Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bible Interpretation: More than a Seminary Degree

For many reasons, Bible interpretation can be challenging. I was talking to bright lawyer about the Patriarchs. Although she doesn’t believe in the God of the Bible, she likes the Patriarchal accounts and appreciates the way that the Bible portrays Patriarchs and their wives as very morally flawed humans:

  • Through revealing their moral lapses, the Bible is giving us permission to also cheat and lie. 
I protested, but she seemed to like this interpretation. She argued that through these accounts, God was also giving us the green light to act immorally.

I was horrified by this interpretation, but I could see that if we regard these Patriarchal accounts apart from the light of the rest of the Scriptures, it would be easy to make such a mistake. However, when we encounter the “thou shall nots” in Exodus through Deuteronomy, it becomes impossible to conclude that God is okay with cheating and lying.

What is the lesson here? Just as we have often heard it said – we must interpret Scripture by Scripture. This means that we have to have a command of the entire body of Scripture in order to be able to competently interpret. It helps us understand why God has given pastors and teachers to the church for its edification.

This doesn’t mean that we cannot understand a verse that tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. However, as we grow into the entirety of Scripture, we will also grow in our understanding of the nature of love.

There is also another challenge to interpretation that was illuminated by this exchange. We often see what we want to see. If we want to start a revolution, we see Jesus as a revolutionary. If we want freedom to live our lives that way we want, we emphasize the point that Jesus received everyone who came to Him and leave out the repentance part.

This is the way I too had been. I wanted to find in Scripture those verses which would make me feel good about myself, and I therefore would avoid the uncomfortable verses. What ultimately made the difference? The Spirit, and it required many years! Through many painful circumstances, He taught me to read His Words with a different eye. Now that I just want His Word and understanding, I can see what I had been unable to see.

Jesus claimed that before we judge another, we first have to judge ourselves and remove the plank (blindness) from our eyes:

  • "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
What is this plank? It is our self-imposed blind spots. We can’t judge others, since we refuse to see, let alone judge, ourselves. And if we are so blind in regards to ourselves and others, we are also blind in regards to Scripture. We only see what we want to see, what fits into our purposes.

Well, what do we do about our all-controlling blindness? After admonishing us to not throw our wisdom before those who have no regard for it, Jesus then returns us to the Spirit:

  • "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Sound interpretation requires far more than a seminary degree. It requires the work of the Spirit. Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:4-5)! Let our continual prayer be, “Lord, you teach me!”

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