The question of whether we can know what the Bible means or not is not a new one. The question has come up often when controversy arises. But the answer is simple, yes, we can know what the Bible means. How? We must follow sound principles of Biblical Interpretation.
First, let’s look at how not to interpret Scripture. We don’t go through Scripture acting as if it were written today to today’s audience. We don’t go through Scripture looking for buzzwords and then take things out of context to twist meanings.
So how do we know what Scripture means?
Here are some basic steps.
- Observe the passage in our own language. Who is the passage written to? Where was it written? Etc.
- Observe the passage in the original language. Are there any nuances of Greek or Hebrew words that might not be conveyed in the English text?
- Study the historical and cultural contexts of the day. The purpose of this is that we want to know what a particular passage would mean to the original audience.
- Determine the plain meaning of the passage in its original context.
This is not difficult in many cases in Scripture. Yes, there are some passages that are more difficult than others but this is the exception and not the rule. It is not arrogant to say that we can understand the original meaning of the text, nor is it impossible. If it were impossible, what would the point be?
People who say that we cannot know the original meaning with 100% certainty usually say so because the plain meaning and interpretation of Scripture does not mesh with something they want to happen in their life or in society. In other words, they don’t want to see the light.
Another thing to note, and this is important, is that any given passage only has one correct interpretation. Let me say that again, there is only one correct interpretation of Scripture. There can be any number of applications for a passage, but only one correct meaning.
Let me close with an example.
On September 2nd, 1776, General George Washington wrote a letter to the Continental Congress. That letter was written in a different time and culture to a different recipient. Yet, we can interpret that letter with 100% clarity. The army was demoralized and, in Washington’s opinion, underpaid. He recommended the possibility of land being added as an incentive for enlistments.
There is no question to the meaning of this letter from Washington. In the same way, we can look at the books of the Bible, many of which are letters themselves, and interpret the text with 100% clarity.