One of the perks of going to a Christian university is getting to take a few common courses in Theology. One such course that I took was Biblical Hermeneutics. I didn’t know it then, but this course has been such a resource in my personal Bible study.

Hermeneutics is a fancy word for the branch of theology that deals with the study of Bible interpretation. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15).

Likewise, we are to follow suit and handle “the word of truth” correctly. Biblical hermeneutics equips us to understand, interpret, and apply the Scriptures as we ought. Therefore, in this article, we are going to look at some of the basic hermeneutic principles that will equip us to “rightly handle” the Bible.

Principles for Interpreting the Bible Correctly

Before we dive into the principles, it’s worth noting that Bible interpretation necessitates five things: 

First, we must ask the Holy Spirit for illumination of the Scriptures (John 14:23; 2 Cor 4:1-6). Not because we need a deep, mysterious, and hidden understanding of the scripture, but because we are often hampered by pride and our understanding is limited. Therefore, to avoid misinterpreting the Scriptures, we should humbly ask Him for guidance. After all, who better to help us understand the Scriptures than the author Himself? For the Bible says:

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21 ESV
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 ESV

Second, we need to believe that the Bible is indeed the word of God. Only by believing this, can we be prepared to let the Bible’s teachings shape how we interpret and apply truth.

Third, we must submit to the authority of scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). This will necessitate that we believe that the Scriptures are sufficient for equipping us with the knowledge of God.

Fourth, we must presume that anyone can comprehend the message of the Bible. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” In essence, the Word of God is to be understood by people of all ages and cultural backgrounds, not just scholars. However, not without effort, the reader’s readiness to obey it, the help of the Holy Spirit, and never fully.

Undoubtedly, understanding and interpreting the Bible correctly will take effort and time on our part. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter acknowledged that “there are some things in Paul’s letters that are hard to understand,“. He went ahead to say, “the ignorant and unstable” are the ones who “twist” these words “to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures“.

This is why we need to diligently study the Scriptures, not just read them lest we twist what they say.

Lastly, the aim of Bible interpretation is to determine the author’s intended meaning, rather than inserting our pre-conceived ideas into the text. The idea is to allow the Scripture to say what it wants to say. Not making it say what we want it to say. Once we understand the author’s intention for a text, then we can derive its genuine meaning. 

With these in mind, let’s look at 6 principles for interpreting the Bible correctly that we can apply in our Bible study:

A quote by Genevian institure on the 6 principles for interpreting the Bible correctly.

Context is king

This is regarded as the first and most crucial rule for correct interpretation. Each piece of writing has only one meaning that the author intended to convey. By considering the context of a text, the Bible, not the reader, has the authority to decide what a text means.

Here are three different types of contexts to help you interpret the Scriptures:

1. Historical context

The Bible was written at a different time than we live in today. As such, it’s important to understand the history of what was happening during the time of the book you are reading.

Some helpful questions to ask yourself include:

  • Who was the book’s author?
  • When was the book written?
  • Who was the original audience of the book?
  • What is the book’s central theme?

2. Cultural Context

This coincides with the historical context. 

As a reader, you should consider the cultural setup the original audience was living in. In some cases, it was the cultural circumstances of the audience that necessitated the writing of a particular book. Therefore, it’s important to understand the context of its time of writing, the events leading up to it, and the real-life issues it may have sought to address.

Both the historical and cultural contexts would undoubtedly require consulting extra-biblical materials such as reputable commentaries, book summaries, and cross-referenced biblical texts that might clarify the context in which the book was written. 

3. Literary Context

When writing, an author follows a logical progression of ideas called the literary flow. To understand the meaning of a verse, it’s crucial to consider the verses that come before and after the text you are reading. To get an even better understanding you should consider reading the entire chapter and if necessary the entire book.

The fact is, we don’t pick up a novel and start reading in the middle. The same should apply in Bible reading because each word leading up to the whole book conveys a unified message.

Too frequently, people attempt to understand a verse or passage in isolation without considering its literary context. At best, doing so easily leads to misinterpretation, at worst it leads to the twisting of God’s word. 

Check out our blog post on “Exegesis vs. Eisegesis: Unveiling the Depths of Bible Study” to learn more about why considering the context of a passage can positively impact your Bible study.

Take the plain meaning of the text

Another important principle for interpreting the Bible correctly is understanding the verses literally. Unless there is a figurative speech or a metaphor, it’s important to stick to the passage’s plain and obvious meaning.

The idea that the Bible’s deeper meaning is concealed beneath its obvious meaning is a common approach to the Scripture that often leads to reading something into the text that’s not there. Instead of taking a mystical approach, it’s best to interpret the Bible in its simplistic meaning while allowing for the normal use of figures of speech.

Moreover, often Scripture’s use of metaphorical language serves to emphasize the text’s straightforward meaning.

Scripture interprets scripture

While the Bible is to be understood in its plain meaning, not all  Bible passages are equally clear. In such cases, we ought to use simple passages to clarify complex or unclear passages.

It’s important to remember the Bible cannot contradict itself. It’s the inspired word of God, and God cannot lie neither is He the author of confusion (Num 23:19; 1 Cor 14:33). The Bible possesses unity and harmony in its message.

Therefore, when apparent inconsistencies arise, we must approach Scripture with humility and seek to clarify what seems cloudy with what can be plainly understood while keeping in mind that some things can never be fully understood (Rom 11:33).


We should also seek to identify the literary style of the passage we are studying when interpreting the Bible. Bible scholars call this the genre, referring to the overall structure of the text. There are several literary genres in the Bible including wisdom, prophecy, narratives, poetry, history, gospel, and epistle.

These genres convey their message in a unique way based on their unique structure. A Bible reader should have a grasp of the many literary forms found in the Bible. A text can easily be misread or misinterpreted if the incorrect genre is assumed, which can result in an incomplete and false comprehension of what God is trying to say.

To understand one way in which the genre of a passage can impact its interpretation, read our post on descriptive vs prescriptive passages.

Interpretation differs from application

The distinction between interpretation and application must be made because it’s common for people to conflate the two. Too frequently, Bible readers will jump straight to the application without understanding the text’s intended meaning. The question “What does this text mean to me?” often serves as the starting point for many Bible studies.

However, interpretation should come first. Before we can accurately understand the Bible or apply it to our life, we need to ask, “What does the text say?”, “What did it mean to those to whom it was originally written?” and “What did the author intend to communicate?”.

Yes, the Bible is not meant to be studied merely for intellectual purposes without considering how to apply it in real life. It should be practiced. However, we need to understand its true meaning first so that we can apply it to our lives correctly.

Progressive revelation

Having been written over several centuries, the truths in Scripture are revealed progressively, not all at once. It gradually reveals what God wants us to know as we read from the Old to the New Testament. 

Therefore, books in each testament should be interpreted in light of the other, with the focus being Jesus Christ (John 5:39, Heb 1:1). Not in isolation. The Old Testament is the “shadow of the substance” which is fulfilled in the New Testament through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We should never lose sight of this as we seek to interpret the Bible correctly.


Even though Bible interpretation takes effort, it’s worthwhile. The purpose of applying these principles is not to merely accumulate head knowledge. Rather, it’s for us to behold the lovely truths contained in scripture and to live in a way that honors God. As the psalmist said, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” This should be our goal as well.



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