“What does the passage mean to you??” This is an often used phrase among Christians. When we get together to read/study the Bible, we typically hear people ask one another what they think a passage means to them. What they are really saying is, “How do you understand these verses for your life??”
The problem that stems from each person having their own interpretation is that each of us have our own baggage from our personal experiences, what we have been taught, and even what we want the passage to say, that there is no common or true meaning; it basically can mean whatever each of us choose. Most of us have learned from pastors and leaders that model and teach this personal interpretation through their own agendas of sermon series’ and topical preaching to take the Bible and figure out what it means to me; not for the plain meaning of Scripture.
You may be thinking that isn’t everything we say then about the Bible putting our own spin and interpretation on it?? No, not if we are seeking the clear meaning of the passage and within the context that it was intended. What we should find is that when we take away our own agendas in search of what the Bible has to say is that we will more often than not arrive at the correct interpretation. This isn’t always the case, but if we are all careful to read and study a passage as it pertains to the whole of what surrounds it (verses, chapters, books, Old Testament/New Testament, and the Bible as a whole), we will have a far better chance of understanding the Truth.
Much of the time when we misinterpret Scripture it is because we haven’t taken the proper time to read and observe all we can about the passage. We read too fast and then quickly try and make connections to what I have been thinking about or what has been going on in my life or what I have been taught or heard about a passage. Rather, we must slow down enough to read what is before us and make sure we work through understanding what is being said long before we can make the jump to understanding the proper application to our own lives.
A good thing to remember is that if you don’t get the observations of what is truly going on a passage right, you will never get the lessons or applications right. Observing all we can within a passage is critical if we are to properly interpret a passage. It may seem overly simple, but often times we either overlook important details or try to over-spiritualize things when often times, a tree is a tree. A tree may be important, but to always be looking for a deeper spiritual nugget is all too often to miss the plain meaning of the text. If we always start by reading and studying the Bible by looking for a literal interpretation, we will have far less to wrestle through when we get to things like parables or other tougher parts of Scripture.
Much of the decline of proper Biblical Interpretation today seems to be from the common mistake of focusing upon our individual selves rather than on God. We want to feel more spiritual or find answers for the things we face in life rather than knowing and understanding the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. What we really end up pursuing is a “how-to manual” about how to have better lives rather than seeking to know our Lord and Savior. God does truly love us and wants what is best for us, but not for the sake of us treating Him and His Word as nothing more than a set of nice stories or instructions for the issues in life.
We must be willing to handle God’s Word carefully and give it full place in our life. It is important that we be continually be reading and studying the Bible from cover to cover. And yes, that means both the Old Testament and New Testament. This not only helps us to know and understand God’s overall purposes of who He is and what He desires for us, but also helps to guard against picking and choosing what we want to believe and making our own interpretations. Let’s all be greatly challenged and encouraged as we seek to carefully handle the Word of God correctly and apply it correctly to our lives.