Fairly recently, and by recently I mean 2-3 years ago, I preached through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. One of those sermons dealt with Ephesians 6 and the responsibility of parents, and specifically fathers, to teach their children the Bible at home. After that sermon, more than one father approached me and said that they were convinced and convicted that they need to do this, but there was one problem: they didn’t really know how.
Fast forward to 2019, and after having spoken with a number of men about this, I decided to create a resource to help people to study the Bible. This website is that resource.
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In 2 Timothy 3:14-15, Paul tells Timothy:
 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
How acquainted are we with the sacred writings of Scripture? Paul says that the scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And in Romans 10:17 Paul writes:
 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So then, my friends, we know that salvation comes through faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ, and faith comes from hearing or reading the scriptures. The Bible tells us who Jesus is, and what He has done for us. By studying the Bible to know Jesus, we grow in wisdom and the knowledge of Jesus and we grow in our faith.
So obviously, reading and studying the Bible is important – much more important even than your school studies, or university studies or work studies. Not that those things aren’t important, but there is no greater knowledge to seek than the knowledge of God, because what we know about God and whether we know God affects eternity, not just our livelihoods here on this earth.
That being said, I don’t just want you to know that we should read and study the bible, but I also want you to know how to study the Bible. So today I am going to kick off with just some quick rules and tips for studying the Bible so that you can be equipped to understand the Bible the way God intended it to be understood.
Many people that I have spoken to have said that they feel intimidated by the Bible, and that they don’t feel like they could possibly understand it. Some of the stories in the Bible seem quite easy to read and to understand, but then you get to Leviticus and it starts to get very confusing.
You know we all start a new year with a new years’ resolution to read through the Bible, and it starts well, but Leviticus tends to be where new years’ resolutions go to die. Then there is Numbers and there are all these… well… numbers… and what is all that supposed to teach us? And then there’s the visions of Daniel and the prophecies of Isaiah, and let’s not even get started on the book of Revelation! Even the letters of the New Testament and some of the teachings of Jesus in the gospels can be hard to understand and apply.
The good news is that if you stick to sound rules of interpretation, anybody can actually read the Bible with understanding, and you will find the Bible not to be so intimidating after all, and you will even start to enjoy God’s Word more as your understanding grows.
So let’s get straight into it, and I am going to start with explaining very quickly what Hermenuetics is, and we will then get straight into some of the rules of Hermenuetics or Biblical interpretation.
WHAT IS HERMENEUTICS?
Hermeneutics is the fancy term given for the rules of Bible interpretation. Now some might ask, why do we need to have rules for Bible interpretation? And the answer is, because we want to be able to understand the Bible the way God intended it to be understood.
If you type an email or a Whatsapp message to someone, you want them to read it and understand it the way you intended it to be understood. But what can sometimes happen is that people can misunderstand something you wrote, or they can misinterpret your tone so that they think you are being sarcastic or angry, when actually your intentions are quite the opposite. In fact, its for this reason that many people I talk to actually prefer not to type emails or messages anymore, and they rather wait until they can speak in person or they send a voice note instead.
Now we have a tendency to read and interpret the Bible in ways that cause us to miss the point or take it completely the wrong way. So we must have a Biblical framework or set of rules of interpretation that both makes it easy for us to understand, interpret and apply the Bible the way God intended, and to actually make our job of understanding the Bible easier.
So let’s go through some rules of interpretation, and we won’t have time to consider them all so I will give you a few of the important ones for now, which is what you will need to know for your own study at home.
EXEGESIS, NOT EISEGESIS
Now I know some of you might be wondering what language I am speaking here, and no, Exegesis and Eisegesis are not names of the Greek people in the New Testament.
To put it simply, exegesis is the practice of extracting or taking the meaning out of the Bible, while eisegesis is the practice of inserting or putting our own ideas into the Bible to make the Bible say what we already believe or want it to say.
Think about that email you might have written to somebody and they took something the wrong way. You want people to take your point out of your email, and not read their own assumptions into your email to make it say something that you didn’t intend.
Now it’s the same thing when we read the Bible. We must always come to the Bible with the intention of taking God’s point out of the text, and not putting our own already held beliefs into the text or trying to make the text say what we want it to say.
Now an example of this is when people have an agenda, they can try to look for Bible verses that suit their agenda, and then they read a passage out of context and try to make it agree with their agenda. Wars have even been fought in the past because people wanted to go to war for some or other reason, and then they went and looked for a Bible passage that could be used somehow to support their cause and that’s how they convinced people to go to war. Alright now that is eisegesis, or inserting your own ideas into the Bible. We don’t want to do that – we don’t want to try to make God agree with us, we want to find out what God says and then we must agree with God. So we must practice exegesis, not eisegesis.
The next few rules deal with the important matter of context. Context is simply the circumstances in which we are to understand what is written. None of us like to be quoted out of context, and God certainly doesn’t want His word to be taken out of context either.
CONSIDER THE BIBLICAL CONTEXT
As we consider context, we are going to move in a spiral around our passage, working our way from outside to in, from understanding the broader context towards understanding the immediate context of our passage. First we want to understand the broader context, which is the biblical context, or in other words, the question of where the passage fits within the context of the Bible story or redemptive history.
To use a simple example, when we read of the purification sacrifices in Leviticus, we understand that we are not expected to continue with those sacrifices today because of where those passages in Leviticus are in the history of the Bible story. We now know that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sin and for purifying His people, and He is the fulfillment of all those OT sacrifices, and those sacrifices were merely a shadow that pointed forward to Jesus.
To help you with understanding the Biblical context, it will be hugely beneficial for you to have read the whole Bible so that you know the bigger picture. We don’t build a puzzle without the benefit of the picture on the box, so likewise, it is much easier to understand how what we are reading fits into God’s story if we have the whole picture.
CONSIDER THE CONTEXT OF LITERATURE
What kind of literature is the book? In the Bible, there are historical books such as 1 and 2 Kings which give us a narrative of what happened, then there are poetry books like the Psalms and Song of Solomon, there are Prophetic books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Revelation, and there are epistles such as Romans and Ephesians. The type of literature makes a difference to how they should be read and understood.
For example, the book of Job is a history book that tells us what happened. In a narrative like Job, not everything is meant be taken as a literal instruction; it simply gives us an account of the facts. Understanding that helps us to know that when we read all the bad advice that Job’s friends gave him, we are not supposed to read what they said as instructions for us to obey, but rather as a record of what was said. Our task is then to understand what God is instructing us through the record of what happened.
So also the way we interpret Revelation, which is a prophetic book, will be different to how we interpret an epistle like Romans. Epistles are written for instruction and must be understood literally. Prophetic books are written using metaphors, which must be understood as such. Of course, the teaching of Revelation must be taken literally, but we shouldn’t interpret the metaphorical visions literally. The beast out of the sea in Revelation 13 is not a literal beast with ten horns and seven heads; rather, the beast, horns and heads are metaphors which symbolize something.
CONSIDER THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Remember that the letters in the Bible were written many moons ago, and the historical and cultural settings were very different to what it is today. We must take that into account when we read passages like the ones in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, for example, when he talks about the ladies needing to wear head coverings.
One might ask what the difference is between the Biblical context and the historical context… well the biblical context is a question of where the story fits in the story of God and redemption, while the historical context is a question of where the story fits in the timeline of human history, what the cultural traditions were, the customs, etc.
CONSIDER THE CONTEXT OF THE AUTHOR
When you read an email, often the identity of the sender impacts your understanding of his/her message. When you read a letter in the New Testament that is written by Paul, it is good to understand who Paul is, his background, culture, concerns, education etc. That can help us understand, for example, why he used such strong language in Galatians chapter 1 when dealing with the faction who wanted to force Christians to be circumcised, and gives us better context when he speaks about his “reasons to be confident in the flesh” in Philippians chapter 3.
CONSIDER THE CONTEXT OF THE AUDIENCE
It is good to consider who the letter is addressed to, why it was written to them, what issues were they dealing with, and what the letter would have meant to those people at that time.
For example, we know that at the time that John wrote his epistle of 1 John to the Church, they were being confronted by some false teachers who were trying to convince them that Jesus never actually came in the flesh as a man, and these things were really affecting the Church’s confidence in their faith. John is writing to reassure them.
CONSIDER THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT
Now this one is a biggie, and this is where most people go wrong when they’ve misunderstood a passage of scripture. In fact, as we go through the various misunderstood verses in the series, we will see that most of the time, the wrong interpretation comes from a failure to consider the immediate context.
The good news is, this is one of the easiest rules of Hermeneutics to learn and to practice. When we talk about the immediate context, we are simply referring to the context of the verses surrounding a particular verse. We are asking questions like, why has the author said that? What argument is he making? What is his flow of thought? What is the author talking about in this paragraph? What is his main point in this chapter? What is his main point in this book? How does this particular verse fit into the argument he is making in this paragraph, chapter and book?
As we go through this series, God willing, you will be able to see just how easy it is to miss or ignore the immediate context of a verse and what the consequences are for doing so. We must get into the habit of not taking a verse out of its context and quoting it on its own, which is how most verses become misinterpreted; but we must rather read and understand the verse in its context and understand it inside the whole argument that the author has written.
I will give you a silly example of why understanding each passage in its immediate context is so important. Now imagine you are on a telephone call in your office, and you are negotiating the rent with a landlord for a new flat you want to move into. Now as you talk on the phone in your office, I walk passed and happen to overhear you saying “I will give you R4000 per month, beginning at the end of September.” Well I just think this is great, and so I quickly jot down what you said, word for word, even writing your name down as the person who said, “I will give you R4000 per month”. Now imagine I went around showing everyone this quote from you, and telling them that you promised to give me R4000 per month?! I even have a recording of you saying it. How would you feel about that? Now obviously, there is no question you did indeed say “I will give you R4000 per month”, but the obvious point is that what you said needs to be understood in context. And the context is that you, the author of this particular quote, were talking to a specific audience – the landlord – and what you promised to do was within the immediate context of you renting a flat from the landlord.
Hopefully then, you can see why paying attention to the context is so important in our Bible study. But again, the good news is that once you begin to practice these simple rules, you will see that understanding the Bible is easier than you think, and not as intimidating as it feels, and anyone can do it.
Of course, spiritual truth is spiritually discerned, and so the most important step is prayer. Before reading, always pray and ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help, because God has promised to give us whatever we ask in His name and according to His will.
May God richly bless you and lead you to a deeper knowledge of Him as you diligently read and study His Word.
You can listen to the audio recording of this podcast here