We must come to the Bible, not to have our opinions confirmed, our prejudices reinforced, our pet issues endorsed, or our “proof texts” approved, but to hear the voice of God and learn of his will for our life. We must have a spirit of obedience and submission to the authority of his word each time we read the Bible. The attitude of the Psalmist is one we would do well to imitate:
“Open my eyes,” he says, “that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
Paul gives this instruction to Timothy: “Reflect” he says, “on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2:7) And to the community of believers in Philippi he says, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:15) The use of our mind, along with the guidance of the Spirit, is indispensable in our interpretation of the Bible. His goal is clearly given in Romans 8:28-29, conform to Christ.
“The Bible can mean anything you want it to mean” is a common enough claim and there is a sense in which that is true. The Bible can be made to say anything you want it to say if you approach it with a certain frame of mind that fails to observe some basic rules of interpretation. The existence of cults confirms how a bad interpretation of Scripture produces bad results. And even “mainstream” Christians sometimes have beliefs and practices that owe their existence to a wrong interpretation of Scripture.
So how can we interpret the Bible correctly? When we come to Scripture we must do so in a spirit of humility and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. The author of the Bible is the Holy Spirit and he is its best interpreter. We need to keep the following scriptures ever before us:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10-11)
“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:9-10). “Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth”. (1st John 2:20-21)