In John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life, he develops the point that one must accept that books, and this especially includes the Bible, must be dealt with based on what the author wanted to impart through them. This means that, contrary to popular modern belief, you cannot merely satisfy yourself with what you want the book to say, but that you need to seek to understand what the author was trying to say when he said it. There actually is a message that he wanted you to understand, and it has nothing to do with what popped into you head as you read what he wrote. Piper makes it very clear that this understanding of reading is a necessary part of life: if it were otherwise society would fall apart even worse than it is. He applied this in a daring manner to the Bible and hermeneutics: we are not to study the Bible to discover what it means for you, but to discover what it means. Period.
He mentioned, nobly enough, that to do this we need to apply hermeneutics and study the context of what we are reading. This means that we see the Bible’s passages as links in a chain, not pearls on a string (his metaphor, and a very apt one I think). So we study a verse or a passage in context with the surrounding passages, the chapters leading up to it and following it, the purpose, scope, and audience of the book, the author’s situation as understood by the original audience, their related situational circumstances, similar passages elsewhere in the Bible and etc. We need to take all of these into account when we are trying to discover the meaning of a passage. Does that sound like work? That is because it is. But it is very worthwhile work, for if we do not study the Bible to learn how to live our lives, how to glorify God, how to enjoy God by knowing Him, how are we to learn how? Our lives will be wasted if we do not study God’s Word truly and with a true-hearted desire to know Him better, so how can we say that to spend more time making sure that we understand God’s Word right is wasting our time? One of my greatest fears is that I would misinterpret God’s Holy Word and lead myself and others astray because of it.
The most important thing to realize when studying Scripture, from the foregoing conclusions, is that the precision of any principle that you wish to draw from a Scripture can only increase in direct proportion to the precision at which the context of your relevant circumstances and the context of the passage’s intended audience’s contextual relevant circumstances are similar. Or, to put it another way: the general nature of a principle must increase or decrease in inverse proportion to the degree of similarity between yours and the intended audience’s relevant circumstances. So if there are very few relevant similarities between your situation and the intended audience’s, then you need to broaden the application of your principle until it applies to you. This is crucial, or you will misapply and thus misunderstand many many Scriptures terribly.
This also means that you need to look to surrounding passages and similar passages to define the way that words are used in that context. Words have very wide uses, and you need to narrow down how God intended you to understand a word in a particular place. You cannot make your principle deviate from the intended meaning by using a different definition than God meant them to use and understand!
Using these principles with a devoted heart attitude of seeking to learn about God, His ways, and His will for your life will open up vast regions of beauty and understanding in your world. You will find pleasure in God and in His presence. You will embark on cruises of discovery through the Scriptures called “topical studies,” reading through practically the whole Bible searching for all of the passages that deal even remotely with a topic, and then finding out what they all say in unison (for the Bible is a commentary on itself, and does not contradict, so if there seems to be a contradiction, it is in your theory, not the Bible). This will give you a great understanding of what God really thinks about issues that will aid you wonderfully in your life.
I hope that this helped you as it helped me when I learned it. I also hope that it will transform your life, and help to save it from being wasted.
With joy and peace in Christ,