What Does It Mean? (Second Step to Understand Your Bible)
Updated: Feb 12
by:Pastor Matthew Mitchell
“The second key to understanding is to open your ears and hear what is in being said.” (Pastor Matthew Mitchell)
Many problems that I find in relationship today has to do with this second essential of Hermeneutics. Many people interpret what they think someone has said without actually listening to what they are saying. When it comes to Bible interpretation we often interpret what we think the author is saying without actually hearing what they are truly saying. No wonder people misunderstand and are confused by truth. We think truth is what we want it to be instead of it being what it is. My parents always told me that the reason God gave me two ears and one mouth is so that I would listen twice as much as I talk. So those who know me know that I have a lot of listening to do, because I talk way too much. To know truth is first to listen what is being said.
The second essential to the inductive method is Interpretation. Observation asks, “What does it say?” Interpretation asks, “What does it mean?” Remember that Interpretation is the act or process of explaining; to clarify the meaning of; to offer an explanation. Interpretation help us to know what the author is communicating to the people that he is writing to, known as the authors intent. In the appendix #3 there will be 24 rules of interpretation. Read those after reading this chapter they will help you as you go through the process of Interpretation.
There are three parts of Interpretation the: purpose, key thought, and flow.The purpose in Interpretation is all about why the author is bringing it up; why they are writing. The purpose can be stated anywhere in the book. For example, in Romans most people miss the purpose of the book because they are looking for it in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which they only find part of it. When you read the whole book as a whole you can find the reasoning, or intent of the author much clearer. In Romans when you take chapter 1 and 15 and look at them together you see the full picture. Read Romans 1:1-17 and Romans 15:14-33. Paul wanting to preach the gospel and impart some special gift that they both can be blessed by. So, he had planned on going to Spain where the gospel had not been preached, and wanted the church in Rome to share in the blessings with him. In hermeneutics we call this book ends. Two passages that are similar that between them contains the purpose or author’s intent. When you see bookends it indicates to you what the authors purpose is.
Repetition is also a good indicator of the purpose. As you read through Hebrews you will see a repetitious theme, that “Jesus is better than.” Seeing this repetition we see Hebrews for what it is; a book of encouragement that there is nothing greater than Jesus. In fact the book of Hebrews is unlike any other book in the Bible. In fact it depends on who you are to how you are encouraged. The author of Hebrews writes to the non-believer, the professor, and the immature Christian. The non-believer is encouraged to believe in Jesus Christ because He is greater than their self and sin. The professor is encouraged to have actual faith in what they have professed to believe, because Jesus is greater then what is holding them back. The immature Christian is encouraged to grow and not stay in their stunted stage, because Jesus greater than their immaturity and wants them to grow. So by seeing the repetition we hear the author telling his readers to be encouraged, because Jesus is greater than anything in this life so we must answer the call of salvation, believe what we confess, and grow to be like the one who paid for it all.
Next in our Interpretation we need to recognize the key thought. The key thought is the big idea, or theme. Try to write what you think is the key thought in one sentence. The reason for writing the key thought in a one sentence statement is so that you can state the main truth of the spiritual principle as clearly and succinctly as possible. Look at the book Habakkuk.
Habakkuk is a great book of truth for the believer when you understand it for all that it is worth. In reading the whole book you see a common theme. Habakkuk is having a conversation with God. Habakkuk is a prophet asking God how long He was going to wait to punish Israel. God answers Habakkuk by telling him that He was going to send the Babylonians to punish Israel. Habakkuk immediately questions God’s reasoning why He would send a more wicked people to punish Israel’s wickedness. When Habakkuk does not like God’s answer, God gives us the theme. This very important truth that God wants Habakkuk to understand is that “The Righteous Shall Live By Faith.” Paul also uses the key thought of Habakkuk in Romans 1:17 to explain his own key thought. Knowing the key thought is what helps us in Interpreting rightly. So how do you know if you have the right key thought? When you think that you have the key thought you have to test it. To test your key thought go back and reread the book, and see if everything points to that thought. If it doesthen you are on your way to the right Interpretation, and if you’re not then go back and try again until you find it.
The third and final part of Interpretation is the Flow. The Flow shows you where the author is going and how he got to where he was going. The Flow answers the question, how did the author get the theme? A good way to find the Flow is to use a book chart. I have given a book charts in the appendix #1 to show you how to create a good book chart. A book chart is like doing a time line. You need to see when a thought ends and another begins. A good example is Romans. In Romans we have several arguments that Paul is make to paint the broad picture of the gospel. Note that chapter 1 through 3 Paul argues why both Jew and Gentile need salvation. In chapters 4 and 5 Paul argues Justification that makes us Righteous before God. Chapters 6 through 8 deal with a physical body that desires sin and we cannot save ourselves through our own efforts, but it is Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that helps us to over come our flesh. Chapters 9 through 11 deal with the Sovereignty of God to bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. Chapters 12 through 15:13 give us the practical life that we live under the gospel. Finally the last part of 15 through 16 helps the the intent of the author and encourages us to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil. By looking at the whole and dividing it up in a book chart you get to stand back and look at the whole for what it is worth.
I want to warn you about this process of Interpretation. I find that most people get this point wrong. Remember there is only ONE Interpretation. There is NOT many Interpretations. It does not mean something to you, andsomething different to me. In fact I want you to say this with me, “IT IS NOT ME!” In fact to be honest with you the Bible was not written for you, or to you. It was written to a specific people, by a specific author, for a specific reason. Now the awesome truth about the Bible even though it was not written to us is that I can still apply its principles to my life and live more like Christ. Once we understand that it is not about us and we start Interpreting in the context of who it is written to we can get a great application for ourselves. In fact when you write down your Interpretation it should be referring to the intended audience, not you. Take yourself out of this step. You will be able to put yourself as much as you want into the final step when you come to application. I have seen Pastor’s and the average believer make this mistake. A good example of this is in 2 Chronicles 7:14. Solomon has just finished building the Temple. Solomon is blessing the Temple and God says to Solomon, “If My people will turn from their wicked ways I will bless their land.”(NASB) Now there are more blessing that God promises here, but I have heard this interpretation, and application from the pulpit that if American will turn, or the church will turn from their wicked way God will bless our land (meaning America). Now that sounds amazing. I too wish for it, but the sad fact is its not about us. God is not promising to America, or to the Church. The promise is to Israel! It needs to be Interpreted as such. What we get from it is that God is faithful in the big things if we are faithful in the little.
Interpretation is the meaning of what the author intended for his original reader to understand. To interpret any other way would be to falsely interpret scripture.