How Do I Know I’m Interpeting The Bible Correctly?

Basic Theology, Podcast Episodes

In this first episode of a mini-series on systematic theology, Phylicia discusses why we need theology, what to do if you think it’s “boring”, and how NOT checking our theology impacts our lives. Then we begin a deep dive into a reader question about biblical interpretation and theology of the Bible.

This episode covers the topics in the intro and chapter one of Phylicia’s new book, Every Woman a Theologian: Know What You Believe, Live It Confidently, Communicate It Graciously: available now!


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Welcome to Verity Podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer. And I am here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here and I hope you’ll join me be on this journey, because Every Woman Is a Theologian. 

Happy New Year, listeners. I am so happy to have you here with me in 2023. We are starting an eight-week series, where we’re going to dive deep into different areas of theology through January and February. I love this because I get to spend more time on theological issues than we usually do with our more rapid-fire, hyper focused episodes. So, don’t worry. I’m going to get back to the questions that you have and Ask Anything Monday and dive deep into some of these more nuanced issues. 

For the next eight weeks, we’re going to look at big picture theology and how it impacts our daily lives, why it matters so much. We’re going to look at theology of the Bible, the nature of God, cosmology or the theology of creation and Hamartiology: the theology of sin, Christology, Superiorology, and so many more. We’re going to look at salvation, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the role of the church, the end times, and then, last but not least, how to have both a proper, historical biblical theology and also live that out with proper orthopraxy. So, biblical practice and sanctification. 

I am excited for these next eight weeks, because we’ll be going deep into these theological issues. And each of these episodes correlates to one of the chapters in my upcoming book, Every Woman a Theologian. This book is coming out February 28th at the tail end of our spring Every Woman a Theologian shop launch and the featured book is, Every Woman a Theologian. So, it’s super exciting for me to share this with you and to announce the title of the book. I think you’re probably not surprised. Some of you probably anticipated that this book would have the same name as our organization. And I’m just thrilled to have this material available to you in a few short months. I wrote it in the first few months of 2022 and now, I get to launch it into the world. 

In this episode, we’re going to talk about why theology matters. And if you have been with me a long time, this might be repeat information for you. But I want to articulate it again, because even if you know it, I want you to be equipped to share it with other people, who maybe think that theology doesn’t matter or don’t recognize that they have a theology already. You’ve heard me say this before, but we all have a theology. We have a view of God. You can have an atheistic theology, you could have a Muslim theology, or you can have a Christian biblical theology. We already have a view of God and how He operates, how He works. The question is, does this theology line up with what Scripture teaches and is it consistent about the nature of who God is from beginning to end. 

But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s first ask the question, what is theology? Because you know, a lot of us immediately think, “Oh, that’s about leatherbound books and seminary degrees and things that are beyond me. I don’t have time for that.” But you do, because it’s not about a library of books or going to seminary. It’s about cultivating a view of God, a curiosity about our own beliefs, and a willingness to wrestle with some really hard topics in order to own our faith. 

Some of us are handed a faith by our parents. We grow up in a Christian home or we grow up being raised in church. Others of us did not grow up that way, but perhaps, we’ve spent the last 10 or 15 years in a church without ever questioning what we believe or checking what we’ve been taught against Scripture. Maybe you have checked it against Scripture and you’re like, “It’s consistent,” but you still haven’t owned your faith for yourself. It’s all secondhand or you feel it’s not translating to your real life. You’re not actually seeing the impact of following Jesus in your daily interactions with your family and your friends and your coworkers. But I can promise you that a truly deep and thriving and growing faith will begin to show up everywhere that you go and in every relationship you have, because that’s what theology does. 

Our theology is pervasive. It comes into our conversations with our kids when we’re parenting, when we’re teaching them right and wrong, when we’re explaining why they need to honor other people or why they need to respect their parents or choose kindness. All of that is theological. Or, maybe when you’re talking to your coworker about a new rule that’s in the workplace and you’re unsure that you agree with it ethically, you’re having to communicate your theology to your coworker. Or, maybe when you’re deciding what to do with your time on your calendar and you’re feeling really overwhelmed and trying to decide how much time to give to Bible study, how much time to give to other commitments, you’re wrestling with a theology of time and priority. All of that is answered in Scripture. But we have to know what we believe about God and our purpose, about our humanity, about the church salvation, and end times to know how to live well in today’s world.

We only have one life. We only have one chance to live well for God and with God. And so, what follow is that we don’t have to live in paranoia, but we should live with intention. And that intention should be grounded in our understanding of God’s nature. All of our life’s purposes and choices then come back to our theology and that’s why I talk about this so much. That’s why it’s not just for seminarians and not just for people with big book budgets. [[giggles] It’s for you, because you have a theology already and it’s already dictating your choices. Is that the theology that God teaches in Scripture? Is it is that leads to freedom and holiness, because that is what Jesus has for you? So, we need theology. I promise you that. 

Theology, again, is not this giant pursuit that ends with a master’s degree. Theology is a study of the nature of God as expressed in Scripture. There are many facets to God and His salvation story. Systematic theologians have divided those attributes up into different areas of study. And that’s why in the book, Every Woman a Theologian, I have chapters that focus on those areas. Bibliology is the study of the Bible, theology is the study of God, cosmology is the study of the cosmos or the universe, Christology is the study of Christ, etc. So, each of these areas are a theology of something, a more detailed focus on who or what that is. 

Now, I’ve already expressed why we need this. So, what happens if we don’t study theology? What’s the impact if we just completely ignore it and set it aside? Well, as I’ve already said, you already have presuppositions, you already have a theology. So, if you’re not pursuing growth in this area, you’re going to remain in a static place. So, what’s the harm in that? Well, none if you have a healthy theology. But, if you have an unhealthy theology or an unbiblical theology, then it can be really damaging. 

Let’s say that you are taught a theology of guilt or legalism. If I don’t do X, Y and Z for God, He won’t be pleased with me. I go to church every Sunday or three times a week, if I don’t be kind to my neighbor, then God is angry at me. Well, let’s be curious. Where did that theology come from? Maybe it wasn’t expressly taught to you, but maybe it was absorbed by the culture you grew up in. Maybe you had to be in church three times a week, and if you weren’t, your parents seemed really anxious about the consequences. Well, what were the consequences? Was it God’s judgment or was it human judgment? Whichever it was, you picked it up, and absorbed it, and it became your view of God, it became your theology. 

But is that really what Scripture says? Does Scripture say that you have to be in church three times a week or you’re not a good Christian? No, it says, “Don’t forsake the gathering of believers.” At the time that was written in context, they were most likely gathering about once a week. For breaking of bread in the apostle’s teaching and prayer. 

So, knowing this, we know that we should prioritize growth in community, but beyond that, we don’t have super specific instructions on how often that has to happen per week. This is just one example of how our theology can lead to guilt or shame or even sin, if we have an improper or unbiblical theology. And we have to check it against Scripture in the proper context of that Scripture, so that we know the things we believe are true and good and leading us to both holiness and freedom. 

So, if we don’t study what we believe, we don’t check it against the Word, we don’t grow in this area, we remain in that static place, where we can either slide more into legalism or more into licentiousness, abusing our freedoms, excessive drinking, or excessive smoking, or using drugs, or numbing ourselves in different ways, illicit sex, things like that we start to fall into, because we have maybe diminished the holiness of God instead of diminishing the freedom of God. So, studying our theology leads us to a better understanding of God’s heart for us and it gives us that balance of holiness and freedom. 

The question we then have to get to is, where do I even begin with theology? Now, obviously I wrote a book and I’m talking about it on here, because I really believe that it will help you, if you need a beginning, if you’re ready to dive in and wrestle with this stuff. But the real place before and beyond that book and without that book is the Bible. I’ve said before that, if no one ever read a single word I ever wrote, because they were too busy being focused on the Bible, I would never complain because my goal would be accomplished. I want you in the Word of God. So, we need to begin our theology in the Word of God. 

Why do we need the Bible? Because it is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God written over thousands of years before the eyes of many witnesses. It held as authoritative by the community of faith. It was not given in secret to one prophet that miraculously showed up with it and said, “Listen to me, I found this book.” No, it was given to a community of witnesses and the story of who God is consistent across all of those witnesses and all of those thousands of years. That’s one of the reasons that we can trust it. It’s historically rooted, it’s consistent, and it’s affirmed by eyewitnesses. But why do we need it? Because the Bible tells a story of humanity’s beginning and humanity’s end. It tells the story of how things went wrong and how God is making them right. 

We see the promise of this in Genesis 3. Right after the fall of humanity, when humanity rejects God’s way that God says, “Look, you have brought a curse upon this world and it can never be the same. But even so, I am going to bring a snake crusher who is going to win and redeem this world.” From that moment, the Old Testament begins the preparation process for the coming of our Lord, the coming of Jesus Christ, who would bridge the gap between humanity and God. And of course, God did this because He loved humanity so much and He saw the pain and the weight of what sin had done to us. The Bible is what one scholar calls “A two-part epic.” Another scholar calls it “A scarlet thread of redemption” that runs through the entire Bible.” You can spot it as you read these accounts. 

If someone ask you to explain the gospel, could you do it? If your coworker came to you with questions about why Jesus had to die or your child asked you to define the Trinity, could you provide answer? Regardless of whether or not we are in formal ministry, all of us are called to be witnesses for Christ. If you’re nervous, you’re not alone. The ministry of Every Woman a Theologian exists to equip you for this task. And now, we have a cornerstone resource to make that happen. My brand-new book and video study is available for pre-order January 9th. Every Woman a Theologian: Know What You Believe. Live It Confidently. Communicate It Graciously is almost here. 

This book is everything you need to know in order to share your faith without anxiety in today’s world. I wrote this to equip you with a confident and educated faith. The workbook and eight-week video study will also be available and you can pre-order through Christianbook, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie bookstore and lock in the lowest launch price. We are the generation that will stand on both conviction and love, because we know what we believe, and why we believe it, and how do explain it well to the world. Join me this spring by ordering Every Woman a Theologian at bookstores near you.

So, this leads us then to the question of the power of the Bible. What does it do? Like what does it do for me? If I know that the Bible is important, theology of the Bible is important, what power does it have in my actual daily life? Because I’ve read a few passages and I didn’t feel anything. It didn’t change anything for me. Well, first of all, we have to remember the Bible was written in another time. It’s not written like a novel, it’s not meant to be read like a modern fiction piece, it’s ancient literature and it has many genres of literature. We have to keep that in mind when we’re reading. It’s not necessarily going to be easy to read, but it will always bring fruit when we read it. It will always convict and lead and comfort us when our hearts are open to receiving what it has to say. So, the power that the Word has is to discern the thoughts and motives of our hearts and to open our hearts to what God is doing in the world and in us. 

I have met multiple people who came to Christ in prison, because they were bored and they read a Bible. Matthew Sleeth, one of my favorite authors was a doctor, chief of staff at his hospital, who stole a Bible from his own waiting room, because he’d already read the Quran and some other works. And he was curious. He wanted to read it. He became a follower of Jesus just by reading the Bible, because the Holy Spirit works through these words to show us the heart of God. Now, certainly people can resist the work of the Spirit. They can grieve Him and quench His voice and choose to reject what Scripture says. But the Word of God is still powerful and it’s something that we can use to not just learn more about God, but to let God show us more about ourselves. We start by learning who He is, to know better who we are. The power of the Word is an essential piece and it’s a big part of having an appropriate bibliology. We recognize the authority of Scripture, and that in turn allows us to experience the power of it. 

So, I wanted to spend the rest of my time talking about bibliology, actually, on a really great question that someone sent me on Instagram. The question is this. “I recognize that the Bible has authority that it’s infallible,” which means it will not deceive. “It’s in errant,” which means it will not lead us to error and it doesn’t have errors that affect the overarching story, the consistency of the text, any copy errors are minor. You can go back to the Canon series of the podcast or read my book, How the Bible Came to Be, where I talk more about copy errors in the text. But this question ultimately asked, “How do I know that my interpretation of the Bible is correct?” There are so many different denominations, there are different arguments about certain issues. How do I know that my interpretation is correct? 

That is a great question. It involves several steps of an interpretation process. Remember that I said, “The Bible is not a simple book.” It’s a gathering of 66 books, ancient books written in Hebrew and Greek, which most people today don’t speak or read. So, we’re reading a translated work and we’re wrestling with the words that are given to us by the Lord. But it’s important to also remember that we do have the Holy Spirit for the interpretation process. So, we have His help. It’s not like God has just left us with the Bible and said, “Good luck, figure it out.” No, He’s been pretty clear on the essentials in Scripture in whatever language you’re reading. So, it’s not as if God just left us with these massive gaps in the redemption story, it is actually pretty clear. 

A lot of the questions that we have are about the details and the outworking of the text, how do I live this out daily. So, that’s where a lot of the differences pop up denominationally and in practice. So, when we’re sitting down to interpret a text, there is a process we can take, a series of questions we can ask to measure our interpretation and know that it lines up with the historic teaching of the Church, which is called Orthodoxy or sound teaching. So, the very first question to ask is, “Am I reading my own meaning or my own desired meaning into this text?” When you sit down and you read the Bible, are you trying to draw out the meaning you wish there was or are you drawing out the meaning that the author wrote. This is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis means to draw the meaning out or eisegesis is to put the meaning in. 

So, when we sit down to the Bible, or any book for that matter, we want to grasp the author’s intention and what he meant for the audience he was writing to. When we do that, we’ll be able to accurately translate that meaning to modern day. J. Scott Duvall calls this building a theological bridge. You’re taking the text from their town, their life and time to our life and time. 

So, first, determine, if you are reading your own meaning into the text like, “I want to justify this behavior or choice or lifestyle that I’m in, so I’m going to choose this interpretation” or are you letting the text speak for itself. Secondly, what does the context around this verse or passage indicate about the author’s intent? Often what happens when people misinterpret the Bible is, they take one verse out and they don’t look at anything around it. So, when we do this, we’re not getting the context of that passage. I think I’ve talked about this in a previous episode. But one common problem is with, I think it’s Psalm 42, where people quote the verse that says, “God is within her, she will not fall or she will not fall.” It’s all over mugs and t-shirts on Etsy. But that verse is not talking about a woman. It’s talking about the city of Jerusalem. So, when you look at the context, it really is kind of odd that you would pull that one verse out of that Psalm, because it doesn’t mean the thing that people are trying to make it mean. So, look at the context. 

Third, does this line up? This conclusion I’m drawing from this text, does it line up with the whole council of Scripture? So, in the big picture of the Bible, does my conclusion fit or am I drawing a completely new conclusion that the Bible does not support? An example of this would be in Oneness Pentecostalism, where they deny the Trinity. They say that, “God is not three persons in one God, but that He is completely one and there is no Trinity.” So, this is not supported by Scripture. It’s not supported in Genesis, it’s not supported in the gospels, it’s not supported by Scripture. And so, if we come up with this idea and then we say, “This is what I believe Christianity is,” and it isn’t supported by the whole council of Scripture, it’s not a correct interpretation. 

Fourth, is this view consistent with God’s character as both holy and loving? Is my view or my interpretation consistent with God’s character as both holy and loving? Most misinterpretations of Scripture, most false bibliologies will emphasize either God’s holiness or God’s love, but not both. When we go to extremes in this area, we will overemphasize God’s holiness and His judgment and righteousness and say, “This is a sin you must repent without any emphasis on His kindness, which draws us to repentance.” And when we overemphasize love, we’ll talk very little about sin, or judgment, or God’s wrath and His righteousness, because Jesus is our friend and our brother and we want to focus on those. Both of those are misinterpretations, because they ignore the whole council of Scripture. They’re not looking at the whole piece of who God is, which is why you’ll see theologians and pastors throughout the ages talk about both sides frequently. 

John Wesley is a great example of this. I have his anthology of sermons on my desk right now. He has whole sermons talking about God’s love, whole sermons talking about God’s holiness and righteousness. He’s balancing both of those, because they’re essential pieces. You cannot have a trustworthy love without God’s righteousness, because His love would be inconsistent. It’d be like the Greek God. So, you never know who they love or who they’re going to cheat on next, because they’re not righteous, they’re not good. You can’t have a trustworthy righteousness one that is kind and fully gracious, if God is not also loving. You have to have both for God to be God. 

The next question to ask is, does this interpretation contradict the historically held teachings of the global church? This is where church history is so important. In today’s day and age, at least in the American church, I have never seen [giggles] such an ignorance of history. Whether it’s American history, world history, or church history, there is an absolute ignorance of our history. In world history, there’s a complete ignorance of the impact of communism and socialism and what it did to society within the last century. And because of that, we’re seeing people who are trying to rebrand communism in media. 

I have read two books this year, two fiction books that are very popular that have rebranded communism and presented it in a very positive light and I’ve watched a couple shows that did this too. I find that so sad, because it reveals there’s an ignorance of the consequences of this ideology. When you do not know history, you’re doomed to repeat it. So, the same goes for church history. When you do not know your own legacy of faith in the church, the family lineage you have in church history going all the way back to the book of Acts and all around the globe, the church in South America, the church in Africa, the church in China, the church in Europe, everywhere that the church has been and the legacy that it has. When you don’t know anything about that, you will feel very unrooted and you’re just doing this thing on your own. It’s just you and Jesus and nothing more. But it’s not. 

The church, it’s a family that has a lineage, a genealogy, if you will. A spiritual genealogy through history. And we need to look at what our grandfathers and grandmothers of the faith were believing and doing to know, hmm, what’s the core here. What’s the core. So, this leads us to core doctrine. What is the absolute essential of the Christian faith? What are the hills we have to die on? You can go back to the How to Determine Core Doctrine episode where I talk about that or grab that booklet in the Every Woman a Theologian Shop, because we have both of those resources. I won’t get into all of the core doctrine issues here, because I’ve treated them completely in those places. I recommend going there to listen more on that. But you need to know the core doctrines of the church to know, “Hmm, is this interpretation of Scripture correct or is this person departing from what is true?” 

I wanted to read this quote from that I thought was so helpful for the interpretation process. He says, “We must point out that it is simply false to claim that no one can know the correct interpretation of a passage of the Bible. If in principle, such accurate understanding cannot be achieved, so you can’t achieve an accurate interpretation, then there would be no basis upon which to conclude that any given interpretation was not correct.” Basically, if you say, “Well, we’re going to just agree to disagree, because that’s just your interpretation of the Bible,” you’re basically saying there is no correct interpretation and you’ve just undermined your own opinion. That’s what he’s saying here. In the study of logic, this is called the fallacy of a lost distinction. If there is no correct interpretation, then there is no standard by which to distinguish any given interpretation from the correct one.

Essentially, what we’re looking at here is moral relativism in biblical interpretation. You’re going to see this happening more and more. This is where I go back to my mantra, theology matters. We have to know how to answer someone when they say, “Well, that’s just your interpretation and we can agree to disagree.” Well, if it’s a question of modesty standards or to drink or not to drink, sure, you can. But if it’s a question of the resurrection or the atonement or the virgin birth or the holiness required of Christians, the holistic holiness over their whole body sexually and morally and how they treat others, if that’s what you’re trying to agree to disagree on, there’s a significant problem and it is not consistent with this heart and soul of Christianity. That’s what they’re saying in this quote that we can’t agree to disagree on the core doctrines of the faith. 

When you’re sitting down to interpret a passage, there are a few things you can do to help you in the correct interpretation. Obviously, the questions that I’ve already shared with you can be really helpful for that process. But here are a few more things to look at. Language and translation, most of us will never be Greek and Hebrew scholars and you don’t have to be, but I do recommend utilizing commentaries and resources written by scholars. Not all the time. I say this to my Bible study students, “You don’t have to do a deep study every day, but a couple of times a week go deeper and a couple other days of the week do a lighter reading or listening. On those deeper study days, utilize Greek and Hebrew scholars who know the meaning of these words and can help you with wrestling with the text.” The resources out there and so many of them, they are free. 

Secondly, look at the historical and cultural setting. Look at the historical and cultural setting. This is where commentaries also come in handy or Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias that have maps and some context for you to understand what was going on in that time. Study Bibles will also help you with this. So, you’re not just trying to translate a surface reading to modern day, you want to reserve the application for later. At the time of reading, think about what did this mean to the people it was written to. 

Third, ask what is the genre of literature I’m reading. So, if I’m reading in Genesis, where there’s a lot of historical narrative, it’s going to be very different from reading in Psalms, which is poetry and I want to keep that in mind. And then, lastly, keep in mind the pre-suppositions of the writer. That writer had something that they were bringing to the text, something they assumed about God or that they knew that we don’t know and we want to keep that in mind when we are studying the Bible. This is again where those helps like commentaries and study Bibles can be helpful. But the ultimate foundation of a trustworthy commentator or scholar is his respect for the word of God as an inspired text, which is the view of the early church fathers in the early church and the view that is held by all orthodox theologians throughout the ages. 

We are looking to learn from people who have a high respect for the Word of God, who see it as the historical and trustworthy word that it is, who had a healthy and sound bibliology. When we learn from them and when we come to the Bible with that same view, we can trust that we are shaped by the Word of God in a way that equips us to share our faith effectively with others. 

Friends, everything that I teach, everything that I share, everything that Every Woman a Theologian does as an organization or that this book is meant to do is meant to usher you along into a deeper faith. Not so that you can have all this head knowledge, but so that you can be a compelling disciple maker in this world. This world needs you. It doesn’t just need Phylicia Masonheimer. It needs you, because you have a unique voice, a unique equipment, and ability to reach people who never will listen to this podcast, who never will read a book I write. People will listen to you because you are in their lives. They know you and trust you. And your witness shines a light that is invaluable to them in their journey. So, yes, you are a theologian. Maybe you’re in process. You’re a theologian in the making, but you are a theologian if you are following Jesus Christ and He is going to shape you even more as you seek to devote your mind and heart to knowing Him better. I’m excited to be part of this journey with you and I hope you’re excited for the next seven weeks as we dive into theology one day at a time. 

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity and about Every Woman a Theologian as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into God’s Word and the heart of Jesus Christ. 

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