About a year ago, I did a study called, Fundamentals of Bible Interpretation. I changed me forever. The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:19-20 that we have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. Notice, that last part of these verses where it says, no prophecy of scripture is subject to private interpretation.
Many today struggle, especially in a culture that denies absolute truth; that the Bible says what it means and means what it says, period. Not a very popular idea for sure. However, when it comes to biblical interpretation, we can both be wrong, but we can't both be right. I suggest to you today that the main reason for incorrect Bible interpretation, other than just sheer ignorance and a desire to twist the scriptures to mean something they do not, is inconsistency and a failure to adhere to the fundamentals of biblical interpretation.
The Bible must be rightly divided in order for it to make sense and never contradict. Paul told young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 to Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. The very fact that Paul said this presupposes that there are divisions in the Bible and they must be properly recognized or, at best, they will not make any sense, or at worst, there will appear to be contradictions in the text.
One example of many comes to mind: the Law of the Kingdom as given by our Lord in Matthew 5. It was obviously not part of the Mosaic Law, but a future kingdom that Christ came to offer exclusively to the nation of Israel. Remember that the first words out of both John the Baptist and our Lord's mouths were, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
This is the message that they and the apostles proclaimed throughout their earthly ministries. Sadly, in the end, that kingdom was rejected by the Jewish nation, therefore postponed, and the church that was the hidden mystery was born as revealed through the Apostle Paul. Therein lies the confusion which leads to all kinds of wild interpretations, various heretical doctrines, and the cause of untold denominations.
No Law for Us
You and I are not under the Law of Moses, never have been, never will be. Neither was the rejected and postponed Kingdom ever offered to the church. At this point at least, we have no part of the Kingdom they spoke of. We are not in it and we are not building it, and yet, how many times do we hear things like, "we are a kingdom church, we are building the kingdom, we are enlarging the kingdom, we are bringing in the kingdom, we are doing kingdom work", etc. Why? - A failure to understand that the Kingdom was not offered to the church. As a matter of fact, little, if anything, that was spoken in the gospels in their entirety has anything to do with you and me today.
Results of Bad Doctrine
Think about the things that are taught today in regards to losing one's salvation, the need to stay faithful until the end, baptism as a requirement for salvation (baptismal regeneration), works to be saved, the church is now Israel (replacement theology), amillennialism, and postmillennialism. Where do these teachings come from? The Gospels! Again, the Gospels were about a Jewish Messiah that came to a Jewish people to proclaim that a Jewish Kingdom was at hand! See the problem? No, I have not always understood these things so clearly, and many around me may disagree. However, I believe that a failure to understand leads only to misinterpretation and contradiction.
Distinctiveness of Paul
Another thing in regards to interpreting the Bible to remember is the distinctiveness of Paul's revelation about the hidden mystery or the Church. As such, his thirteen epistles, Romans through Philemon, are of supreme importance during this dispensation of the Church or grace.
We must understand that Jesus and his apostles ministered to the House of Israel with a message of an offered kingdom if the nation would collectively repent. It was not contingent upon individual repentance, but national. There were at least five thousand Jews, maybe eight thousand, depending how you interpret the response to Peter's second sermon, that we know of that repented in the book of Acts (Act 2:41; Act 4:4), but the nation itself never did repent, and thus, rejected their Messiah and his kingdom offer. Therefore, the kingdom was postponed, not be offered again until the Tribulation Period or what is called Daniel's Seventieth Week (Dan 9:27). As such, God raised up the Apostle Paul with a new message to take to the Gentiles.
New Testament Beginnings
Another thing that many fail to see is that the New Testament does not start in Matthew, chapter 1, in spite of the fact that all of our Bibles have a page marked New Testament between Malachi and Matthew. As a matter of fact, it could not have started until after the crucifixion, and I would contend, the resurrection of Christ (Cf. Heb 9:16-17). In other words, there can be no testament without the death of the one making it, i.e., Jesus. Remember, that our Last Will and Testaments are not enforced until after we die.
That means that all of the Gospels are Old Testament. The New Testament could not have begun until at least Matthew 27:51 when Christ died. To rightly interpret the Bible is to understand this. Do not be tempted as so many, including me once, to pull the teachings in the Gospels into the Church! If you do, you will end up with confusion that we just discussed.
With that said, the epistles of Paul are of supreme importance to you and me today. They alone are where the Church gets its doctrine. Also, they shed tremendous light on the Old Testament by revealing things that we never would have or could have known without them.
Paul's Gospel was Different
This also means that the gospel that Paul received from God himself was different than the gospel which Jesus and the apostles taught in the Gospels and even well into the book of Acts. Now, before you become a bit unhinged, remember that the apostles had no clue that Jesus was going to be crucified; even when he told them directly because the Bible says that it was hidden from them (Luk 18:31-34).
Bear in mind, this was right after he had commissioned them to go out and preach the kingdom of God (we call this the Gospel of the Kingdom) in Luk 9:1-2. The apostles were not preaching the Gospel of Grace that Paul preached. Paul's gospel was different in that it included the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It also required only belief as compared to the Kingdom Gospel that required repentance and baptism.
All throughout Paul's epistles, he says that this gospel was exclusively delivered to him (Cf. Gal 1:11-12; Eph 3:2-4; Rom 2:16; Rom 16:25; Gal 1:15-17; and Gal 2:2). The bottom line is that the gospel that Paul preached was different from the gospel that the other apostles taught.
The conclusion is that when interpreting the Bible, we must remember that Paul's gospel is unique to the Church. Only Paul received the revelation of the mystery that had been hidden from ages and from generations but now is made manifest to his saints (Col 1:26).