Do you read and study the Bible always looking for how it applies to your life? We all do. Every Bible study method involves application because the truths of God’s Word directly impact our daily lives. We must be careful, though, not to jump to the application without interpreting the text and understanding its context.
This is a common critique of the SOAP Bible study method (check out this post from Rachel Schmoyer). It stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. All of those are good and necessary things, but where’s the interpretation? We can’t assume that people will interpret the text before applying it. It must be taught and emphasized.
Application without interpretation leads to false doctrine
I’m convinced that a huge portion of bad doctrine in the church today doesn’t come from differences in interpretation but a complete lack of it! Let me give you an example.
I spoke with a Pentecostal friend a few months ago who believes that all Christians will speak in tongues the moment they are saved, a common view in some circles. What was his biblical reasoning? Acts 10:44-48, the passage about the gentiles first receiving the Holy Spirit.
He basically used the SOAP method, saying, “Here’s the Scripture. We see that they believed the gospel and immediately received the Spirit, speaking in tongues as proof. So, that’s obviously how it works for us, too.” This is a good observation of what happened in the passage, but the lack of any interpretation led to a false application.
In the story’s context in Acts, verse 45 is pretty important. The Jewish believers with Peter were amazed that God was accepting the gentiles. That was still a crazy thought for them. So, to make it absolutely unquestionable, God had the Gentiles speak in tongues in front of them.
We see the racial barriers continued in chapter 11. Other Jewish believers were criticizing Peter for going to the Gentiles. What was his defense? That he saw them receive the Spirit just like the Jewish believers (Acts 11:15-18). God used the miraculous sign of tongues to prove a point and bring unity to the church in its early days.
When read in that context, it’s really hard to use this text to say that everyone will speak in tongues when they’re saved. It’s a story about God making a specific point at a specific time. So, I don’t think my friend is mistaken because we interpret the text differently but because he skips interpretation altogether.
Application without interpretation makes the Bible about us, not Jesus
Another problem with jumping to the application is that it makes the Bible and every verse about us. That’s dangerous territory. According to John 5:46 and Luke 24:27, 44-48, the entire Bible is about Jesus!
When we read the Bible looking for ourselves, we miss Jesus and his glory. On the contrary, if we read the Bible trying to figure out the meaning God wanted each passage to convey (i.e. interpretation), then we will see the beauty of God’s plan of salvation and our role in it.
I had this in mind when I created the printable Bible study that I use. It guards me against reading the text with selfish eyes. This strategy doesn’t make the Bible any less applicable but causes us to apply it correctly. We apply the text in light of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
Applying the Bible practically to our lives is crucial. It’s not a textbook to be studied for a test but the Word of the living God meant to impact and change us. We must keep in mind, though, that the Bible isn’t mainly about us.
We need to put application in its proper place, after interpretation and in light of Christ. Not only will this guard against false doctrine but the applications will be better, more accurate, and Jesus-centered, giving him the glory he deserves.