Understanding Scripture Part 1

Understanding Scripture

Having A Correct Understanding of Scripture

Reading the Bible... memorizing scripture... is not the complete story. You must correctly understand what scripture says. Satan is known as the father of lies for a reason. Yes, in some cases those opposing God have rewritten scripture so that it says what THEY want it to say. The Jehovah's Witnesses have their New World Translation. The Mormons, although their missionaries won't admit it until you make it plain that you know the truth, have their Joseph Smith translation. Catholics have the New Jerusalem and the New American Bibles. And liberal "Christians" have their twisted translation in The Message.

HOWEVER, Satan does not simply attack scripture on one front. In addition to distorted translations, and plainly bad translations that few people accept, the distortion of what good Bible translations say is common. Having a basic knowledge of how to correctly understand scripture is important.

First, What Are The Best English Translations?

For Bible study purposes, it is best to use a formal equivalence translation. This is a translation in which the words have been translated word-for-word. The closer you get to a paraphrase, the easier it is to read, but the more it takes on the characteristics of a commentary instead of a translation. Here is a list of the best English translations:

Formal Equivalence (word-for-word):
Legacy Standard Bible (LSB)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
New King James Version (NKJV)
King James Version (KJV) - Be careful! You must know the 17th century meaning of words

Dynamic Equivalence (hybrid of formal and functional equivalence):
English Standard Version (ESV)

Functional Equivalence (meaning-for-meaning):
Christian Standard Version (CSV)
New International Version (NIV)

New Living Translation (NLT)

Keys To Understanding Scripture

Scripture Interprets Scripture: This means that instead of using human wisdom, we use scripture to interpret scripture. What this means is that we read scripture in the context of all of scripture. Things that may not be clear in one part of scripture, are clear when understood in the context of all of scripture. When you need help, don't use Google and accept whatever answer comes up. Go to trusted sources such as Got Questions. Another useful resources is our Science Pastor web site. It is filled with links to answers available on other good, Biblical web sites.

Understand the context: Probably the most common way scripture is twisted to mean something it does not mean is by taking a phrase, verse, or paragraph out of context. Here are some key questions to ask yourself as you read the Bible:

  • Who is speaking? What the Bible reports is always true, but what some people are recorded in the Bible as saying is not. For example, in the book of Job, Job's friends give him some bad advice. On the other hand, everything Jesus says is correct and true. The question to ask is, "Does what is being said contradict other parts of scripture, or is it in harmony with the rest of scripture?" With Job's friends it is clear they were not giving Godly advice. How do we know that? In Job 42:7 God says, "The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is trustworthy, as My servant Job has."

  • Is it descriptive or prescriptive? The Bible is describing what Job's friends are saying. It is descriptive. When Jesus says, "Go therefore, and make disciples...", that is prescriptive.

  • Who is being addressed? When reading the Bible, always ask, "is this speaking to believers or non-believers? To Jews or Gentiles? To the nation of Israel or to all nations?" For example, in Romans 7 we know Paul is talking to Christians because he says, "Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law..." or some translations say, "Therefore, my brothers and sisters..." The term "brethren" refers to Paul's brothers and sisters in Christ. So what Paul is teaching in Romans seven is specifically for Christians.

    On the other hand, Romans 1:18 is talking about unbelievers: " For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness..." The only people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness are unbelievers.

  • What is the immediate context? A good example is Matthew 25:31-46, the judgment of the sheep and the goats. Some take this to be describing the final judgment, and that God judges us based on our works. But, what is the context? Jesus is answering a question asked in Matthew 24:3. The disciples want to know about Jesus's return... His coming at the end of the age. To answer their question, Jesus describes the seven year Tribulation, and in verses 25:31-46 the context is that of the judgment at the end of the seven year Tribulation. This is a time during which Christians will be severely persecuted, to the point that they will be unable to buy or sell anything. That makes it tough to get food. They will survive because other Christians, in violation of the civil law, will help them. At the judgment, Christians will be known because of their sacrificial deeds helping other Christians. People are not being judged based on their works. Risking their lives to help other Christians demonstrates a love for their brothers and sisters in Christ that only true believers have.

  • What is the overall context? For example, is this in the New Testament or the Old Testament? In the Old Testament Israel is under the law. In the New Testament we are under grace. Remember, the four Gospels in the New Testament are describing things before Jesus goes to the cross. What happens in the gospels takes place under the Law. Also, the book of Acts is describing a transitional period. It is after the cross, but all of scripture has not yet been given and the church is "in progress" as it is being established for the first time. Acts covers a significant period of time, and we can see God's actions changing as we read through Acts. For example, in the first half of Acts, a time before scripture was complete, we see miracles that validate the messenger (Paul for example) and the message as truly coming from God. In the later chapters of Acts the miracles have stopped, they have served their purpose (validation) and are no longer needed.

More Information:

This has just been a quick introduction to a few Bible study fundamentals. These are actually good study practices that apply to anything that you are reading (or watching). However, it is worthwhile to learn more. Here are a couple of links:

Short Book: How To Study the Bible

Sermon Series: How To Study the Bible (single message). Or go to the index page for the complete series.

In addition, a study Bible, such as the MacArthur Study Bible, is a useful tool to help you understand scripture.

Go to Part 2: Understanding Scripture


understand scripture

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Everything in the Bible is useful and good. We should not skip over or ignore any part of the Bible.

"But know this first of all, no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." - 2 Peter 1:20-21

"Prophecy" means to speak God's words. It is not always referring to predictions of the future. This is an example showing that understanding words in a Biblical context is important. Prophets in the Bible were speaking what God wanted them to say, and we have a record from those whom God inspired to write.

The word "prophecy" can also mean a prediction about the future. Since the only one who knows the future is God, at times a prophet was speaking prophecy in both senses, that it was words from God, and it was about the future.