What would the original readers have understood when they read this letter? The passage cannot mean what it never meant. The meaning of the Bible does not change with passing time.
God is not guilty of doublespeak. Each passage of scripture has one primary meaning.
When a question of interpretation involves translation, appeal must be made to the original language in which the Bible was given. In most cases, a good English translation of the scripture will give an accurate sense of the passage.
God gave the scriptures to be understood, not in some code, to make the scriptures obscure or impossible to understand. What would the original reader have understood by this passage?
Words are the building blocks of thought and communication. Words have meaning. God gave the scripture using the natural sense of the words as understood by the people who were receiving the letter. Study of words and language structure is helpful. However, a good translation is able to expose most of the intended meaning.
Since the Bible should not normally be given any meaning that would not have been obvious to those to whom it was written in history, a study of their cultural can aid in understanding.
The context of a statement can significantly change its meaning. To understand what the original recipients would have understood, we have to be honest with the context.
The Bible does not contradict itself. If it seems that a passage of scripture contradicts clear Bible doctrine, the passage may need more study.
Beware of any interpretation that seems new or novel. Someone said, if it is new it is not true, and if it is true it is not new. Every word of the Bible has been carefully studied through the ages by godly people. Often cults arise by convincing people that God is now revealing truth that has been hidden up to this point. Don't believe it. If you are the only one who see a passage that way, you are undoubtedly wrong.
Some passages in scripture deal clearly and specifically about a matter. Others may only touch on a matter or may be somewhat obscure. Use the clearest passages when developing doctrinal beliefs.
If an explanation is complex or difficult, beware. If someone says, I realize that the passage says X, but it really means Y, beware. One good principle to follow is, if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense. Beware of someone that seems to have a motive.
Handout of Truth Baptist Church, South Windsor, CT, Bim Rowley, Pastor