Everybody interprets the Bible differently; who am I supposed to believe?

,,, etc., etc...

Frustrating, isn't it?

Hearing a zillion individual interpretations of what the Bible means can be a very frustrating experience; that is, if you are actually interested in finding out what the Bible means (If you're not really interested, you might be using this line as an excuse to avoid finding out what it means. Of course, I can't judge which of these is your case, nor do I want to. That's not my point here).

It seems that every major religious group (Jewish, Christian, New Age, etc.) sees the Bible differently; every Christian denomination (Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, etc.) reads the Bible differently; within one major denomination you will find individual churches that interpret the Bible differently (Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Independent Baptist, etc.); and within any one church you will find individual people that take the Bible differently (Pastor So and So, Mrs. Such and Such, the music director, etc.).

Well, this is true to a point, but let's get to the real issue ...

What is the Bible?

The Bible is, first of all, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. God actually "breathed" every bit of scripture, though it was actually written down by regular people (catchy reference to the title of my Home Page, eh?).

God gave us His word so we would use it for:

  • Teaching -- we can learn about all the truly important issues of life and death, sin and salvation.
  • Rebuking and Correcting -- we learn where we've gone wrong, but also how to get right.
  • Training in righteousness -- we learn how to deal with every practical issue that comes up in life; this is not a quick fix, but a lifelong process.

The Bible contains everything a person needs to know in order to be "complete" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). No scientist, historian, psychologist, guru, psychic, pastor, pope, or church denomination can improve on what the Bible has already said.

Now that we've cleared that up, we need to keep some things in mind as we read it ...

The "gaps":

There are several "gaps" between this ancient Hebrew and Greek document and us 20th century, English-speaking people. We need to remember that these "gaps" are very real, and that if we are ignorant of them, we will have no end of frustration in our attempt to understand the Bible. Not keeping these "gaps" in mind will lead us quickly toward misinterpretation.

I'm not planning to give you an in-depth course on Bible interpretation here, but let me show you the main gaps(1):

  • A Time Gap -- we can't exactly e-mail Paul and ask him about his letter to the Galatian Christians.
  • A Geographical Gap -- not many of us grew up in the part of the world in which the Bible was written.
  • A Cultural Gap -- when is the last time you ate meat offered to an idol (as in 1 Corinthians 8)?
  • A Language Gap -- if you think 17th century English is difficult (as in the King James Version), how about 3000-year-old Hebrew, or 2000-year old Greek?
  • A Literary Gap -- you won't find Parables on any recent best-seller lists. The Bible has many literary forms and figures of speech we may not be familiar with.
  • A Spiritual Gap -- God's thoughts are infinite, our minds are finite; get the picture?

These gaps can be bridged, to a great extent, through careful research and diligent study regarding these issues. Of course, this takes time and effort, but it's more than worth it! There are lots of good resources out there to help you do this, like:

  • The Bible Tells Me So, by Randy T. Mann
  • Principles of Bible Interpretation, by Patrick Chuinard
  • Bible Tools, by Pedro Cheung. Good direction for beginning Bible students.
  • Guidelines for Interpreting the Bible, by David Weidlich. Also, how not to into interpret it!

But wait, don't forget the main thing!

The thing to remember in the midst of all this "academic" sort of study is that God only reveals Himself to those who are truly, humbly seeking Him. Let me end this section with a couple of quotes:


"Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." (James 1:21, emphasis mine)

Jesus, responding to his disciples, who asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?":

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom has been given you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand' ... But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear." (Matthew 13:10-16)

In other words, all the study in the world won't do any good unless you have committed your life to God, who wrote the word. Stay a skeptic, and you won't get anywhere by studying the Bible. Give your life to God now, and the awesome truths of eternity will begin to open up to you.

1. I borrowed these "gaps" from a very helpful book entitled Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy B. Zuck (1991, Victor Books).

Top of Page Return