The Bible must always, I repeat, always, be studied and interpreted in context. Much confusion and damage can be done when it is not. Several contexts must be considered: the theme of specific books and to whom they were written, the immediate context, the cultural and historical, and the overall and comprehensive panorama of Scripture. I will expound on each of these.
It is a good idea to know the purpose and theme of a specific book and to whom it was written before you delve into it. A Bible encyclopedia is a good book to have as part of your personal library. It is well worth the expense. You also need to know specific theological issues the book is meant to address, especially if they were contentious teachings at the time the book was written.
Some verses can stand by themselves. They are quite clear, but any time a verse needs clarification or if there is the smallest doubt as to its meaning, the immediate context should be the first place to help gain insights. To use an example, there are many "therefore's" in Scripture. When you see one find out what it is there for.
If there is still any question about a meaning, the next step would be to examine the cultural and historical contexts. Again, a Bible encyclopedia would come in very handy. Many passages of Scripture were written in direct response to a problem or situation happening when the book was written. That does not mean they do not have application for today, but it does avoid a misinterpretation that can cause major damage in one's spiritual growth and life applications.
The overall view of Scripture from cover to cover can interpret itself. Many people like to build doctrines on 1 or 2 verses when, in fact, Scripture as a whole includes dozens of other verses that teach an entirely different meaning. Two examples of this are the beliefs about salvation through the law and works as opposed to grace, and the belief that people can be saved through baptism.
Personal experience should not be thought of as a way of interpreting the Bible but rather reinforcing what it already teaches.
The best way is to know the intended meaning in the orginal languages, but since most people are not linquistic scholars, these above principles will suffice quite well.
Happy Bible reading!
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