The Bible is the best selling book of all time. But it is also the most unread book of all time. Most people don’t read it because they don’t know how to read it. And those who do read it commonly misinterpret it – both clergy and lay people alike.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to know how to read, and properly interpret Holy Scripture.
First Things First
Before getting into the ten rules of exegesis, we must properly identify what we are reading. You must know a few things about the Bible before proceeding. First, you must know what the Bible is.
The Bible is a collection of many books, written by many different authors, over a period of many centuries. You must look at the Bible for what it is: a collection of many different books, written by many different authors, in various cultures.
The word, ‘canon’ literally means “rule”. In this specific use of the word, it means the rule used to determine which books are deemed “inspired”. More specifically, it means the actual list of books included in a particular Bible.
We must realize that there are at least 10 different canons within the Christian church alone. That means there are at least 10 different lists of books considered to be inspired within the Christian/Catholic/Orthodox church alone.
There are also many different translations of each canon.
Yes, it can get complicated. Whenever someone says, “the Bible” you must realize that term is very broad. “The Bible” can mean one thing to a western protestant Christian, and something quite different to an eastern Tewahedo Orthodox Christian. That is because Tewahedo Orthodox Christians (all 45 million of them) include books in their Bible that the typical 21st century western protestant Bible does not.
But more than that. Any orthodox bible includes books that the protestant bible does not.
Even Catholics include books that the protestant bible does not.
Therefore, when someone says, “the bible”, it is a very broad term, which means different things to different people.
In order to understand any Bible, we must know how to read it. There are ten basic rules you must keep in mind when reading the Bible. These ten rules can change your bible-reading experience from that of daunting to delightful.
The Ten Rules
When reading any portion of scripture, you must ask:
- Who wrote it?
Moses does not write like Isaiah. Isaiah does not write like Paul. John does not write like Peter. Each author is a different person, with a different point of view, different lifestyles, different experiences, different positions, different statuses, and different cultures.
- How much authority does the author have?
It is no secret – the Holy Scriptures primarily came to us by the Jews. God chose the Jewish people to give us the scriptures. And the Jewish people will tell you – not all biblical authors have the same authority. For example: The Torah has the greatest authority because is was written by Moses.
Very important point: The Torah was confirmed by the greatest public display of power – fire, earthquakes, lightnings, etc… In fact, it came by such power the whole nation was afraid – except Moses.
Numbers 12 plainly tells us that Moses has more authority than any other prophet. God said that He speaks to the prophets in dark sayings, visions, and dreams. But He speaks to Moses face-to-face – a privilege that no other prophet had. Thus giving Moses more authority than the prophets. That is why Moses gave us the Torah. He was the only one who had the authority to actually bring down commandments from heaven. And the primary purpose of the prophets is to point people back to the Torah.
There are three levels of authority in scripture: The Torah, The Prophets, and The “writings”. In that order.
- How did the author acquire this knowledge?
Did the author explicitly say that he heard directly from God? (ie The Lord told me, thus sayeth the Lord)
Was he an eyewitness?
Or was he quoting from a previous scripture?
How does the author acquire this knowledge?
- In this passage of scripture, who is speaking?
Is it the author, himself?
Or did the author write the words of another?
- Who is the audience?
Is the author addressing the church?
What is written may or may not apply to anyone. We must know who the audience is.
- What did the author say?
- What did the author NOT say?
In a court of law, what was NOT said can be just as powerful as what was said.
For example, if you witnessed a brutal murder, and you said nothing to no one about it, this is evidence!
Another example: Jimmy, and his two small children pays a visit to John. The children pick up markers and start drawing all over the walls. John is aware of it, and says nothing. The fact that John sees Jimmy’s children drawing on the walls, and says nothing – that actually says a lot!
Sometimes what is not said is just as powerful evidence than what is actually said.
- What is the context?
You have heard it said: Context, context, context.
This cannot be stressed enough.
And when I say context, don’t just think about the surrounding verses. Context means much more than just immediate surrounding verses. It means, the immediate surrounding chapters. It also means taking it in context of ALL scripture.
But if you stop there, you are short changing yourself.
Context means the surrounding culture in which the scripture was written. If you don’t understand the culture, you can totally misunderstand what you are reading.
For example, in the 1950s, if you were gay, it means something COMPLETELY different than it does today.
Finally, you must look at the historical context. What events transpired at that time? Who was in power at that time? etc…
- Is it prophetic? Does the book or passage you are reading typify the Messiah? Is it a shadow of things to come?
- What, if anything, is God saying to me? How can I apply it? When should I take the time to apply it?
Reading it in Chronological Order
Most Bibles are not compiled in chronological order. And even if it is, there are several books which overlap each other. Different authors. Different perspectives. Different accounts.
If you really want to know what happened in the world today, it is a good idea to listen to various news sources, representing different perspectives.
Likewise, it is very important to read the Bible in chronological order. You will get a much better feel for the Bible, and you will get a much better view of biblical teachings, events, and characters.