If there was ever a skill more needed but less known, understood and used-- it is Biblical Interpretation. It is at the root of every spiritual issue and question. It affects our knowledge about God and his ways. It affects our choices and expectations. Its use or misuse is particularly evident when we get into questions of spiritual abuse and unhealthy spiritual systems.
There are some misconceptions about Biblical Interpretation that we are going to have to do away with immediately:
So what makes a good interpretation? A good interpretation has the following characteristics:
These might sound like a lot of work, but the reality is that anybody can become a good interpreter of Scripture. The chief rule is not to take a passage out of context, but to understand it in its context. A good interpreter is always learning and growing in the skills that support solid interpretation.
Even after doing all of this, some passages are open to multiple interpretations. In these cases, it is important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each possible understanding and to consider which best fits the context. While disciplined interpretation is especially beneficial for difficult passages, it is critical for all passages. In fact, most Bible readers who learn to take interpretation seriously begin to realize that their past interpretations of passages that were once considered "easy" are often the result of bad interpretation!
Some spiritual leaders may discourage or even mock learning Biblical Interpretation. They may say it is more important to have the "right heart" or to "do what the Scriptures say." What is more indicative of having the "right heart" than truly seeking to understand what God has said or refusing to allow others to distort what he has said? And how can one "do what the Scriptures say" without knowing what they say?