Before a boater backs his/her boat into the water, he/she must first check the surroundings. What are the boating conditions? Is there enough gas in the boat? Are there enough life jackets for everyone? Which direction are boats going? Are there warning signs for shallow water? Etc. Then, as he/she continues scanning surroundings, he/she takes stock of the smaller (but still important) details: Is everyone on board? Are they seated? Are the engine and gears working properly? Is it clear to go?
Similarly, there are important things to consider when reading the Bible.
Never Read a Bible Verse
Gregory Koukl, Stand to Reason radio host and author, writes: “The most important thing I could ever teach you is never read a Bible verse . . . . Instead, always read a paragraph (at least) if you want to unlock the meaning of a passage.”
Not that reading or reciting a particular verse is bad, but the trouble comes when the meaning is altered from the given context. Many fine sounding cults and teachers misuse Scripture—inserting (or deleting) a verse here and there. Not only do they tweak the Scriptures’ meaning, but also camouflage false teaching to appear truthful.
Western Vs. Eastern Thinking
Not long ago, I heard a couple of sermons on the general difference of how people think: Westerners versus Easterners, and how that can be problematic when interpreting Scripture. Here’s an example the pastor used:
When we Westerners study a frog, our first tendency is to take it away from its natural setting. After dissecting and categorizing its parts, we seal it up and place it on the shelf. √ Done.
An Easterner would not remove the frog from the pond, but rather observe the frog in its natural setting.
I first thought his illustration was exaggerated, but I’ve caught myself defaulting to the Westerner’s systematic thinking several times lately!
So how does one avoid misinterpreting Scripture?
Context is Key
Gregory Koukl advises:
- Consider the bigger picture: Try to ignore the verse numbers and headings at first, then narrow your focus
- Context of a passage frames the verse, giving it specific meaning; (words have different meanings in different contexts); what idea is being developed?
- Take into account what type of literature it is—poetry, proverb, history, etc.
- Meaning always flows from the top down, from larger units to smaller units, not the other way around
- If a text is confusing, try paraphrasing and see if it fits into the larger context of the passage.
- Beware of biblical fast food: “By focusing only on pieces of a passage, readers may actually miss the point of the passage” (Never Read a Bible Verse)
Who’s on First?
Kay Arthur, international Bible teacher, advises: Train yourself to ask the “5 W’s and an H”—who, what, when, where, why, and how . . . . Speaking of how–how did this post get so long? Thanks for persisting through. 🙂 Coming next week: “Bible Study and the Role of the Holy Spirit.”
Why Is the Bible So Hard to Understand? http://lifereference.wordpress.com/2013/09/25
Tools to Study the Bible, http://www.str.org/articles/tools-to-study-the-bible#.UkHrPT9nGdk
Reasonable Faith, Biblical Interpretation, and “Tipping Point Evidence,” http://www.str.org/blog/reasonable-faith-biblical-interpretation-and-%E2%80%9Ctipping-point%E2%80%9D-evidence#.UkHtlT9nGdk
Understanding Hard Biblical Texts, http://www.str.org/blog/understanding-hard-biblical-texts#.UkHvXT9nGdk
Bible Study Tools and Resources, http://christianity.about.com/od/biblestudyresources