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Natural Interpretation

Common Mistakes of New Bible Students

By "Common Mistakes", I mean the reasons why Bible students misinterpret the Bible.

This also pertains to Bible study group leaders, Sunday school teachers, preachers, etc., i.e. anyone teaching or preaching from the Bible. Whenever someone is teaching Scripture and they say something that makes people wince - and I think to myself, "if only they had just ...(whatever)... they would'nt have said that!" - Well here's a list of frequent reasons why passages are misinterpreted.

  1. General Ignorace of the Whole Bible - A lot of people just starting to get involved in church ministry have not read through the Bible, and don't have a working understanding of the historic/prophetic core context. Likewise, they don't own (or dont' use) a Bible outline or other basic references to help overcome these inadequacies.


    1. Read through the whole Bible before you ever start teaching Bible. In fact, you should read through the whole Bible even if you don't teach!
    2. Get a good Bible outline (maybe there's one in your study Bible) and use it habitually. This will help a great deal with immediate context.
    3. Get a Bible Dictionary (Unger's) and at least one good commentary - the selection of which is important - and use it habitually. Your commentary will help fill in the gaps of whole-Bible knowledge including the identification of other related passages. Commentaries which I know and appreciate include Matthew Henry (common free e-copies), Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, and the Expositors Bible Commentary ed. Gaebelein. An alternative to commentaries are the Study Bible notes of authors like Scofield, Ryrie, or Thompson.

  2. Shoot-from-the-hip Analysis - Especially pertaining to parables, prophecies, or other passages with symbollic elements. People get really random with the interpretation of non-literal or prophetic passages. These should NOT be considered "common sense passages", but passages calling for us to apply particular care and full preparation.

    Solution - This is where commentaries really shine, both for the identification of related passages, and for commonly held explanations. Remember, you're not locked in to whatever the commentator says, but it's a good place to start!

  3. Not Reading the Following Passage - Let the author explain; Often when we are expounding on the meaning of a passage of Scripture, the best explanation is the next few verses! Too often people don't study the surrounding passage and miss the best commentary there is.

    Solution - Scripture best explains itself - proper preparation requires you to read the previous and following passages.

  4. Missing Parallel or Related Scripture Passages - Get the whole story! Too often, people miss the passage they need because they don't know it's available to them. A great way to embaress yourself is to misinterpret a passage which Scripture explains elsewhere!

    Solution - Use your chain-reference or other helps to identify the source of quotes, and read that passage as well. Get a reference for Gospel parallels and check for your passage in a parallel Gospel. Again, study Bibles and commentaries will often point you right at these other scriptures. Other helps for this are topical indexes and concordances - but these are word based not directly associated.

  5. Interpreting Scripture Based on Your Current Beliefs It's not wrong to believe what you've been taught, but too often this is a crutch used to explain difficult passages (as you heard it explained by ...) rather than working with the passage yourself.

    Solution - Don't be a copy-cat. The more original Bible study you do, the more original your own understanding will be - Nail it down for yourself! But also, Don't isolate yourself - It's always good to teach a class which includes other mature, knowledgeable Christians. It's also good to work through a good theology book (Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Theissen). When (not if) you do get to a place of conflict between what you see and what you've been taught, it's time to talk to your pastor!

  6. Personal application of inapplicable passages - Wrongly claiming commands or promises; Examples include Jesus telling the disciple that they would be immune to poisonous snakes, or Moses forbiding the Isralites to do any form of work on Saturdays. Both of these examples have modern religions which hold these two examples as generally applicable to current believers. There is also a strong tendancy, especially in charismatic churches, to claim any promise found in Scripture as being personably applicable - "name it and claim it!"

    Solution - This is where the importance of contextual qualification comes in. If Jesus is speaking to a certain individual or group, that does not mean that what He says necessarily applies to anyone else. Take care to properly identify the orginal historical audience, and then decide whether or not a case can be made for direct application to the modern believer. Also important for determining the applicabilty of a passage is a working understanding of dispensations, or promises, covenants, and prophecies.

  7. Overemphasizing a particular Word - When you're reading English! A good example: I have heard at least 3 different preachers use "where there is no vision, the people perish:..." (Proverbs 29:18a, KJV) used as a basis for a speech on goal-setting. Wrong use of the word - a better interpretation of "vision" would be "revelation", as in Scipture - not "vision" as in "imagining" or "dreaming!" In this case, The rest of the verse show by context that this is about Scripture - "...but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Proverbs 29:18b, KJV)

    Solution - Do your word studies. Translations are good, but words are tricky. Before you key up on a particular word or phrase, make sure you check the language references. Strong's concordance is the standard. It's keyed to the KJV, locates the individual words by passage, gives the original, and includes the Greek and Hebrew dictionaries.

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    (C) Copyright 2012 Dainel Stanfield, this document may be distributed freely, but may not be sold or modified.