How Should Christians Interpret The Bible?

How should Christians interpret the Bible?

There are countless steps that are set forward to ensure accurate Biblical interpretation.  We are called to study the original languages, the context, the syntax, the historical background, etc...  This is all wonderful and excellent, however, there is one thing that is much deeper and deserves a great deal of our attention, "Just what is the main theme of the Bible?"  It sounds simple enough, but it is really the starting presuppositional point of good Biblical interpretation.  The reason being, the way we answer this will directly impact 'how' we approach and read the Bible.

For example, if we approach the Old Testament primarily as a collection of stories to make us more moral, we are severely missing the whole point of the Old Testament.  If we approach the New Testament primarily as a collection of prophecies predicting the end of the age, we are severely missing the whole point of the New Testament.  

So, what is the main theme of the Bible?  In the story of Jesus dialoguing with two individuals on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27[1] it says, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."  As we can see, Jesus interpreted the scriptures to the two individuals by showing them that the Old Testament was all about Him.  What this means for us is that our interpretive lens for the Old Testament is simply... Christ. 

As we look to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we see four books that are essentially the biographies of Jesus Christ.  Then as we travel to the epistles (i.e. Paul's letters to churches) we see that Paul talks to the churches about Jesus.  Like the Old Testament, the New Testament scriptures are also about Christ.   

So, "just what is the main theme of the Bible?"  We can simply answer this saying, "the whole Bible is a book about.... Jesus!" 

Now, can our Biblical interpretation stop here?  Understanding that the Bible is about Jesus is a great start to approaching the scriptures, however, the question that needs to be raised next is, "who do we say Jesus is?"  In other words, our Biblical interpretation is not only governed by how we approach the Bible but also by the way we answer the question of, "who is Jesus or what is Jesus to us?" 

The reality is that much of our Biblical interpretation has already been predetermined for us depending on the way in which we approach scriptures and how we understand the person of Jesus Christ. 

Is Jesus our mascot?  Is Jesus our moral or mystical spiritual example?  Is Jesus our motivational life coach?  If we view Christ in any of the previous ways we are severely misconstruing the mission and person of Jesus Christ and thus interpreting the rest of the scriptures incorrectly.    Listen for a minute on how Jesus defines himself:
  • For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:13b)
  • For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
  • I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall live (John 11:25)
  • I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
  • I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
  • I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
  • I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5)
Very simply put, we need to interpret scriptures on the basis of what Jesus says about Himself and how the scriptures define Him.  For when we make Jesus into a moral coach, a mascot for Christianity or a helper/encourager of those struggling with self-esteem we are not seeing ourselves or Christ rightly.  As previously mentioned, this incorrect view of Christ skews the way in which we approach, read and interpret the rest of the scriptures.

It is very common to hear people define themselves and their interpretation in the following way, “we are Christ-centered and we preach Christ crucified.”  What this is essentially saying is that a person of this presuppositional stance sees the Bible, both Old and New Testament, through the central message of Christ.  Furthermore, the phrase “Christ Crucified” also communicates one’s understanding of Jesus, that they read the scriptures through the lens of seeing Jesus as the divine Messiah and Savior; being crucified for helpless and spiritually dead sinners.

So, "who is Jesus or what is Jesus to us?"  We can answer this simply by saying, "Jesus is the Messiah and Savior who came into the world to serve sinful humanity with redemption and forgiveness.  He came for me, a sinner, so that I might abide with Him and have the blessed assurance of eternal life with the Father."

As we continue in Biblical interpretation may the centrality of Jesus and Him crucified bless us in our interpretive endeavors.  May we be continually blessed that the scriptures don't speak of Jesus as a mere moral example, mascot or motivational inspiration but rather the Majestic, Divine, Savior and Messiah of the world.  A Messiah who redeemed mankind from the consequences of their self-chosen life to sin and freed mankind from the condemnation and wrath of God. 

Christ-centered, Christ-crucified... these are the interpretive values and message of the Bible for us.

[1] See also John 5:39; Romans 1:2; John 1:45; and Romans 3:21.


Anonymous said…
Well said, Matt, Christ Crucified for the salvation of sinners is the central theme of the Scriptures. I would also add that the Holy Spirit, knowing we would be wrestling with His Word through many centuries, also put a major emphasis on how we sinners can receive Christ in our day. Specifically, as the Scripture teaches Christ throughout, it is also extolling the means by which God delivers Christ and His gifts, which is the Word and Sacraments. Through these, as through means, God delivers forgiveness, life and salvation! Real forgiveness for real sinners, today, wherever the Word of Christ is proclaimed, wherever sinners are washed and fed! dmw
DMW.... right on! Walther has some good comments on this in the following article:
Teresa Beem said…
As much as I agree with you, I am afraid that all this is your own opinion. There is nothing within scripture that tells us how to interpret it, so you are doing nothing more than assuming your worldview of Christ to be correct. (And again I agree with your premise, I just don't think you can prove it.) The problem today is not how you interpret it, but who is supposed to do the interpreting.

Just today on my blog, I deal with some of this issue. It is VERY challenging because of the ubiquitous assumption of personal interpretation and how we passive acquiesce to Christian relativism.
Teresa... thanks for your post.

You have some pretty definitive words posted above. "All this is your own opinion" and "nothing with scripture tells us how to interpret."

A couple of questions in response to your definitive posting:

-In Luke 24:27 how does Jesus interpret the Old Testament scriptures to the two individuals on the Emmaus Road?

-In Luke 24:44-45, what does Jesus say about the Old Testament?

-According to Stephen's speech in Acts 7:52, what is his interpretation of 'who' the Old Testament prophets announced beforehand?

-What is the Apostle Paul's interpretation of the Old Testament promise given to Abraham according to Galatians 3:6-29? What/who is the promise?

-How does Philip in Acts 8:26-40 interpret the Old Testament scriptures to the Ethiopen Eunuch?

-In Colossians 2:17 what do the OT festivals, new moons and Sabbaths shadow according to Paul?

-Who is the Gospel of Luke about according to Acts 1:1-2?

-Why is the book of John written and who is it written about according to John 20:31?

-In Acts 17:2 it was Paul's custom to reason with people on the basis of Old Testament Scripture about who?


From the above posts:
-How did Jesus, the Apostles and the early church interpret scripture?
-How does/should the New Testament interpretive worldview shape your interpretive worldview and my interpretive worldview.
-Are we out of line if our interpretive worldview differs from that of Jesus, the Apostle Paul and the early Apostles?
-Finally, do we interpret scripture or does scripture interpret us?
I have one comment in reference to your statement "Christ-centered, Christ-crucified... these are the interpretive values and message of the Bible for us." I believe you are missing a very important part of the revelation, and more appropriately,along with "Christ-crucified" it has to include "Resurrected and Coming Again!" That is a fuller expression of Jesus Christ: God's Son, Savior & Lord.
In His Grip,
Pastor Mike
Central Oregon Coast
Pastor Mike,

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you mentioning the 2nd advent of Christ. This component is a part of the Biblical Meta-narrative, just like the doctrine of creation, the fall, life in the church, etc... Unfortunately if we loose any one part of the Biblical Meta-narrative, we can begin to have problems with our systematic theology and our understanding of Jesus. I would agree that the 2nd advent is extremely important. Furthermore, I believe that the understanding of the 1st advent inadvertently drives us to the hope and promise of the 2nd advent. The empty cross and grave drives us to look to the 2nd advent!

Grace and Peace to you my friend.

The Biblical Meta-narrative