I just tweeted:
I hope I never reach the point where assumptions, opinions, and interpretations regarding scripture hold equal weight to scripture itself.
A Facebook friend asked, “Can you read a Bible verse without an interpretation? And how do you separate the scripture from the interpretation? Keith, I think I understand what you’re saying-that scripture takes precedence over opinion and I agree. I’m just not sure we can separate scripture from interpretation. Every time we read scripture we make an interpretation.”
I seem to read that a lot. Is it true?
Are we incapable of discerning the difference between what scripture says and what we (or others) think it says?
To me, Jesus seemed to be pretty tough on religious leaders who couldn’t; who added their own interpretation to scripture and made it weigh the same; as if it were God’s own doctrine rather than just based on God’s own doctrine.
When you go to a movie that’s “based on the best-selling biography” but, familiar as you are with that biography, encounter a point in the screenplay that takes wide liberties with the biography for the sake of dramatic effect, are you unable to discern that?
Why should it be different with scripture?
I answered my friend: “You don’t think there’s anyone who can come to a perplexing scripture and honestly say, ‘I don’t understand what this means’? That’s not an interpretation … It’s an admission.”
And if we are honestly unsure, isn’t discernment something that we can ask God for? That He gives through His Spirit?
Am I off-base with this interpretation?
Don’t you think God wants us to understand His word? Won’t He grant that if we ask? Is the problem that we don’t ask …?
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” ~ Luke 11:11-13
I’m not a heavily-structured logical thinker; I’ll just admit it. What logic I have is much more informal. But when I don’t understand a scripture, the first thing that I (usually remember to) do is ask for help. From God. From others. Because I believe there’s value in finding out what the consensus of others might be (if there is a consensus), or at least what the possibilities are.
Then I ask questions, and these are just a few of them — in addition to questions about the context/pericope, to whom it is written, when it is written, what its scope might be (just us, just them; both; then, now, both; etc.):
- Is this the ONLY thing the scripture can mean here? Could it have more than one layer of meaning?
- Is prophetic language or context in play?
- Is it a commandment, instruction, request, narrative, parable, question, example, implication, poem/song/opera, historical record, what?
- Has it been contravened by something in scripture that’s related and more recent/relevant?
- Do other related scriptures confirm what it says or contradict it and why? For instance, were Jesus and party entering (Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35) or leaving (Matthew 20:29-34) Jericho when a blind man was/two blind men were healed? Or, as in that example, is it possible that two different things are described that are similar in some ways – one going in; two coming out?
- Does it matter? (A value judgment: “A difference which makes no difference is no difference.” Not always true, but sometimes relevant.)
- What’s the simplest explanation? (Occam’s Razor can often be helpful, though not determinative.)
- What explanation points me to God through Jesus Christ? (This, of course, is the Jesus Hermeneutic. I didn’t invent it and I don’t think I named it. As far as I know it’s not trademarked or copyrighted and you should feel free to use it if it helps!)
Well, those are a few of mine. What are some of yours?
And should we believers be teaching responsible scripture reading, analysis and interpretation skills — as well as asking God for answers — a whole lot more?