How to Read the Bible
Among believers and non-believers alike, there is a fallacy which states the Bible can be interpreted many different ways and that each person should judge for themselves what it means. What makes this a fallacy is that, if viewed as a matter of personal interpretation only, the Bible then has no authority: it is merely opinions and ideas no better than yours, mine or anyone else's. If it's not an authority, we're wasting our time reading it.
To be sure, many people can read the same passage and derive different conclusions. The fact that this phenomenon is possible does not mean that is the intent of the Bible, nor does it mean all conclusions are true and equally valid. How can any individual be sure their understanding is the correct one? It starts with the recognition that only what the author intended is the correct interpretation. I don't know anyone who takes the trouble to write a book with the intention that each reader decides for themselves what it means. No sane person I know does that. If someone writes a book, then the author has something to convey. That's pretty basic. When you're separated from the author by decades and languages...what then? You have to put aside your way of looking at things and get into the writer's way and you do that by comparing it with the rest of the body of work because the author will be uniform in all their manner.
Uniform. Important word to note. Find the the uniformity first, because all other questions of ambiguity are solved against that.
If you haven't read the post Basic Truth you should browse it before continuing. It is the foundation of my next statement: The correct interpretation of any small part of the work is in harmony with the entire body of work. There can't be contradictions. I find that "contradiction" needs explaining too. A contradiction isn't something that appears in-congruent, nor is a contradiction two opposing or paradoxical statements. Originally a "contradiction" meant two or more things which could not both simultaneously be true. If I said "Bryan is in the room" and "Jim is in the room", both statements are not contradictions even though they don't completely agree. There's no reference to timing so it is possible one was in the room at another time period. The statements "Only Bryan is in the room" and "Jim is in the room at the same time as Bryan" are contradictions because both can not be true simultaneously. The absolute declaration "only" has eliminated all possibility of the other statement.
I defined contradiction to set up my next statement: The Bible can not have contradictions. If it in truth does, then it can not be from God and we may as well throw it out and live whatever way makes sense in our own eyes. It must be perfect and without contradictions of any kind if it is to be authoritative. And you find there are no contradictions in it. There are people who misuse or misunderstand what a "contradiction" is when they make that claim. There are several passages that don't seem to agree and actually seem to oppose one another, but they do not contradict.
One final thing to define is assumption. An assumption is a conclusion drawn from the text which has not been literally stated in the text. I find that assumption is the biggest obstacle to truly understanding the Bible and what's worst most of the time we don't realize we're making them. To begin seeing the Bible the way the Author intended, you must be aware of what assumptions you're making when reading the text and lay those assumptions down.
You will not be able to correctly apply any scripture if you don't know the big picture of it all, cover to cover. That means reading it start to finish as often as possible, rather than select verses here and there. The reason for that is context. Context isn't just the verses before and after, but where that chapter fits into the entire book; where that book fits into the entire history, and so forth. I have a concern for individuals who only read select passages here and there because they end up believing anything a person says, so long as they give enough verses to back it up. It's not a matter of if you can find a verse to support your position. The matter is does that position fit in absolute harmony with the entirety of scripture. The entirety of it.