There is a great need in the Church today to study God’s Word, but there is also a great need to learn how to study it. Just as there are commonly held principles that guide us in almost everything we do—from using a chainsaw to using a sewing machine—there must be guiding principles about how to study and interpret the Bible.
If we can agree on safe standards of interpretation, then perhaps we can approach the same text and come away with similar conclusions about it. Studying the Bible is such a subjective experience that we need a set of objective rules that can be applied in a simple way.
Some people may object to using any methodology at all, saying that we only need to rely upon the Holy Spirit, but in reality, we all use some kind of method to study, whether we know it or not, or whether it is safe or not. In fact, most of the really strange theology I have encountered through the years was supposed to have come straight from the Holy Spirit, so I think we can fall into error anytime we lean too heavily upon either methodology or super-spirituality.
At the same time, even if we had a thousand keys to unlock the meaning of Scripture, they would be useless in our hands if we did not know how to humbly rely upon the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us in our understanding of the very Book He authored. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would teach us and lead us into all truth (John 14:26; 16:24) for which we should be deeply grateful and upon which we should be utterly dependent.
The basis for some of the keys of interpretation that I am presenting in this study guide can be found in Scripture itself. The remaining keys are based upon common sense, being widely accepted by most Christians since the beginning of the Church. Just like the set of keys on the cover of this book, the keys of interpretation range in size, indicating their importance. Some keys are used more often than the others, but each one is useful to help open up our understanding of the Bible.
The following lists the basic rules for studying the Bible that I have used through the years and found to be very helpful in my own study:
Key 1. Find two or three witnesses.
Key 2. Look at the context.
Key 3. Consider what the original language meant.
Key 4. Discover the author’s original intent.
Key 5. Use the whole of Scripture to find meaning.
I have found that these few, simple keys, used in any combination, can help us safely interpret the Bible, opening it up to us for our understanding.