One of the most common errors people make when trying to understand the Bible is interpreting it in modern terms. When something in the Bible is unclear, the best method for interpreting the Bible is to use the Bible itself.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
– 2 Timothy 3:16
Think about it… Don’t most things come with instructions? The Bible is no different. While the Bible is an excellent guide for living, it also includes a built-in guide for interpreting and understanding the Scriptures it contains.
Consider the following.
“And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”
–1 Corinthians 2:13
Biblical scholar Ellicott explains this verse: “Not only the gospel truths themselves but the very form and manner in which those truths are taught is the result of spiritual insight…Better, explaining spiritual things in spiritual language.”
The Bible interprets itself using spiritual language, an enduring language and not subject to change as human language is.
An excellent way to see this in action is to read a novel from forty years ago. You’re likely not to understand some of the language or phrases used. Go back farther, and it’s worse. Go back 100 years, and it becomes much more challenging, even though you speak English. Now go back 200-400 years, and specific passages may seem impossible to comprehend.
Another all too common problem with interpreting the Bible is that many preachers interpret it in their way, as still different religious denominations.
Either through ignorance or deliberately, some people twist Scriptures away from their intended or actual meaning. Throughout history, many have distorted Scripture to advance a given agenda.
Another important consideration when reading and understanding the Bible is how vital it is to keep a given chapter or verse in context. All too often, someone pulls a single phrase or sentence and tries to extract or imply meaning based upon it.
However, this is often misleading because the phrase or sentence loses its context and appears to mean something it does not.
One pastor gave a good rule of thumb for trying to understand the meaning of any verse or sentence: “Read twenty verses before it and twenty verses after it.”
This is a suitable method for ensuring that you understand the context in which it was said to help you derive its true meaning.
The Bible itself tells us that when days, weeks, and years are used they don’t necessarily refer to our different earthly versions of the calendar but God’s calendar.
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
– 2 Peter 3:8
“And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year.”
– Ezekiel 4:6
In Daniel 9:24-27, the prophet gives his prophecy of the “seventy weeks.” Many interpreted this as seventy, seven-year periods, which equals 490 human years.
Therefore, using all these interpretations from the Bible itself for days, weeks, and years, they can be used as guidelines when you read other passages as a way of determining the intended time on God’s timescale.
The Bible itself answers the above question:
“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 1:21
You will often hear it said that “men wrote the Bible.” But God was prepared in advance for this criticism and offered its defense in the above verse.
All the above reasons are why it is so important to read the Bible and try to interpret it for yourself and use the Bible to aid in its interpretation. That’s not to say that you should disregard input from learned theologians, but rather, to complement their instruction with a study done on your own.