Part I (below)
The Bible Is Not Like Any Other Book
Is Private Interpretation Possible?
Part II - SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
Set Aside A Time
Start At The Beginning
Begin With An Overview
Follow a Plan
Don't Just Read
Pay Attention To The Original Languages
Also Remember that The Bible Is 'Progressive Revelation'.
How to Handle Difficult Verses
Meditating On God's Word
Part III - WHAT YOU SHOULD NEVER DO
Never Ever Read a Bible Verse
Remember Barren Head Knowledge Won't Do you a Whit of Good
In the New Testament Matthew recorded Jesus as saying
But He answered and said, "It is written, 'man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4 NASB)
The Savior was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 - part of what Moses told the nation before they crossed the river Jordan and went into battle.
The point both Moses and Jesus were making was that although people need food to live, they need God even more. Regardless of how much food a person has they will eventually die something that no one wants to do.
In fact, our spirit rebels at the thought that no matter what we have accomplished in our seventy odd years here on earth, we are eventually going to become worm food. (See The Introduction to the article on Salvation - You Are Going To Die - And Stay Dead). Christianity offers you something you cannot get anywhere else - life without end in God's kingdom. In fact, Jesus said the reason He was sent to earth was to announce this Kingdom that, by the way, is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there' but matches, in every respect, the world most men and women would choose to live in.
See What Was Jesus' Primary Message? The Message of The Bible and
Furthermore, all the information we need to realize eternal life is contained between the covers of the Bible. It is the the only place we can go to learn about God, how we can live a life pleasing to the Him and what that will mean for us when we draw our last breath. It tells us of the Father's plan for man's salvation and how that plan was put in effect through Jesus. In fact, both Testaments revolve around Christ - the theme of the entire Bible - the Old Testament points forward to Jesus' coming and the New Testament points back to Him. And since it is impossible that we have faith in someone we know nothing about we need to learn who Jesus was (See The Deity of Christ - Lord, Liar or Lunatic?) and how His birth and death has enormous bearing on our life. See Salvation
We in the West have so much more than people in some other parts of the world - the enormous privilege of having free access to the Scriptures in our own language/s and the complete freedom to do so.
But we need to have more than a passing familiarity with the Book of Books. If man cannot live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, then God's Word must have a place of priority our lives and we have to make all effort to study and rightly understand it.
Yet many Christians seem to be satisfied with the (often out of context) bits of Scripture quoted from the pulpit or in one or another article, book or magazine.
The Bible Is Not Like Any Other Book.
Although it does glow in the dark or levitate, it is beyond a shadow of doubt the only Word of God. One of many many reasons to believe this is because the authorship of the Bible is a literary miracle - impossible to account on ordinary and natural principles. No other book in history can make the same claim! See Authorship of The Bible
It stands by itself inasmuch as it is not the product of anyone' imagination, but a true story that covers the creation of the earth and the history of man from the moment he was brought into being to the end of time and this world as we know it. Whether one reads it or not, whether one believes it or not, the Bible is our story and is deeply connected with every person who has ever lived on the face of this earth.
The problem is that the Bible is not the easiest book to read.
In the first place it is enormous - 66 books that cover over a 1,000 pages. If that were not enough it is made up of several literary genres some of which are more difficult that others to understand.
This may be part of the reason that most Christians seem to assume that Scriptural knowledge has to be obtained through 'experts'.
In fact, I suspect that paying a professional to spoon-feed them one or more times a week is simply taking the easy way out. That so many Christians do not really study the Scriptures for themselves but blindly rely on the teachings from the pulpit is one of the main reasons so that much of the church has lost it's moorings and has been cast adrift on the tides of strange and dangerous doctrines.
So do not let anyone, not your pastor, not the elders in the church - ever tell you that because you have no knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, or because you did not graduate from one or the other seminary or Bible school and do not hold a theological degree, you cannot understand the Bible and need someone to interpret it for you.
Think about it, if no one but the clergy studies the Word of God, how on earth will the church member know whether they are teaching the truth or not?
Is Private Interpretation Possible?
2 Peter 1:19-21 says
(19) So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (20) But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, (21) for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Most Christians take verse 20 to mean that the prophecies that came straight from the mouth of God are not to be 'twisted' in any way or explained according to how we personally understand it.
This is not what the passage means - Peter was not referring to those who read the Scriptures, but those who wrote the Scriptures.
He said they needed to pay close attention to the prophecies because they did not originate in the human mind. The word "for" connects the two thoughts. In other words, the prophets did not did not invent what they wrote, nor did they put their own "interpretation" on God's message, but were guided by the Holy Spirit.
No doubt this is why the NIV reads (Emphasis Added):
(20) Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. (21) For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21. NIV - New International Version)
In any case every person who reads a passage of Scripture is going to form an opinion of what the author is saying. It is quite common for committed Christians to differ on what a particular passage means. I do not see how "private interpretation' can be avoided. However, in order to ensure we are in sync with the original author who intended one meaning and one meaning only, we MUST ensure that we are reading the passage in context. Wresting any verses (or verses) from the surrounding ext is one of the most common ways to twist the meaning. (See Part III)
It is true that obtaining Scriptural knowledge seems like a daunting task, but it happens by degrees. Remember how difficult it was when you first got behind the wheel of a car but, as you persisted and practiced, you gradually became more and more proficient.
However, as we work our way through the Bible we also need to ...
Pay Attention To Literary Genres
One can never interpret the text properly unless one recognizes the variety of literary genres used in the Scriptures, such as law, poetry (e.g., The Psalms), parables, history (e.g., Acts), prophecy, wisdom literature (e.g., Proverbs), epistles or letters to specific individuals or groups (much of the New Testament), and apocalyptic literature (e.g., Revelation) that warns of cataclysmic events. The reader who does not recognize the genre will come to many wrong conclusions. (Note: this mistake is often made in the Psalms - Hebrew poetry that uses a great deal of symbolism but is often taken literally.
We have to understand whether the text is literal or figurative and, if the latter, what it represents. Having said that we also need to remember that the authors virtually always wrote literally. This means that every word has a normal ordinary meaning and although a single word can be used in different ways, there are no double or deeper meanings. For example, the numerous NT references to Christ's Second Coming mean He will come again as He did the first time. These references have nothing to do with the Maitreya as New Ager Benjamin Creme insists, nor do they mean that the 'cosmic christ' will be reincarnated in all of humanity. See the Esoteric Interpretation of Scripture.
Wisdom literature is a collection of a short pithy instructive sayings often contains metaphorical and poetic language that cannot be understood as straightforward teachings.
The Psalms are Hebrew poetry, and virtually all poetry is well known for its figurative language, which is not meant to be taken literally, but used to draw vivid mental images. For example, words are neither 'wind' as William Shakespeare said, nor 'bullets' as George Savile did. Both expressions simply paint a colorful image of the thought the author was attempting to convey. Besides which, the psalms are often expressions of emotions, and must be read as such. So let's not get carried away when the Psalmist said he was "brought forth in iniquity" and conceived in sin. See Original Sin.. Fact Or Fable? Also Filthy Rags and None That Seeketh?
Apocalyptic literature, with its generous use of some really bizarre symbolism, often presents the most challenges. See An Overview of Revelation.
Parables are short, simple, colorful, and easily remembered stories, that were used in the Bible to teach, or emphasize, spiritual lessons. However, they have to be rightly interpreted in harmony with other teachings. (An outstanding example of a parable being completely misinterpreted is the one our Lord told about The Rich Man and Lazarus Since people do not go to heaven or hell based on their financial status, we know that it is not literal. Sadly, the traditional interpretation uses preconceived ideas to decide that certain parts of the story are literal).
So here are a few guidelines to reading and understanding the Bible for yourself and a few extremely important warnings about what not to do.
Continue on to Chapter Two - Helpful Hints and Golden Rules - Some Things You Should Do And What To Avoid Like The Plague HERE