187 – How to Accurately Interpret the Bible for Yourself What It Says, What It Means, How It Applies
The Bible wants to be interpreted. The purpose of this article is to equip you with a worksheet so you can take a text and…
Figure out what the author originally meant,
- Discover the timeless message it has for us today, and
- Personally apply the text in order to lead a more powerful life in Christ.
- Who wrote, to whom, when, and why (occasion, problem, question, need, opportunity)? ____________________________________________________
- Where does it fall in the history of redemption/revelation (i.e., didactics interpret history)? ____________________________________________________
- What is the question/problem/situation that called this text into being?** ____________________________________________________
**From Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics in The Preacher and Preaching, p. 136.
- What are the key words? ____________________________________________________
- What subject is the text talking about? ____________________________________________________
- What does the text say about the subject? ____________________________________________________
- What other Scriptures help interpret/understand this text? (word studies***) ____________________________________________________
***Use Strong’s Dictionary numbers to find Greek words and definitions, also to locate same words in other verses and see how used.
- What was the purpose of the text when written? ____________________________________________________
- Key Question: What did the writer/Spirit want to communicate to his readers then? ____________________________________________________
- What is the authorial intent? Everyone who writes, writes with a purpose; this is essential to understanding a text. A text only has one original meaning to its author, but can have many applications. Always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Use clear texts to understand the obscure ones; related texts enrich each other.
- Read the Bible literally according to genre.
The 6 Main Types of Literature in the Bible:
Narratives. These are both historical and biographical, which, if necessary, should be interpreted by didactics.
Poetry. Hebrew parallelism is a dominant feature, meaning the second phrase of a verse restates, amplifies, or contrasts with the first phrase; Psalms is a primary example.
Prophecy. This is throughout the Old and New Testaments, but especially Isaiah through Malachi.
Didactics. These are normative, spiritual and ethical teachings and since they are written later in progressive revelation they are especially useful to interpret historical narratives, especially those of Jesus and the epistles.
Proverbs. These are axioms that are generally, but not always, true — especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
- Parables. This is a special kind of literature to make a spiritual point by drawing from everyday situations, especially in the gospels: “Jesus did not say anything to the crowd without a parable” (Matthew 13:34).
- Don’t interpret beyond the text. Recognize the difference between a possible, probable, and necessary meaning for words and doctrines (concepts, ideas). However, there’s a limited role for imagination and drawing inferences and, because a lot of details are left out, it’s acceptable to speculate, but keep it to a possible or probable and not a necessary interpretation (e.g., what happened between 1 Kings 11:39-40). History is not necessarily normative, so use didactics to interpret narrative (e.g., first occurrence of tongues and Holy Spirit, Acts 2:1-4, versus Ephesians 1:13).
- The normal rules for literary devices apply. Examples: Figures of Speech (Judges 9:5 “killed all 70 sons…but Jotham escaped”), Figurative Language and Metaphor (“the door” or “drink my blood”), Hyperbole (“pluck out your eyes” or “mustard smallest seed”), Idiom (“a piece of cake” “pour out heart” “unclean lips”), Parallelism (Psalm 119:120), Anthropomorphisms (Acts 7:50, “Has not my hand made…”), Personifications (“let the mountains sing”).
2. Message: What Does the Text Mean Today?
The Goal: To discover the timeless message.
- What would we say is happening in today’s language (e.g., no straw but same quota = downsizing)? ____________________________________________________
- What are the cultural (and other) similarities and differences (e.g., judicial law “gored ox”, ceremonial law “sacrifice goats”, moral law “10 Commandments”)? ____________________________________________________
- What about this text is true for all people, in all places, at all times, in all ways? ____________________________________________________
- What’s the unique contribution this passage makes to understanding God, ourselves, and his purposes? ____________________________________________________
- What inferences can we draw that do no violence to original meaning? ____________________________________________________
- Subject: Exactly what is the biblical writer talking about? ____________________________________________________
- Complement: What is the subject saying about what it is talking about? ____________________________________________________
- Exegetical Idea: A complete statement of the main idea presented in the passage (Subj + Comp)****
- How does this text confirm, alter, challenge, or enhance any prior understanding? ____________________________________________________
- What is the purpose of the text today?
- Key Question: What’s the timeless message the Spirit wants to communicate to his readers today? ____________________________________________________
3. Application: How Does It Apply to Us Now?
- What is an urgent problem screaming for immediate solution that this text addresses?
- What is the unique insight and message of this text to that problem? ____________________________________________________
- What is the application of the unique insight and message to my circumstances? ____________________________________________________
- So what? Where and how does God want to transform my life as a disciple and Christ follower? ____________________________________________________
How does this text call me to live “in” Christ?
How does this text equip me to live “like” Christ?
How does this text send me to live “for” Christ?
- Now what? How will I let it change my life? What will I think, feel, say, or do differently? ____________________________________________________
- Key Question: How does the Spirit want me to personally apply the text’s message? ____________________________________________________
Text: “To this John replied, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven'” (John 3:27).
1. Meaning: What Was God Saying Then?
The Goal: To find out what the author meant.
What did the writer/Spirit want to communicate to his readers then?
John understood and accepted his God-given role
2. Message: What Does The Text Mean Today?
The Goal: To discover the timeless message.
What’s the timeless message the Spirit wants to communicate to his readers today?
God has a role that he has determined for each man (see also Ephesians 2:10, Acts 17:26-27)
3. Application: How Does It Apply To Us Now?
The Goal: To lead a powerful life transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ
How does the Spirit want me to personally apply the text’s message? (Remember: one meaning, many applications.)
1. I will find contentment when I accept my lot in life
2. God may use ordinary men to do extraordinary things, or vice versa
Pat Morley is the Founder and CEO of Man in the Mirror.
© 2010. Pat Morley. All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced
for non-commercial ministry purposes with proper attribution.
Dr. Patrick Morley
After building one of Florida’s 100 largest privately held companies, in 1991, Dr. Patrick Morley founded Man in the Mirror, a non-profit organization to help men find meaning and purpose in life. Dr. Morley is the bestselling author of The Man in the Mirror, No Man Left Behind, Dad in the Mirror, and A Man’s Guide to the Spiritual Disciplines.