Christian Living

Have You Taken the Christianity 101 Course Yet?

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 05/07/2024

Most university degrees have a 101 course. It’s the first topic you need to study before you begin the more complex coursework. Did you know Christianity has a 101 course? If you’ve decided to follow Jesus, you need to take a course on how to interpret the Bible. If it were up to me, I’d require this for every believer in the global church. Pastors study this subject while in seminary. They take a class called hermeneutics, which teaches how to properly interpret passages in Scripture.

What is hermeneutics? It’s the science and art of biblical interpretation. How is it a science, and how is it an art? Jared Jeter explains:

It is a science because there are rules for interpreting Scripture, just as there are rules for driving a car. If you do not know the rules, you will not know how to drive properly. Beyond knowing the principles, however, you must also know when to apply them. Because of this, hermeneutics can also rightly be called an art. Since Scripture is not monolithic because it contains multiple genres and was written over a vast period of time, by many authors, in different languages, it requires discernment to know which rules of interpretation to apply to any given text to find its intended meaning. That, ultimately, is the goal of hermeneutics: to understand how to interpret the text to find its intended meaning.

Because of their shepherding role, pastors study this topic in order to teach their congregation what the Bible means.

Doesn’t every believer read the Bible, though? Aren’t we all encouraged to do our devotional reading on a regular basis? If our pastor isn’t around to help us avoid common interpretive errors, shouldn’t we have a handle on the basics of biblical interpretation as well? Absolutely. In fact, here are two reasons why every believer should take time to study hermeneutics.

First, interpreting the Bible correctly is a moral obligation. Have you ever said something and had someone twist your words to mean something you did not intend? It probably made you feel angry. We desire to be understood and understandably get upset when someone misrepresents us.

How much more grievous of an error is it to take the words of God and twist them to mean something he did not say? Since God’s words have divine authority, there’s greater weight to properly interpreting his words. God declares what is right and wrong, what is true and false, what is obligatory and what is optional. Getting all that correct is essential.

Second, interpreting the Bible correctly is a practical matter. If you want to obey God, you need to first understand what God says in his Word. Therefore, properly interpreting the Bible is an essential first step.

Think of it this way. You’re going to read the Bible between today and the day you die. You’re going to base major life decisions on what it says. You’re going to determine your theology on it. You’re going to teach your kids and/or others about what it says. The Bible is going to play a huge role in your life. It’s incredibly important, then, to interpret it properly.

I often ask audience members to raise their hand if they have a system of biblical interpretation. I want to know who has a set of assumptions and questions they bring to the text every time they read. Usually about 5% of the audience raises their hand. Then I point out that everyone in the audience has a system of biblical interpretation. Everyone has a set of assumptions and questions they bring to the text, whether they realize it or not. The only question is whether their system helps or hinders their ability to understand what God is saying in his Word.

Learning how to interpret the Bible correctly is an essential skill for every Christian. Thankfully, there are numerous resources available today to help you get started. An easy and free resource is Stand to Reason’s STR U course “Never Read a Bible Verse.” Greg Koukl also has a booklet by the same name in the STR Store for only $2.95. Finally, if you want to go even more in depth, I suggest two options. First, consider How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. Second, the late Walt Russell (my former seminary teacher) has a 27-video playlist of his entire hermeneutics class available for free on YouTube under the heading “CSAP 527: Hermeneutics and Bible Study Methods.”

Remember, getting God’s Word right isn’t an option. It’s a moral obligation. Plus, it’s incredibly practical. Scripture is one of God’s most powerful tools to conform us to be like his Son. If you’re a follower of Jesus, that’s not something you want to miss out on.