Everywhere you turn you find countless number of denominations, and different sects of Christianity. Churches split up, people are told they are not saved because they go to a different church, or read a different version of the Bible. Many people are pushed away from Christianity because of these issues and more, can you blame them?
If you ask people why, it boils down to one thing, everyone has a different interpretation of the Bible. Let’s look into this a bit.
Is how you interpret the Bible important?
This is a pretty easy question to answer. A person’s life, every decision they make is entirely based on their beliefs, and for a Christian, those beliefs come from what the Bible says. Do you agree with capital punishment, abortion, how is one saved, how should we live, all of our ideas on this come from how one interprets the Bible.
Where do different interpretations come from?
Symbolism – A lot of passages in the Bible are symbolic, especially those passages talking about the end times. Passages talking about dragons, moon turning to blood, earthquakes, these all require some form of interpretation to find out what they are really referring to.
Historical and Cultural context – The Bible was written by a culture that is much different than ours. Their language was different, traditions were different, and many other things that separate them from us today. Which of these still apply to us today and how do they apply to us?
These are just a few examples of why different interpretations are created. Another big reason for interpretation is simply that we don’t like what the Bible says, and when that happens, we change what the Bible says into something a bit more to our own taste.
Pastor Shawn Wood of Seacoast Church puts it like this:
The problem is that we are spending too much time interpreting the Bible, and not letting it interpret us. The big problem with our understanding of God’s word is not an academic issue, it is moral.
It is not that we don’t understand the Bible – it is that we don’t like what we understand.
Is there one correct interpretation of the Bible?
This question is a bit harder to answer. Let’s look at what the Bible says about it, for the Bible should give us instructions on how to interpret and read the Bible, right?
2 Peter 1:20-21 “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
The Bible was written by God, not men. God is perfect and timeless, never changing and concerned with truth. Since God does not change, His word can’t change, since there is one God, with one purpose, one intention, who does not change, than how can the Bible change? If the Bible cannot change, how can there be different meanings and interpretations?
There can not be different interpretations. There can only be one interpretation of God’s word. It can be applied to our lives in many ways, but there is only one interpretation.
I will not say that I have the correct interpretation, for my views of doctrine have changed a lot over the years, as I spend time studying the Word of God and growing closer to Christ. The more I do this, the more my views become like His. And since God only has one view, that of Truth, all Christians should start becoming more alike in doctrine and in actions.
When you read the Bible, and you find something you don’t agree with, what are you going to do? Twist the words around to change the meaning? Just toss it out as not being an important part of Scripture? If we do that, where do we stop? Can the passages about baptism be thrown out? About punishment? About homosexuality? About sin? About Jesus’ death and resurrection?
If you determine what passages can be interpreted or are irrelevant to today, then you have just placed yourself above God. You have decided that what God thought was important and true you don’t agree with so it shouldn’t be that way, making yourself one that can change God.
When faced with something you don’t agree with, or with something you don’t understand, it’s best to admit that you are the one that is wrong, and you need to change yourself to match what God says.
Read the Bible and interpret the Bible using the whole thing, in context, not just focusing on a certain passage that supports your view. If you look at everything as a whole you may discover that you were close, but not totally correct or you may even discover that you were completely wrong in how you interpreted the Bible.
The problem isn’t in the Bible, the problem is in us.
Why do we need the correct interpretation?
We need to know the correct interpretation of the Bible so we know God’s will and instruction for our lives. We need to know what sin really is, what repentance really means, what God’s grace really means to us. We really need to know the truth about how to deal with those living in sin, and with our own sin. We need to know how we should view and treat others, regardless of if they are poor, homeless, rich, or unborn.
Most of all we need to know how to grow closer to God! We can’t do that if we have a false interpretation of Him. If I had a false view of who my wife really was, then I wouldn’t know how to do things to please her, or how to act when I’m around her. It is only by knowing the real person that I can begin to draw close to her and really start to connect and communicate. It is only this way that I can have a real relationship with her.
God loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us, shouldn’t we at least make sure who He is so we know how to worship and serve Him? How to love and have a relationship with Him?
Study the Bible, repent of your sin, do whatever you can to have a closer relationship with the real God.
One last thing…
The Bible gives very clear instructions on some things, and on others it is vague and left open to personal decisions. This is what is commonly called personal conviction. Is it wrong to watch movies with violence or magic, is it wrong to eat meat or drink wine, or is it wrong to worship God on any day that isn’t the sabbath? These things the Bible is not 100% clear on, and some feel a conviction that it is wrong, which is fine. If you feel it is wrong, then to do it would be a sin, but be careful that you do not place your own personal convictions on others. Something miner that you think is a sin, may be allowed for someone else. This is what quickly turns into legalism.
It takes studying the Bible and being close to Him to know the difference between a personal conviction and an actual command. Study the Bible and have a close relationship with God. Admit when you are wrong and learn how to properly interpret the Bible. Don’t buy the lie that everyone interprets the Bible differently. They may, but most are wrong. Know that your own beliefs on many things are wrong and you will only learn this as your relationship gets closer to God. I know that I’m usually wrong and I’m willing to admit that most of the time. Pray for a humble heart and God’s understanding when you read the Bible that you may interpret it correctly.
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3 thoughts on “Biblical Interpretation”
Thanks for the Post Jon. I agree a right and accurate interpretation of scripture is key to the Christian life.
What steps do you use to correctly interpret the Bible?
Also, what version(s) do you commonly prefer to use?
Thank for the comment.
The first thing I do to try and correctly interpret the Bible is compare passages with the rest of the Bible. The Bible will never contradict itself so we use the whole message of the Bible taken together.
Using commentaries, study Bibles, Bible dictionaries and other resources such as that help to get a better understanding of the culture each passage was written to. Doing this helps to make sure we are not interpreting something incorrectly due to a difference in our culture today. Such as circumcisions. Today it does not really mean much to us so we tend to downplay or even miss what the apostles wre getting at when they talked about it. It takes some studying and research to see what these passages meant to the people they were actually written for.
As to your final question; I mostly use the NKJV, NASB,and ESV.
Thanks for the response. I personally prefer the ESV for my own reading but I tend to use the ESV, NASB, NIV and NLT for my study. I like to mix up my versions between Formal and Dynamic Equivalent Translation.