By Kathy Howard, Crosswalk.com
Many of us often struggle to understand the Bible. And many sincere Christians understand some parts of Scripture differently than others. While there are many reasons for our individual struggles and the doctrinal differences between groups and denominations, there is one problem that affects many of us: We often read the Bible incorrectly.
Christians have a God-given responsibility to handle God’s Word with the utmost care. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But even those of us who genuinely long to be good stewards of God’s Word are susceptible to faultily handling Scripture.
We truly want to know the Bible. We commit time to read and study it. But if we employ unsound interpretation methods, we will misunderstand the passage and miss what God has for us. While there is no end to how we might misuse and misunderstand Scripture, there are three faulty interpretation trends in widespread use today:
1. Applying Culture to Scripture instead of Applying Scripture to Culture
We’ve all seen examples of this popular trend. And it isn’t just those outside the church who follow it. Some Christians today — even prominent Bible teachers and ministers — have allowed pressure from the culture to shape the way they see the Bible.
Sometimes this happens as a misguided attempt to be relevant. Sometimes we focus on God’s love and grace while ignoring His justice and holiness. And other times, we give in because we simply cannot handle the push back from the culture. But none of us have the authority to reshape or rewrite God’s divinely inspired Word.
God’s Word reflects His character. God is truth and determines the truth. Therefore, His Word is truth (John 17:17). God does not change; His character does not shift or move to reflect the tides of time (James 1:17). Therefore, His Word is unchanging, established forever.
“’I the Lord do not change’" (Malachi 3:6a).
The Bible is relevant today and forever. It is not static or bound by time. It crosses all cultural barriers, language differences, and geographical borders. Culture constantly changes, but God’s Word never changes. The Bible is the constant against which everything should be measured. When culture conflicts with the Bible, God is always right.
“Yet you are near, Lord, and all your commands are true. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever" (Psalm 119:151-152).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tinnakorn Jorruang
2. Me-Centered Focus
The Bible is God’s revelation about Himself to us. It is by God and about God. Yes, His Word is for us, but not primarily about us. The Bible’s objective is to reveal God, His character, His purposes, His plans, and His ways, including His provision for salvation through Jesus.
“…and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Yet in our 21st century, western mindset — even if it’s unconscious — many of us make the Bible about us. We read it with ourselves as the main character because that’s what our culture — and our sin nature — has taught us to do in our everyday lives.
But reading the Bible this way causes us to miss the main point of Scripture — to know the Author. Instead, we often read His Word hoping for a quick emotional lift to get us through the day. Or, we turn its pages looking for something to make us feel better about ourselves.
But going to the Bible with this perspective hinders us from understanding God’s true meaning. Instead, let us keep our focus on God. Let us approach Scripture looking for truths that elevate and glorify Him. Let us search for what the text teaches us about God’s character, purposes, and ways. When we do this, we will learn about ourselves, but it will always be through God’s perspective.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/pixelheadphoto
3. What Does This Mean to Me?
This is probably the most common trend in incorrectly interpreting the Bible. No doubt you’ve been asked this question more than once in a Sunday School class or small group Bible study. Maybe you’ve even asked it yourself.
Honestly, it does not matter what a Bible verse or passage means to us. It only matters what it means to God. And we don’t get a say in His original and eternal meaning. Yes, the Bible has endless applications for our lives, but only one original meaning.
A passage can never mean what it never meant. Every part of Scripture means the same thing today as it did when it was written. If we fail to discover the original meaning, we will misuse, misapply, and possibly even abuse God’s Word. In our desire to understand the Bible, our goal should be to discover that one original meaning. To grasp the eternal truth God gave us through the pen of man. (For help on discovering the original meaning of a Bible passage, see “4 Guidelines to Help You Understand the Bible.”)
Instead of asking “what does this mean to me,” let us ask “what does this mean for me.” After we understand God’s original meaning of a passage, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can determine how God wants to apply His Word to our lives. God wants His Word to impact us, encourage us, shape us, equip us, and lead us to Christ. Yes, His Word is for us.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Why Does This Matter?
Not all Christians have seminary degrees. Few of us can read the Bible in its original language. But all Christians can comprehend its truths. God wants us to understand His Word. He has given Christians the capacity for understanding the Bible through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). He is our Teacher (John 14:26). Unfortunately, the biggest hindrance to correctly understanding God’s Word is usually ourselves. Let us not fall back on faulty ways of interpreting Scripture. Instead, let’s read and study the Bible with the right attitude and proper focus, and rely on the Spirit to help us understand and apply God’s truth to our lives.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/pamela_d_mcadams
A former “cultural Christian,” Kathy Howard now has a passion for God’s Word that’s contagious. She encourages women to get into God’s Word for themselves in order to build an unshakeable faith that will stand firm through all the trials of life. With more than 30 years of experience, Kathy has taught the Bible in dozens of states, internationally, and in a wide range of venues including multi-church conferences and large online events. She has a Masters in Religious Education and a certificate in Women’s Ministry from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary. Kathy, the author of 8 books and Bible studies, also writes for multiple online magazines and devotional sites. Kathy and her “mostly retired” husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, five grandchildren, and three dogs – one of them on purpose. She provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org. Kathy also connects with women on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.