When studying the Bible it is important to allow the Bible to interpret the Bible (proper Bible Hermeneutics – interpretation of scripture). We need to keep in remembrance that the truths of the Bible are eternal, and that these truths transcend time and overflow with application for us and all generations. However, also of great importance to remember, in order for us to rightly divide these truths while we study (2 Tim. 2:15), is that the Bible was not written “to us,” nor in our language, cultural, or world setting. In order for us to better try and understand the Bible, we need to try and place ourselves into the setting we are reading, into the times and culture, and into the mindset of how the people being spoken or written to would have understood things. What would an event, or a particular saying or language nuance, mean to the hearer of that time and culture?
Added to this: it very important to always be studying a passage in its historical and grammatical context in order to correctly understand what meaning is really trying to be inferred from the passage we may be reading. As our English language often may only have one, or a few words to describe something, whereas the original Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic languages may have multiple words available, with each offering a variation to the meaning. When reading in our English translation this could lead us to more easily alter a meaning within a passage without being aware of it, which not only may limit the true meaning, but on more occasions then we would like to admit, it actually can lead to wrong interpretations altogether. (A strong promotion to use multiple translations of the English Bible when you study, at the very least.)
Here are some questions which truly are important to ask yourself and keep in mind before you start your daily Bible reading in order to fully understand a passage:
- Who? Who was writing? What kind of person was he? Who was he writing to? Who/what was he writing about?
- What? What does the writer say? What are the hearers experiencing? What kind of people were they? What worldview and cultural characteristics, language, mindset, would they be living under and believing?
- When? When was he writing and when does he apply his writings (past/present/future)?
- Where? Where are the events taking place, or where were/are they to take place? Where was that part of the Bible written? What do we know about those places where it was written from and of where it was written to?
- How? How does the author describe the events he describes, how will they be fulfilled (literal, apocalyptic, figurative/metaphoric, typological, poetic, hyperbole, symbolic, parabolic, cosmological etc.)?
- Why? Why does the author write? What do we know about the circumstances which called forth this writing? Why does he say what he says? Why will the events he describes occur?
It is very important to be studying the Bible like this, as this will better allow us to understand passages in their context, and bring meaning to light that may not be seen or thought of if we are simply reading the Bible as if the passage were written to us.
Do not get a wrong understanding, as so much in the Bible is applicable “for us,” but it was not written “to us.” And this puts a different light and understanding to many things when we try to put ourselves into the setting, time and culture of any particular passage.
Many errors in correctly understanding Scripture are because the reader assumes that the text is written personally to him or her. The New Testament is written to the first century Christians by first century authors and discussing first century events.
An example of this is the misunderstanding of what Christ is telling His disciples regarding His second coming Parousia. He told them that not one stone of the temple would be left upon another that shall not be thrown down. They asked Him when this would occur;what would be the sign of His coining; and of the end of the Jewish age. (Matt. 24:2-3).
Jesus proceeded to tell them of the signs and events that would occur before He returned in their generation (Matt. 24:4-32). He told them very clearly that THEY would see these things and know that His coming was NEAR (Matt. 24:33-34).
“33So YOU also, when YOU see all these things, know that it is NEAR — AT THE DOORS! 34Assuredly, I say to YOU, THIS GENERATION WILL BY NO MEANS PASS AWAY TILL ALL THESE THINGS TAKE PLACE ” (Matt. 24:33-34).
Many Christians interpret this as if the Lord is telling us, 2000 years later, what will be the signs of His coming; and that it will be in our generation! If the context and AUDIENCE RELEVANCE are taken literally at face value, there would be a clear meaning of the text.
This is made more difficult for Christians to grasp because they have been taught a different nature of fulfillment for His coming. For example, they see sin in the world and cannot fathom that the Lord has already come. However, as our eschatology Study Series show, and allowing scriptures to interpret other scriptures, the Bible is clear that there was no promise for the removal of sin in the physical world at His second coming.
That promise for a new heaven and new earth in which righteousness dwells is fulfilled in the heavenly unseen realm of the eternal New Covenant Kingdom fully established in AD 70.
“13Nevertheless WE, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth IN WHICH RIGHTEOUSNESS DWELLS.” (2 Pet. 3:13).