How can I understand the Bible???

Do you ever struggle trying to understand the Bible?

Or have you ever run into someone at work or at school who felt it was their duty to show the world how unreliable and contradictory the Bible is?  You know you disagree but you’re not sure how to go about proving them wrong because they seem to be so knowledgeable.  Frustrated?

R.C. Sproul is a Bible-teaching beast, I love the guy.  He wrote a book years ago called Knowing Scripture that explains in detail how to interpret the Bible.  He’s also the Godfather of a monthly journal called Tabletalk, which I’ve subscribed to for years.  This last month his lead article was a short review of the principles from his book on knowing Scripture.   

Since R.C. is a pretty academic guy, I’ve slightly changed the wording to some of these principles in order to avoid this being a foggier conversation than it needs to be. 

How do we interpret the Bible?  Here are 5 quick principles:    

1) The analogy of faith.
2) Sensus literalis
3) The Bible is a book.
4) The explicit supersedes the implicit.
5) The obvious explains the obscure.

1) The analogy of faith:

This comes from the leaders of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.  Basically, this means that we interpret Scripture according to Scripture.  So, if you want to know what a specific verse or passage means, check the context (the larger passage, chapter, and book it’s in).  After doing this, check the overall teaching of Scripture, knowing that the Bible does not contradict itself.  At first glance if you think a verse is telling you something that does not make sense in the overall teaching of Scripture, you’re probably right—dig deeper.  

2) Sensus literalis

This is just a fun Latin phrase meaning “literal sense.”  John Calvin was a key Reformer who practiced this.  Basically, this principle says that we should take the Bible literally in everything it says.  There are some who arrogantly scoff at this, but nothing in the Bible leads us to believe that it was written as a fairy tale.  Why wouldn’t we take it literally?  The burden of proof really lies with those who would seek to take it any other way, because the Bible clearly puts itself forward as literal truth.   

3) The Bible is a book.

Thanks Captain Obvious.  This principle really is necessary to understand.  The Bible is a book in that it has different genres (parables, poetry, historical narrative, letters, apocalyptic literature, etc.) and it needs to be read keeping this in mind.  A great book on this is How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.  Sproul notes under this point: “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over a written text does not turn verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs.  No special, secret, arcane, esoteric meaning is poured into a text simply because it is divinely inspired.  Nor is there any such mystical ability we call “Holy Spirit Greek”…ordinary rules of language apply.” 

4) The explicit supersedes the implicit.

This principle is often over-looked, but it’s vital.  This means that if you read a verse that seems a bit foggy and seems like it may be implying something theologically, you need to cross-reference it (go to other verses in Scripture) with passages that clearly teach on the subject at hand.  Then you submit the implicit to the explicit.  It closely relates to the final principle:

5) The obvious explains the obscure.

Again, if you come upon an obscure passage that you can’t understand, submit it to clear passages in Scripture.  There are some things that are really hard to wrap our minds around in the Bible.  The key is figuring out as much as we can from the very clear passages, and using the truths found there to inform our understanding of the unclear. 

Hope these help…now go and dig in!


About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
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3 Responses to How can I understand the Bible???

  1. Jeff Miles says:

    Great post! We see way too much abuse in how scripture is handled in our culture, and this is not limited to the secular world. Many books in the Christian arena use scripture very loosely. I would like to see more authors follow these guidelines in their interpretation and use of scripture. The wake up call for Christians is, “Don’t believe everything you read.” Just because something is written by a Christian author does not make it Gospel. When reading a Christian work, we need to ensure that the author is following sound principles of biblical interpretation.

  2. Jeannette says:

    Isn’t RC a treasure! Good distillation Andrew! I also like what Jeff says above; it reminds me of the word to take every thought captive to Christ. When we read we are forming thoughts, and if we can’t believe everything we think, or trust everything we feel, if we need to take our own constructs captive, that is certainly true of others thoughts too, published or not..

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