This article is part of the How to Study the Bible with Jen Wilkin series.
While comprehension asks, “What does it say?” interpretation asks, “What does it mean?” Now that we have made the effort to understand the structure, language, and details of the text, we are ready to look into its meaning. A person who comprehends the account of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 can tell you specifically what happened on each day. A person who interprets the creation story can tell you why God created in a particular order or way. She is able to deduce things from the text beyond what it says.
Most of us rely on sermons, study Bible notes, and commentaries to help us with interpretation. This is appropriate. Those things help us answer the five archaeological questions. God gifts certain people among us with unique knowledge and understanding, and we would be fools to overlook their contributions to our study. They provide an indispensible service to the body of believers. But we must always keep in view that each of us individually is called to love God with our minds.
We must always keep in view that each of us individually is called to love God with our minds.
This means that it is good for us to earnestly attempt interpretation on our own before we read the interpretations of others. And this means we must wait to consult commentaries, study Bibles, podcasts, blogs, and paraphrases for interpretative help until we have taken our best shot at interpreting on our own using cross-references and paraphrasing.
Give yourself permission to fail; give yourself the opportunity to think critically on your own.
Keep yourself from deferring to the experts. It doesn’t have to be perfect! Spend some time:
- Paraphrasing the text (Take a passage and rewrite it in your own words)
- Summarizing the text
- Writing down and looking up cross-references that come to mind
This article is adapted from Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin.
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After establishing what the text says and what the text means, we are finally in a position to ask how it should impact us.