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Thursday, September 27, 2012 | Comments (3)

by John MacArthur

When it comes to Bible study, too often people want to jump straight to application. They might be faithful to read God’s Word, but they skip an important step on the way to applying it to their lives. And in many cases, that application comes from only the most basic, shallow knowledge of what Scripture truly says and means.

You can’t dig deeply into the riches of God’s truth if you only have a surface understanding of its meaning. If you truly want to apply God’s Word to your life, you cannot skip over the important step of interpretation. It’s not enough to simply know what the Bible says—we must strive to know what it means by what it says.

It’s a matter of, as Paul charged Timothy, “rightly dividing the Word” (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV). Left to our own understanding, we might be able to make some limited sense of portions of Scripture. However, other passages would leave us as clueless and confused as the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:31). In fact, without careful interpretation, you could wind up with a different application of biblical truth for each person in your family, your Bible study group, or even your congregation.

In order to interpret the true meaning of Scripture, there are a number of gaps we need to bridge. Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and even some Aramaic, there are language gaps we need to cross. Why did the biblical authors use the words, phrases, and idioms they used, and what did they mean to the original audience? And do our translations of those words and phrases capture their full meaning, or is there more to it than is instantly apparent in our English Bibles?

Along those same lines, we need to bridge the culture gap. We need to understand how the biblical authors thought and lived, and how that influenced what they wrote. You can’t appreciate the full weight of the parable of the Good Samaritan or Christ’s interaction with the woman at the well if you don’t understand the tension between Jews and Samaritans. We don’t need to contextualize Scripture to make it relevant today—we need to understand its original context and how it shaped God’s Word.

In addition to language and culture, there’s also a geography gap. Even a basic understanding of Old and New Testament geography can make a significant difference in your understanding of a particular text. How many times have you consulted the maps in the back of your Bible? Just that basic information helps bring vivid detail to the life and ministry of Christ, His disciples, and many other Old and New Testament figures.

Finally, when it comes to interpreting God’s Word, we need to bridge the history gap. Knowing Pilate’s background and the mistakes he’d made with the Jews helps you understand why he was so willing to hand Jesus over for crucifixion. Knowing about the wicked lives of the Roman rulers helps you understand the kind of persecution and opposition Paul and the other apostles faced. Don’t fall into the trap of treating God’s Word like a collection of fables, fairy tales, and ancient proverbs. Knowing the real history that shaped the events in Scripture helps bring them to life in your study.

The work of bridging those gaps is interpretation, and it’s a vital part of any thorough, productive Bible study. It can seem like daunting work at first, but it’s the only way to get past a shallow, surface understanding of God’s truth. To help you with that, tomorrow we’re going to look at five key principles of Bible interpretation.


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#1  Posted by Naomi Durocher  |  Thursday, September 27, 2012at 1:20 PM

Thank you GTY for this blog and all the effort you do to preserve the truth in our decadant society. I am 22 and I use Johns study bible and find it VERY helpful to me in my daily devotions. I have been reading book by book through the New Testament repetitively and I LOVE learning more and more about God every day! I find it extremely helpful to listen to the sermon series on the particular book I am studying as I study throughout the week. After I am done with a book I understand its themes and have a good grasp on it. I can't thank GTY enough for all that you have and are doing! Keep on fighting the good fight! I can't wait to get to heaven and worship God with you!

#2  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Saturday, September 29, 2012at 4:11 PM

My family has been following Christ since 1978. It wasn't until we were encouraged through GTY Ministries to deeply divide the Word

that our lives took a radical change in the area of trust and faith in God. I could not encourage your readers more than to follow your advice. It will be the best decision they ever made next to meeting Christ. Continued blessings to all at GTY .

Jean Selden

#3  Posted by Jacob Stinchfield  |  Saturday, September 29, 2012at 5:39 PM

I have enjoyed Johns study bible for the last few years and found it very helpful in bridging a few gaps listed above. I believe what John says about digging deep into Gods word helps bring us closer to understanding what was happening and how to better relate its "meanings" to our lives. When we cry out to God daily at His gates, pursuing His wisdom, knowledge and understanding ,how greatly He gives these good gifts to those who seek and ask. " And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He rewards those who seek Him." Hebrews 11:6

John thank you for your commitment to our Lord and your service to His people. Falling in love with God has been the most rewarding touch in my life I have ever known. I pray for the Holy Spirit to move heavily upon all believers and stir our relationships to new heights and depths of love for God and compassionate hearts toward all the unsaved, further equipping us for battle in the heavens and laying down our lives for them, as our Lord Jesus showed each of us.