Biblical Interpretation

Paul wrote to Timothy:

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (1 Tim. 4:16; emphasis added).

Every minister should take this admonition to heart, paying close attention, first of all, to himself, making certain that he is setting an example of godliness.

Second, he should pay close attention to his teaching, because his eternal salvation and the eternal salvation of those who listen to him are dependent on what he teaches, just as Paul wrote in the above-quoted verse.[1] If a minister embraces false doctrine or neglects to tell people the truth, the result can be eternally disastrous for him and others.

There is no excuse, however, for the disciple-making minister to teach false doctrine, as God has given him the Holy Spirit and His Word to guide him into the truth. In contrast, ministers with wrong motives often only parrot the popular teachings of others, not studying the Word for themselves, and are apt to error in their doctrine and teaching. The safeguard against this is for the minister to purify his heart, making certain that his motive is to (1) please God and (2) help people be prepared to stand before Jesus, rather than to become personally wealthy, powerful or popular. Additionally, he must diligently study God’s Word so that he has a thorough and balanced understanding of it. Paul also wrote to Timothy,

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

Reading, studying and meditating on God’s Word should be a discipline that a minister practices always. The Holy Spirit will help him better understand God’s Word as he diligently studies, thus insuring that he will “handle accurately the word of truth.” One of the greatest problems in the church today is that ministers misinterpret God’s Word, and they consequently mislead the people they teach. This can be quite serious. James warned,

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment (Jas. 3:1).

For this reason it is imperative that the disciple-making minister knows how to rightly interpret the Word of God, with the goal of accurately understanding and communicating the intending meaning of any given text.

Rightly interpreting God’s Word is done the same way as rightly interpreting anyone else’s words. If we want to accurately understand the intended meaning of any author or speaker, we must apply certain rules of interpretation, rules that are based on common sense. In this chapter, we will consider the three most important rules of sound Bible interpretation. They are, (1) Read intelligently, (2) Read contextually, and (3) Read honestly.

[1] Obviously, Paul didn’t believe in unconditional eternal security, otherwise he would not have told Timothy, a saved person, that he needed to do something in order to insure his salvation.