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The trouble with analyzing literature of any kind is that it is at times difficult to determine what the author originally intended to say. As any student of poetry can tell you, a group of 20 peers will often read the same poem and come up with 20 different interpretations. Even the professor, who devotes her life to interpreting and analyzing the written works, can only guess. Consider the multitude of inspiration drawn from Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled:" most read it and assume that it is meant to be interpreted symbolically-that the poem is actually a sermon about not submitting to the whims of the majority. Frost himself, once asked about the poem's meaning, said that there isn't one-it was simply a story about a man who arrived at two paths in a wood and chose the one least trodden.

Interpreting the Bible has similar trappings. Though some passages seem clear in their message, others are frustratingly difficult, and even the most learned scholars are given to disagreeing over their meaning. This isn't to say that the mysteries of God's Word can never be solved. It means only that most scriptural study is simply guesswork the theorizing as to what the Author intended to say.

How, then, are we to approach it? If some books are to be read literally, others symbolically, and others are so complex that few, if anybody, understands them (Revelation, for example), how is a lay person to begin to understand them? The answer, I humbly suggest, is as follows:

As Henry Blackaby wrote in Experiencing God, scriptural truth is never discovered. It is revealed through the Holy Spirit. Simply ask, and the Spirit will guide you, give you wisdom, and help you understand scripture as God intended.

Go to Church
Less fun than sleeping in? Yes. But your pastor has spent years studying a book you're likely just starting to read. Even though much scriptural interpretation is guesswork, their guess is likely better than yours. Draw on their wisdom.

Do it in Groups
Two heads are better than one, and four or five are even better. Pastors and parents are often busy, and books can't converse with you, but getting in a group of peers with whom you can pray and discuss alternate meanings of Scripture is very effective in helping you understand God's Word. At worst you'll be challenged to consider interpretations that aren't your own.

Keep a Journal
You're likely to come across thoughts that you aren't willing to share with anyone but God. Write them down, regardless of how stupid they seem, and ask God to show you if they're right.

  * The author is greatly indebted to Henry Blackaby and Claude V. King, whose Experiencing God: Youth Edition Bible study inspired much of what you read above.
- Ben Forrest
May 2003
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