I received an excellent question in the comments for last week’s article, Can We Understand the Bible Alike? The commenter asked, “What is your solution to properly interpreting the Bible? Do you take a literal interpretation, or a more intricate one, etc.?” This is a very important inquiry, because how one interprets the Bible – more specifically, whether one does so correctly – determines whether one is going to actually obey the commands and principles laid out in the Bible. That, in turn, has a direct bearing on whether one will be saved (Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:9). Therefore, if God permits me I would like to take the next few posts on my blog to show both from scripture and from logic how to correctly interpret the Bible.
To begin with, it must be asked whether it is actually possible to correctly interpret the Bible. After all, some believe that truth is relative rather than absolute. This notion is easily proven to be very much mistaken when one thinks about it with an open and honest mind (cf. Luke 8:15). To the person who confidently asserts, “There is no absolute truth,” responding with the simple inquiry, “Are you absolutely sure about that?” shows the inconsistency and error of such a proposition. Nevertheless, many still believe this foolish notion. A popular rock band from my youth wrote a song which opined, “This is not a black and white world/To be alive, I say that the colors must swirl/And I believe that maybe today/We will all get to appreciate/The beauty of gray.” This post-modernistic idea – the beauty of gray, there are no black and whites, there is no absolute truth – is very popular in our society, and for good reason. After all, if there is no such thing as absolute truth then there is no such thing as an absolute standard of what is right and what is wrong. (If not, why not?) Therefore, who are you to tell me that I am wrong for doing whatever it is I want to do?
Hypothetically, I could commit adultery with your spouse, murder your child, steal your money, and burn down your house, and you probably would have a problem with that. Fine, that’s YOUR definition of truth. MY definition of truth is that it’s okay for me to do those things. Since truth is relative, that means we’re both right. And since I am right, I will continue to commit adultery with your spouse, murder your children, steal your money, and harm your property…and who are you to tell me I’m wrong to do so? Such a mindset is not only ludicrous on its face but also extremely dangerous, because following this line of thought to its logical end would result in chaos (cf. Judg. 21:25).
Additionally, having this post-modernistic mindset would make it impossible for one to correctly interpret the Bible, because to a post-modernistic mind every word in the Bible would be subjective, open to multiple interpretations of which all would be valid. For example, you believe that John 3:16 teaches that God gave his Son because he loved the world? Fine, that’s YOUR interpretation. MY interpretation of John 3:16 is that God gave his Son because he did NOT love the world. Since truth is relative, we’re both right and who are you to tell me that I’m wrong? Again, a simple reading of the passage under consideration shows very clearly…to the person who already knows about and accepts the existence of absolute truth…that the above, post-modernistic way of thinking is absurd on its face. The passage very clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Believe that statement to be absolutely true, and you will clearly see the error of anyone who would interpret it in any other way.
Therefore, the existence of the post-modernistic mindset does not mean that it is impossible for anyone to correctly interpret the Bible. On the contrary, those who recognize the existence of absolute truth in this world will find it easier to correctly interpret God’s Word, because God’s Word IS truth (John 17:17). When one who already knows and accepts the fact that absolute truth exists and then comes to know and accept the fact that God’s Word is truth, then one has achieved the first step towards correctly interpreting the Bible.
(Check back tomorrow, Lord willing, for Part 2 of this article.)
4 thoughts on “Accurate Hermeneutics: Interpreting The Bible Correctly (Part 1)”
Do you believe there to be the possibility of some things being very concrete and others being varying shades of gray? Is there ALWAYS a black & white, or can there be different interpretations of some (not all) things?
Good questions. There are some gray areas, but not as many as people think. What makes them gray is either:
1. A lack of scriptural data concerning them (i.e., what did Jesus write on the ground in John 8?)
2. The presence of scriptural data concerning them, data which could, when completely taken into account, lead one to multiple conclusions (i.e., the origin of demons).
Concerning what God wants us to do concerning salvation, worship, the church, morality, etc., there are no gray areas. If something appears to be gray (which is understandable; Peter DID say that some of Paul’s writings were difficult to understand, after all), it is primarily due to a lack of taking into account all of what the Bible says about the matter (Ps. 119:160). Further study with an open and honest heart (Luke 8:15) would be needed.
Are you using the Hermeneutic that if the New Testament says it…we do it and if the New Testament doesn’t say (or mention) it, then we don’t do it?
Yes and no. It depends on how the New Testament says or doesn’t say it.
For example, there is no New Testament command, “Thou shalt not beat thy wife.” You won’t find that command in the New Testament. However, we DO find the command for husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28-29). We also find the command, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated” (Matt. 7:12). Thus, the conclusion one is forced to make from the implications of those two passages is that the New Testament condemns spousal abuse, even though it doesn’t specifically mention it.
To give another example taking this in a different way, we are told in both Testaments to not go beyond what is written in Scripture (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19). Therefore, we know that it would be sinful to partake of the Lord’s Supper by eating fried chicken and drinking Pepsi, because the New Testament only mentioned eating unleavened bread (cf. Ex. 12:14-20) and drinking fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:29) in the context of the command, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
So it depends. Good question.