The Bible must be interpreted to have any meaning. The Bible is a physical object consisting of paper, leather, ink, glue, etc. By itself it is nothing more than that! The Bible contains many pages with strange looking symbols, symbols we call letters and numbers. These symbols represent information, but the symbols are not the information. The information comes from the interpretation or deciphering of the symbols. Because of the sacred nature of this information, we cherish the Bible as the word of God. Let me repeat for emphasis: the Bible by itself is nothing more than a book containing symbols that represent information. Only by deciphering the characters on the pages can information be extracted from the book.
Because the Bible is written in an imperfect language, it is likely that people will interpret the Bible differently. For example, in John we read I and my Father are one. (John 10:30) Some people interpret this to mean that Jesus and the Father are one God, that is one in person or substance. Others read it to mean that Jesus and the Father are one in unity. The words from the Bible are the same, but the meanings derived by people are quite different.
Not An Infallible Guide to Truth
Much as we would like to use the Bible as our guide for judging truth, we are deceiving ourselves if we say we can do that. The problem is because we have no infallible way of deciphering the characters on the pages of the Bible. A person may read the Bible and say, “What I have just learned is 100% the Word of God”, but he or she is wrong! What he or she has just learned is only his or her interpretation of the Bible, nothing more. Hopefully, that person has enough personal honesty as well as common sense to recognize and admit that he or she does not have a perfect command of an imperfect language.
Reading the Bible in Context
As we read the Bible, we can reduce the chance of wrong interpretation by reading the Bible in context with the Gospel as a whole. That is, we must avoid taking isolated passages from the Scripture and using them as a foundation for our beliefs. Instead, we must take all of the concepts, all of the stories, all of the historical events, all of the doctrine and look at the complete picture. Only by doing this can we hope to understand the true meanings of the words written in the Bible.
For example, when we hear people say that God the Father and Jesus are one God and are not separate Gods in one Godhead, we should immediately be suspicious that those persons do not understand the Scripture. This is because the concept that Jesus had a very close and personal relationship with a separate being, his Father in heaven, is woven throughout the four Gospels. For example, at Jesus’ baptism, the three personages of the Godhead were clearly manifest as separate and distinct personages. The context of the Bible as a whole teaches that the Father and Jesus are separate personages.
What it Means to Study in Context
If we study the Bible in context, we will try and see the “full picture” and understand all aspects of the scriptures. Let us look at context from two viewpoints.
- Study to understand the message of the verses. For example, we read of Jesus praying to his Father. Then we read of Jesus’ baptism and the voice of God coming from heaven. As we study, we begin to get the impression that Jesus is a unique person, separate from his Father in Heaven.
- Study verses which seem to give different meanings to understand if these latter verses do or do not agree with our interpretation of the other verses. We read in John 10:30 that “I and my Father are one”. We realize we need to resolve an apparent conflict in meaning. Are Jesus and God separate, or are they one? If they are one, how are they one?
Through additional study we read John in 17:20:22 where Jesus prayed that his disciples would be “one; as thou, Father; art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us”. We realize that Jesus wanted his disciples to be united as he and the Father are united. We realize that John 10:30 refers to Jesus and the Father being one in unity and purpose not one in individuality or person. Through study and attempting to see the full picture, we finally understand these verses in context.
Reading the Bible with Prayer
In addition to reading the Bible in context with the full Gospel, it is essential that we couple our study with personal prayer to God. The prophets who wrote the Bible were inspired of God through the Spirit, and if we are to gain the correct interpretation, it is important that we be inspired of God as we read the book.
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
As we study the Bible, let us pray for understanding and pray for a witness or testimony from the Holy Ghost that the information is true. If we only pray for understanding, we may understand the scriptures but not know through the power of the Holy Ghost that they are true!
There are archeological evidences of the Bible. Cities described in the Bible have been located and uncovered. Historians contemporary to the Biblical eras have discussed some of the events described in the Bible. There is no doubt that the people and places in the Bible actually existed.
These evidences, however, do not prove the spiritual aspects of the Bible. They do not prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They do not prove the Atonement of Christ. They do not prove forgiveness of sins and salvation through the grace of God.
There is only one basis for the acceptance of the Bible as the word of God: Faith. We accept it, without proof, as the word of God, and then we study it to develop greater faith in Him.