Interpretation Methods in Bible Reading


We all love reading the Bible, but sometimes as Christians we don’t understand it in the same way as each other. There are reasons for this of course, such as our culture, worldview, how we understand what the words we read mean, and more. One of the big reasons is our method of interpretation, sometimes called your hermeneutic.

One person reads everything as literal, that is, they are using a literal hermeneutic. So for them everything in the Bible means precisely what it says. Genesis is a literal creation, which is fine, but what about the parables of Jesus which are ‘made up stories” with a point. Or what about the apocalyptic parts of the Bible like Revelation and parts of Ezekiel and Daniel. When Revelation says there was a beast with x number of horns, is that to be literally understood? In our day to day language we often use expressions that could be understood literally but have another meaning. We say for example its “raining cats and dogs,” when it really isn’t. There are many of these such figures in the Bible, including Jesus’ discussions with his disciples, where he says things like “I have food ye know not of”, but He wasn’t talking about actual food.

Another person reads things spiritually, with “real meaning” but not necessarily literal meaning. So for them, while God did make the world, he might not have done it exactly the way that Genesis says, for example. And for them, many parts of the Bible are like a parable, that is a story with meaning, or to make a point. And of course for them the book of Revelation isn’t talking necessarily about real problems, but is perhaps more figurative for trouble in life in general. It could mean many things to people with a figurative way of thinking.

I think we all realise that not all parts of the Bible are to be interpreted the same way. The parables are supposed to be figurative. The historical parts of the Bible are supposed to be interpreted as history, which does include the book of Genesis. The apocalyptic parts of the Bible are symbolic, and like dreams, represent things other than they literally talk about. So no method works the same way for every Bible book. That should be something we realise.

In addition to that we need the help of the Holy Spirit because he is “the teacher” who will bring us into all truth. We need to also take time to study what God has said and not just assume that what we first think is necessarily correct. In this process of seeking God’s help to understand while delving into the scriptures, He will bring us into greater light and liberty.