Interpreting the Bible: the story so far


I have looked at six topics so far in this series on Understanding the Bible in the 21st century. Before I move on to draw some conclusions, I want to sum up what I have learnt so far.

The story so far

1. Everyone disbelieves some parts of the Bible

Although christians often say they believe the Bible alone, everyone has passages they don’t believe should be understood and applied literally today. Once we recognise this, we can begin to develop a more honest and realistic approach to the Bible.

2. Most people interpret via a theological position

People harmonise difficult and divergent passages by filtering the meaning through some theological grid, based on their church’s traditions or doctrinal statements. I suggested that the Holy Spirit is a more reliable guide to interpreting the Bible.

3. What the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about itself

The Bible claims to be inspired by God, but it doesn’t try to explain this in the detail we would often like. It contains the authoritative scriptures of the Christian (and Jewish) faiths and claims to reveal God to us. But it doesn’t make any explicit claim to be the word of God or without error.

4. How Jesus and the apostles interpreted the Old Testament

It turns out that Jesus and his followers didn’t always interpret their scriptures (our Old Testament) literally, but used more ‘free-wheeling’ approaches.

5. The Bible is a story

The Bible doesn’t contain any books of systematic theology or philosophy. Instead, it contains lots of stories (history, parables and, some would say, myths and poetry) plus the very personal writings of prophets and the equally personal letters from the apostles. We can only assume God wanted it this way, perhaps because he wanted it to be practical rather than academic, to appeal to our imaginations as well as our minds, and to provoke us to think and respond rather than give us textbook answers.

6. Two covenants require two different interpretations

The Old Testament is based on a covenant God made with the Jewish people, but Jesus said he came to offer a new covenant, which fulfils and replaces the old and is open to all. This means we must interpret and apply the Old Testament in different ways to the New.

Where to from here?

This information is fairly factually based on what the Bible says and doesn’t say. I think it gives an interesting and reasonably consistent picture, and it will be the basis of the conclusions I draw in the next few posts, which will consider questions like:

  • So is the Bible the inerrant word of God?
  • Specific ‘problem’ passages
  • Reading the Bible in context
  • Fact and faith in assessing the Bible
  • Can we trust the Bible?

Thanks to those who have been following so far. Please continue on the journey, and give your feedback – we need to work on these things together.


8. Word of God?

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

🤞 Don’t miss a post!!

Subscribe to receive email notification of new posts. Read more about
Subscribing & unsubscribing.


  1. The six points you raise here in summary are a great synopsis for people to keep in mind when considering what the Bible means in its various passages, genres, story arc and overall purpose, unkleE. Nice job.

Comments are closed.