It has been my honest observation that people including a vast majority of believers today do not have a clear sense of basic things about studying the Bible and reading its different parts. Many read the Bible as if they were reading their daily newspaper, and don’t think much about where they are, and where the Bible was. By that I mean, the Bible is an ancient near eastern divine book written specifically to a certain group of people, to their day (history), to their culture, through ancient languages, and through various literary genres or categories. Some would argue that God speaks to us through the Bible; yes, it was written for us, but it was not written directly to us. We must also realize that the Bible is an anthology. It’s a collection of ancient books. It’s not all one type of literature. The Bible has many literary genres in it, and there are at least ten that encompass its entirety. And there are rules for reading its genre, because you don’t read Law like you read the Gospel; you don’t read an Old Testament Wisdom book like you read an Epistle in the New Testament, in the same manner you don’t read Psalms like you read the book of the Revelation, and so on.
Do we really need to interpret? Why, what’s the point of interpreting, and isn’t this something that scholars and Bible gurus do? Shouldn’t everybody else be able to just read it and understand it? I think these questions really belabor the point, because one becomes an interpreter of anything that he reads, for that matter, whether he likes it or not. However, we are bothered when people interpret like when they take something out of context to prove a point that really isn’t Biblical. It also annoys us when people say that theirs is the only one correct interpretation, and imposes it upon us, thus denying the rest of us any chance to think and pray about it and consider it some other way. There is also what you call ‘Hyper-literalistic interpretation where people say, “Peter has been given the keys to the Kingdom, so he must have a set of keys tied to his belt or something like that, and it really appalls us. Sometimes people knock at your door and have a lot of Scriptural quotes that they’ve memorized, and it makes it very difficult to respond to them, unless of course you know your Bible. They bombard you as it were with those quotes which they have prepared and memorized in advance giving them advantage over you. Well, as believers we can’t just give up and let them tell what the Bible says, and that is truly a risk that we could consider the Bible to be something beyond us, needing the professionals or Bible scholars to explain it to us. This smacks off arrogance and runs against the doctrine of believers’ soul competency (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15). And there was a time in when the Christian church took the position that people should not read the Bible for themselves, partly on account of the fact that the Bible then was in Latin. Most people didn’t know Latin, and so the theory was the priests should know Latin and should interpret it for people; should explain what it says, and the people should just let the priest ‘spoon-feed’ them. And of course, from history we learn that tradition developed during the Middle Ages, and still exists in some parts of the world today where basically people don’t have their own Bibles, and if they have one, chances are they don’t read it all. It pains me to say that most Christians today never read the Bible – NEVER! if you think “Our Daily Bread” is Bible study, have pity on yourself. “Our Daily Bread” is a devotional book that has far more to do with a person’s personal experience and half a verse, and little or nothing to do with Bible study. Thank God if you have a regular devotional time, but do not confuse that with personal Bible study. Most Christians never read the bible, and what they do believe they heard from somebody they trust, like their parents, their pastor, or their denominational creed. Thank God for all those, but none of those are authority – Scripture is authority! Most Christian’s understanding of the Bible is based on between 10 to 20 proof texts taken completely out of context, and that’s all they know, and they couldn’t find those texts when someone asks where they were in the Bible? We claim to be people of the Book, and we’re ignorant of the Bible. We are almost Biblically illiterate and dogmatic in ignorance. It really amazes me at how much we believe has little or nothing to do with the Bible. People don’t even listen to us because of our terrible testimony. We fight all the time, and yet what we fight over has almost always little to do with the Bible. We have come to believe salvation is a hell-fire insurance policy, and we believe that once we pray a little prayer, that’s the end of the deal. There’s not even a Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible, for all you know. And yet we’ve been so convinced that one little act of responding to an altar call sometime in the past and a 2–3-hour Sunday church attendance spread out over a few years is the will of God for our life; which shows that we’ve never picked up His Book and read it; never even thought of the Bible as something they have to deal with. They just go to their pastor or consult their favorite commentary whenever they have a question like “I’ll just ask this expert what it means, and whatever he tells me, that’s it”. And that’s a tragedy. Small wonder there are many older Christians who are still ‘baby’ Christians, and they have never grown to maturity. There is nothing wrong with being spoon-fed by your pastor at the appropriate time. Everyone begins as a ‘baby’ Christian after all. But for someone 15 years old (in the faith) and has not yet learned to self-feed on the Word of God is utterly repugnant. Christian life is growth. We must continue to grow and not rely on a 1-hr sermon of your pastor once a week, or your morning devotion, or on your favorite TV preacher. We must learn to do personal Bible Study, learn to interpret the Bible, and interpret it correctly. Bible experts, commentaries, Bible tools ought to be there to encourage you to answer questions when you run into a problem; to give you over-all guidance, to give you suggestions, to give you hints, but you’re the reader and you are the interpreter.