they would not have said what they had just said.

The Need to Rightly Divide the Word

Lest we think we live in an unusual generation or time, let us remember the words of the aged Paul writing to a young pastor named Timothy in the days of the early Church, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” [2] If we are told to rightly divide the Word of God, then it stands to reason that it is possible to wrongly divide the Word as well. This shows us the need for some guidelines in accurately determining what the Scriptures are saying and what they mean to us today. This is an injunction given to all believers to interpret the Bible accurately, but especially so to ministers speaking in the pulpits of the Church.

Bible interpretation is the process of rightly dividing and accurately studying the scriptures. The theological term for Bible interpretation is “Bible Hermeneutics.” It is a term derived from the Greek (hermeneutikos) which means “the science of interpretation.” [3] In ancient times the Greek god Hermes, who was a messenger of the gods, had the task of interpreting the will of the gods so men could understand it; hence the word hermeneutics[4] “Bible hermeneutics is the study of those principles which pertain to the interpretation of Holy Scripture.” [5]

At times it is difficult to properly comprehend what a spiritual, invisible, infinite God wants to communicate through His Word to a person who lives in a physical, visible, and finite realm. Therein lies the need for interpretation. “Something stands in the need of interpretation when something hinders its spontaneous understanding.” [6]

Spiritual Revelation vs. Accurately Studying the Word

The doctrine of every denomination, camp, and movement is a representation of their Bible interpretation, e.g. the way they have divided the Word of God. One distinctive of the Charismatic, Spirit-filled part of Christianity is that they often do not see the need for Bible interpretation. Often their basic approach to the Scriptures is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the Word to them. (Perhaps that is all they have heard their pastor say.) Another reason for this may be that Charismatic, Spirit-filled people tend to be more spiritually minded, and less factually minded. If there are no visions, dreams, miracles, healings, revelations, etc., they tend to question whether God is really involved. This can cause more priority and weight to be put on supernatural experiences, the anointing, and the gifts of the Spirit than on the Word of God.

Thus, many people do not learn how to correctly study the Word to get a clear grasp of its various subjects. This leads less mature people in the Lord to be blown about by winds of doctrine. The danger in all this is that little value is placed upon studying the Scriptures. Today, there is a great need for accurate Bible interpretation.

We must come to realize that the factual truths of the Bible and the revelation of the Word by the Holy Spirit are mutually compatible. If a person asks the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth about a verse in the Bible, and another person studies that same verse using the proper rules of Bible interpretation, both of them should arrive at the same insights of truth. God can use both ways to unveil the truth of His Word; however, our emphasis and priority should always be placed on studying the Word of God.

We first came to know God through the truth of His Word. A proper foundation of knowing the truth of the Scriptures is necessary for the success of our Christian walk with God. The more that we know the truth of God’s Word, the more accurate we will be in hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. We must accurately know the written Word of God so we can properly recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit when He speaks a word to our heart. A lot of well-meaning people have become deceived because they heard a voice that they assumed was God since it was supernatural, and did not have an accurate knowledge of the Word.

Dealing With Truth in the Last Days

In the last days many Christians will be deceived because they do not accurately know the truth. Satan himself endeavors to deceive Christians through inaccurately dividing the Word. The Apostle Paul said, “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” [7] Satan does not come with a sign saying, “I am the devil, and I’m here to deceive you.” He uses people who quote the Word to make you think they are ministers of the Gospel, often taking Scripture out of context or twisting it to accomplish their own agenda. Satan often wraps error and deception with the truth of the Scriptures so people will embrace it, just as a hunter may wrap poison in a good piece of meat to catch a predator that is dangerous to the people or animals in the area.

Paul admonished the believers at Thessalonica “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. [8] In the last days, some Christians will be deceived because they did not love the truth. According to some people’s eschatology, Christians will be raptured out before the Antichrist comes on the scene, and think this verse does not apply to them. However, we must know that the spirit of antichrist is already here wanting to deceive God’s people into becoming lukewarm about the truths of God’s Word.

Today, many in our churches fall prey to one or more of the following dangers which leads them to have wrong views of the Scriptures, and causes them to have inaccurate or incomplete insights on the Word of God. (1) They do not study the Scriptures at all, and only go by what others tell them [2 Peter 3:16]. (2) They misapply the Scriptures because of ignorance or a personal agenda [Luke 4:9-12]. (3) They misrepresent the Scriptures, either in what they say or do [2 Corinthians 4:2]. (4) They only study the Bible academically, obtaining only an intellectual grasp and no heart knowledge of truth [Jeremiah 2:8].

Discover a Better Christian Life

We must embrace the necessity of knowing and accurately using the principles of Bible interpretation. This leads to a better Christian life as a person gains greater insight into what the Scriptures means to them where they are today. It will help believers recognize both truth and error (Acts 17:11; Eph. 4:14-15). It makes a person less vulnerable to false teachers (Ephesians 4:14). It will help Christians to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It will bring proper balance to the preacher’s message and the witness of the believer (2 Pet.1:1-11; Pr. 4:20-22; Josh. 1:8). It enables believers to be taught accurately by the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13). It enables a person to deal with learned skeptics (1 Peter 3:15). Finally, it enables a believer to walk in the light of what the Scripture instructs them to do (John 8:31-32). Thus, the well-being of the Church enhanced, and the spiritual life of the believer can be more fully realized.

If a believer sees the need for accurate Bible Interpretation, where does he begin? What tools or resources are available to help believers learn more about using the principles of Bible Interpretation in their study of the Scriptures? Although some of the author’s comments in the following resources may not be what everyone agrees with, the resources do provide a basic knowledge of the principles of Bible Interpretation.

  • Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul, Intervarsity Press
  • Come and Dine, Richard Booker, Destiny Image
  • How To Study The Word, Terry Lawson, Faith Library Publications
  • Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Henrichsen & Jackson, Zondervan
  • Understanding the Bible, Dorothy L. Johns, International Correspondence Institute
  • How to Understand Your Bible, T. Norton Sterrett, Intervarsity Press
  • Dictionary of Hermeneutics, James D. Hernando, Logion Press
  • Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology, Ralph G. Turnbull, ed., Baker Book House
  • Interpreting the Scriptures, Kevin Conner & Ken Malmin, Bible Temple Publishing

Discussion Questions

How do you feel about the doctrinal condition of the Church today? How do you make sure you accurately divide the Word of God when you study the Bible? What resources have you found to help you with interpreting the Bible when you study?

[1] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, p.23

[2] 2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV

[3] http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/topic/Hermeneutics.html

[4] Baker’s Dict. Of Practical Theology, 1967, pg. 100

[5] Baker’s Dict. Of Practical Theology, 1967, pg. 100.

[6] Baker’s Dict. Of Practical Theology, 1967, pg. 100.

[7] 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, NKJV

[8] 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, NKJV