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Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Matter of Interpretation?

If we had a dime for every time we heard someone say “that’s just your interpretation” when the Bible or God were brought up in conversation, chances are we would have saved up a ton of money by now!

To many, the reply seems reasonable enough, but only because they fail to consider the fallacy of it. They argue that people have a right to their own opinion, and in our post-modern society, having the right to an opinion has become far more important than the accuracy or truthfulness of the opinion itself. Honestly, does truth boil down to one’s own interpretation? What does that really mean anyway? It sounds more like a copout than a reasonable argument. I suppose it is much easier and painless to justify all form of sin with that type of reasoning than to call sin sin and deal with the consequences….or is it? They say that the Bible if replete of “contradictory statements” and sayings that are outright mysterious and impossible to understand, thus arguing that there can’t possibly be one view that is better or more truthful than another (which is just another way of saying “that’s just your interpretation”). So how do we respond to such objections? Here are a few points to consider:

(1) The Bible was written in common language to be understood by common people, its meaning is not restricted to certain people. Sure, there are challenging passages, but the truth is that if we approach the study of Scripture with genuine honesty and sincerity, its meaning will become quite clear to us. Let me give you an example of what I mean: take John’s prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18), about 85 percent of the words in the prologue are single syllable words, only a handful of words contain three or more syllables, an eight-year old could read it. The prologue is a summary of many of the major themes which will then be developed by John in the remainder of the Gospel. To be sure, I am not saying that because a very young person is able to read Scripture, that they are going to be able to fully understand everything they read, greater understanding will require serious study.

(2) Just because something in Scripture may not be easily understood doesn’t mean a person has the right to interpret Scripture anyway he wants. One’s interpretation of Scripture is right only when that interpretation corresponds to the author’s intent, and knowing what the author’s intent was requires more than sloppy and lazy thinking.

(3) God, among other things is infinite, eternal, and all knowing, what ever gave us the idea that as finite beings we were going to be able to fully grasp God and fully understand everything He said? “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Everything God says is completely rational and logical, just because His understanding exceeds logic, it by no means means that it violates logic.

(4) There is no question that Scripture contains things that exceed our capacity to fully understand, but that does not mean that the Bible is incomprehensible, nor does it mean, as many argue, that Scripture contains contradictions. There is not a single place in Scripture (to the best of my knowledge) where God says in one place that something is what it is and in another place that it is not what it is at the same time and in the same way, that would be a legitimate contradiction. What the Bible does contain are paradoxes, statements that appear to be contradictions, which are resolved with further study.

Somehow I have the feeling that many who say “that’s just your interpretation,” are saying that in an attempt to make the Bible say what it doesn’t (a text out of context is just a pretext) in order to make it fit their personal preferences and to justify that which is unjustifiable, at least from a true biblical standpoint. You may have a right to your own “opinion,” but the real question is, does your “opinion” correspond with truth, with the way things really are?

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