How to Misinterpret the Bible


We all know we can misread, misunderstand, and misapply the Bible. But how do we know when we do? In this lab, John Piper explains the objective standard we can use to test our interpretations.

Some questions to ask as you read and study:

  1. Is “what does the text mean to you?” a good question to ask in a Bible study? Why or why not?
  2. Is there a right and a wrong way to interpret the Bible? If so, how do you know when our interpretation is right or wrong?
  3. Watch the lab. Why does John Piper insist that there are right interpretations and wrong ones? What is the objective standard we can use to test our interpretations?

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Principle for Bible Reading

Wrestling with a Difficult Text

The apostle Peter said that Paul’s letters were “hard to understand” at times (2 Peter 3:16). Many of us give our hearty Amen. But instead of running from hard passages, God blesses us with understanding as we, like Jacob, wrestle with God in his word.

So when difficult texts have you in a headlock, what can you do? Here are a few options:

  • Identify what is clear from the passage. Start with what you can figure out from the passage as a whole and then return to the unclear parts.
  • Find the main point. Often the confusing parts do not contain the main point of the passage. Identifying the main point can give us clues for discovering the meaning of the difficult passage.
  • Look for clues within the book and surrounding context. Search the book for key words and phrases found in the tough passage.
  • Cross-reference. Utilizing cross-references, especially when a New Testament verse cites the Old Testament, helps us to have a fuller understanding of what the authors were trying to communicate.
  • Ask specific questions of the text. Addressing a challenging text as a whole can seem insurmountable. But breaking a passage down by asking specific questions about it can unravel the meaning, question by question and answer by answer.
  • Use a trusted commentary. Be careful with commentaries. This caution includes trusting bad commentaries and relying too much on good ones. But commentaries can be used well, and great biblical scholars give helpful insights.