Interpreting the Word
The Bible is awesome. The Bible is more precious than endless stacks of money, diamonds or gold (Ps.119:72). In it, we meet God because it's His Word. In it, we learn His story of redemption through Jesus and how we can be reconciled to God. In it, we learn what it means to know God and live lives of worship to Him as His people (2 Tim. 3:15-17). So, the Bible is a big deal and a ridiculously gracious gift from God to us.
Therefore, we should enjoy it and read it and seek to read it well.
Here are some helpful principles to consider when studying the Bible.
Be Submitted to the Text Because it is God’s Word
This should go without saying, but it gets forgotten, so it’s worth saying. This is the most importance principle, or posture: being submitted to the authority of the Bible. The Bible is over us and we sit under it (Isa. 66:1-2). From this posture, we will come to the text in humility, eagerness, and with a teachable mind as we expect to learn from the text, not fit the text into our ideas and preferences.
There is an Intended Meaning in the Text
Another key principle that should go without saying is that there actually is an intended meaning in Bible and in each particular passage/text. In an age of where reader response theories and me-isms reign and rule, we have to come to the Bible with the understanding that God has worked through the original writers, by His Spirit, to write the Scriptures and there is an intended meaning that is discernable in the text.
Get Meaning From the Text, Do Not Dump Meaning Into the Text
We are working for exegesis, not eisegesis. We all bring assumptions and biases to the text. We need to acknowledge that and work and pray hard to get meaning from the text as opposed to dumping meaning into it.
Authorial Intent is the Key to Meaning
One of the ways we get meaning from the text is through close attention to the intended meaning from the text as displayed in the author’s words in the text. Here we wrestle with the text prayerfully with proper understanding of grammatical and historical elements.
Avoid Grounding Authorial Intent in a Psychological Reading of the Author
In our work to get meaning from the text, we must avoid the speculative joyride that is pyscho-analyzing the author’s life and background or anything that is not biblical grounded or in the particular text or larger context.
Context Is Key
As we interpret the word, context is crucial. To understand a set of verses out of Philippians, it will help us to look beyond those verses to the large point in that section. It will help us to zoom out further and get a feel for the larger meaning of Philippians itself. We may also want to examine Pauline writing. Similarly, if a word is used or term is used in strange way, context can help us understand the intended meaning.
Word Study Is Not Just Tied to the Etymology or Historical Meaning of the Word
It’s not enough to say that the meaning of “salvation” in Greek times was X. That may be helpful, but we also have to pay attention to the way a word is used in the particular text we are examining. Since terms can shift meaning from their context, it’s not enough to do historical fact-checking since that alone cannot account for the context the term is being used in and the range of meaning for a term. (Imagine I tell someone "that's hot" in conversation. To know what I mean, it's not enough to know what hot means historically. The context will help show if I'm talking about the weather, something that's good, or the temperature of an item -- all things that "hot" could possibly mean.)
Understand Authorial Intent and Do It by Bringing In the Big Story of Scripture
At some point in interpreting the Word, we need ask where the text fits in the larger redemptive history of the Bible. For some passages, this is easy to see. In other passages, this might seem more camouflaged. Either way, we need to do this work to remain faithful to the whole of Scripture and its thread of redemption through Jesus (Jn. 5:39; Luke 24:1ff).