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Understanding the Bible: a basic introduction to biblical interpretation

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Religion is a powerful tool in the world today, with different people ascribing to diverse religious beliefs. Religion defines the ways of life and culture of people; hence, emphasizing its influence among different people in the world (Kalman, 2009). Religions have features and elements that guide their faithful on how to live according to the precepts of the respective religion. Christianity is a religion with followers the world over, and continues to influence the lives of its followers. The Bible is an important book that contains the fundamental beliefs and truths about Christianity. Christians believe that the Bible contains God’s message to his people and it plays a huge role in strengthening between them and God. Since its inception, the Bible has continued to act as a pertinent medium of communicating the will of God to Christians. Christians have responded to the Bible in different ways with a section of them arguing that it is hard to understand the meanings contained in it, while others argue that the language used helps them to understand the meaning implied (Montague, 2007). Moreover, there are English words used in the Bible that have changed over time. This is attributed to the translations and revisions that the Bible has experienced over the years. The cultural context of a Bible translation has a significant influence in determining the choice of words used in books. Words that were used in previous Bible translations do not appear in today’s translations because of the need to match the message with the cultural connotation of the language used.

How the language of the Bible has been a hindrance in understanding its meaning

           Understanding the message and meanings of the Bible is indeed dependant on various factors. The context of the text and the words used are pertinent in helping understand the meaning implied. Without understanding the context, the words or phrases used in a Bible text causes hindrances in comprehension. In my personal experience, the language of the Bible has been both a hindrance and help in my understanding of the meanings and messages implied in respective texts. The hindrance in understanding the message of the Bible stems from the complexity of the words or phrases used, as well as failure to comprehend the context of the text. Theologians argue that in order to understand the language of the Bible, it is imperative for readers to connect the context of the language with the words used (McQuilkin, 2009). Certainly, the lack of comprehending the context of bible texts and the words used has posed immense challenges in my understanding of the implied message and meaning.

The Old and New Testaments of the Bible present different contexts and concepts about the Christian religion. The message of God does not change, but the approaches used in communicating the message are different in various fronts; hence, making it increasingly important for one to understand the language and context used in order to derive the intended meaning. In my experience, I often find it a hindrance perceiving the message contained in some bible passages, particularly because of the context used in the passages. Failure to grasp the intended meaning in the respective text often causes confusion or distortion of the original meaning (McQuilkin, 2009). There are phrases and words in the Bible that bring confusion in understanding the intended meaning. The ability to comprehend the meaning is hindered by the failure to connect the choice of words and the context of the text.

An example of the scriptures that create hindrances in understanding is 2nd Timothy 2: 15. The words, rightly dividing the word of truth….. (2nd Timothy 2:15, King James Version) imply various meanings that readers can derive. Personally, the words, rightly dividing raise confusion on where to place emphasis; clearly, there is the possibility of ambiguity in the process of understanding the scripture. On one hand, the words might imply the idea of dividing the word of God; while on the other hand, the words also imply the idea of handling the word of truth in the right way. Based on the words used in the verse, it is evident that there is a dilemma in the ability to understand the intended meaning. In reference to the verse, it is explicit that I find it difficult to derive meaning from words and phrases that elicit sharp contrast in meaning. In such instances, the context of the scripture; the previous verses and the verses immediately after the main verse are important in helping extract the correct meaning. It is tricky to get the intended meaning without considering the other words in the verse. After a critical understanding of the words used in the verse, it is certain that the scripture talks of handling the word of truth correctly, as opposed to dividing the word of truth.

Another example is the use of the word “dragon” in Revelation chapter 3:1 (King James Version). The book of Revelation speaks of the future; hence, it is difficult to understand some of the elements it portrays. The language used in the book is not simplistic as in other books of the Bible. In my opinion, I perceive the book of Revelation to be the most difficult to read and understand. Whether the word “dragon” in the verse is figurative or not, it is difficult to understand its meaning. Therefore, in order to grasp the message in the verse, it is pertinent to approach the text in relation to the background of the book of Revelation. From a critical view, it is apparent that the message portrayed in the Bible stems from the context of the text as well as the background of the book. For example, a historical book deems it necessary for a reader to apply the historical dimension of comprehension, while a prophetic book like Revelation requires a reader to have a prophetic understanding. Indeed, failure to put into consideration the context of the words and phrases in the Bible is a hindrance to grasping the intended meaning of the words.

An English word that has changed in meaning

           Bible translations have increased over time, thus affecting the meaning of some words used in the Bible. The desire to reach out to as many people as possible with the message of the Bible has prompted the need to have various versions and translations of the Bible. The transitions that the Bible has faced in reference to translations have influenced the change in meaning of some of the words used. For instance, in Philippians 4:6, the opening phrase, “Be careful for nothing….” (King James Version), has changed over time, and has been replaced with the word anxious. The word careful meant that one should not allow himself have anything troubling him. In other words, it challenges people to avoid many cares in their lives. Over time, the word has changed and has being substituted with words like anxious and worry. The use of the word anxious or worried appears to have a solid meaning as compared to the word careful; hence, translations have been forced to shift the language used. Moreover, evaluating the word from another angle, it is evident that the word careful might not bring out a simplistic understanding of the text to some readers, thus prompting translators to find other words that can bring out a refined meaning.

Language shifts because of the cultural context of the translators of the Bible. For instance, the phrase, “Be careful for nothing” has changed with time because the cultural perspective of the translators has also shifted with time. Therefore, English words in various Bible translations do not change in meaning because of being incorrect or inferior, but due to the cultural influences that affect the language used in translation (McQuilkin, 2009).


           In conclusion, it is notable to highlight that the Bible is a complex book that requires constant revisions to match with the differing cultural differences in the world today. The words used in Bible translations are connected with the culture of the language used in the translation. Thus, the choice of words is important in enabling readers to comprehend the context of the text in the Bible. In addition, connecting the context of scripture and the words or phrases used is significant in enhancing the ability to understand the message being relayed. In order to avoid hindrances in comprehending the Bible, one should put into consideration the background of the text in question.


Montague, G. T. (2007). Understanding the Bible: a basic introduction to biblical interpretation (Rev. & expanded ed.). New York: Paulist Press.McQuilkin, J. R. (2009). Understanding and applying the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press.Kalman, B. (2009). What is religion? New York: Crabtree Pub.

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