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Q119 : Interpreting the Bible

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Q119 : Interpreting the Bible

When I was younger — around 10-13 — I would often talk to my pastor about things I was going through. I trusted him very much, but recently I have grown to distrust most theologians. The reason is that every one has something different to say about the same subject, and either one of them is right, or none of them are. A third possibility may be that some of them are right in different ways, but I don't know, and that is why I have grown to distrust them; you can give 10 different pastors the same scripture and they'll interpret it differently according to their own beliefs.

A119 : by Tony Garland

Well, I don't think your characterization of Bible interpreters is completely fair. Sure, some see some secondary aspects differently than others. But for the vast majority of interpreters on the foundational issues, things are simply not like you describe them.

The Bible is completely clear on the important issues: creation (not evolution), the fall into sin, the global flood, the election of Abraham-Isaac-Jacob leading to the nation Israel, the coming of Jesus, His virgin birth, His ministry, His atoning death, His resurrection, and His second coming—and the need to be born again to be reconciled with God. This is orthodox Christianity and it is been taught consistently by masses of people for centuries. Will 10 different pastors interpret the basics of what John 3:16 means differently? No.

This can be like unbelievers we've all heard who refer to the many different translations of the Bible in supposed support of the notion that with so many variations how can we know what it means? But all the translations give the same message on the essentials. Even the Jehova’s Witnesses have been unable to fully pervert the deity of Christ in their New World Translation.

Now on secondary issues which involve subtleties or require more careful analysis there is indeed considerable variation. But too often, that variation is used as a license by some to discount the text or the interpretation in order to justify avoiding the process of learning to read and interpret the text for one’s self.

If you continue to rely on others for your primary understanding of the Bible, then you have to take a chance on figuring out who really has a reliable foundation for interpretation. This is why the Scriptures repeatedly call for us as individuals to get into the text ourselves (Acts 17:11). This is also why good schools (and churches) will emphasis the importance of thinking about how we go about reading the text and determining sound principles of interpretation (hermeneutics). That’s also why we offer a course on Bible Interpretationa on our website.

In regard to secondary aspects of Scripture, careful interpreters with training in the original languages and hermeneutics will still arrive at some different conclusions. Clearly, the Bible itself is not to blame since it is exactly what God intended it to be. So the problem must be with us—and indeed it is! The simple answer to why there are differences of opinion on secondary issues is: sin. Our observational and interpretive abilities are marred by our fall into sin. Besides that, sin can be at the heart of why we refuse to follow the meaning of the text when it goes somewhere that we are unwilling to follow. Sometimes we can have biases which we are not ready to lay aside in order to allow the text to correct us.

What I'd advise you to consider, along with getting more rooted in the Scriptures yourself, is to find some experienced believers who are further along than you are in their understanding of the Biblical text and which are careful thinkers with whom you can identify with. See if you can learn from how they approach the Biblical text. Notice how they read the text and relate it to their world view. Push yourself away from dining at the skeptics banquet and get into the text for yourself and come up with your own understanding about how it is to be read and interpreted. All this, of course, requires diligence and work.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Joh 8:31-32)


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