All about IT
Whenever I’m discussing a controversial issue with one of my friends, the outcome is practically always the same. We discuss for a while, I present what the Bible has to say on the matter, and right as we near the end of our discussion, my friend looks at me and states “well that’s just your interpretation. You have your interpretation of the Bible and I have mine.”
The amount of times that I have heard people say this is absolutely absurd. I understand where people are coming from, having been an atheist followed by a deist prior to my conversion to Christianity.
At the same time, it’s very dangerous for so many Christians, millions upon millions of people, who read the Bible to take the same book and claim it is telling them different things.
Every rational human being has to admit that there is a problem with this. We must all ask ourselves, “Is the Bible really open to interpretation?”
By no means am I a scholar, but I would love to explore and discuss this with anyone who would like to read this article and then join the ongoing conversation that has been occurring on this subject.
Before even beginning to approach interpreting scripture, we first have to come to a basic understanding of what the Bible is. “Bible” is a Hebrew word that translates into English as “Books.” So the “Holy Bible” is literally the “Holy Books.”
Many people fail to realize this, but the Bible is in fact not a single book, but rather a collection of books. The Bible includes 66 books; 39 books in the Old Testament, the time prior to Christ, and 27 books in the New Testament, after the time of Christ.
These 66 books were written over a span of over a thousand years and its authors include peasants, physicians, kings, lawyers, apostles, and even historians.
In addition to its diversity in authors, the Bible also includes diversity in literary genres as well. Some of the books of the Bible are narratives, while others are poetry; some are prophetic, some are letters to churches, while others are simply collections of wise sayings.
Acknowledging the complexity and diversity of scripture should bring a reasonable amount of humility to the reader. The fact of the matter is that each author, like modern authors, has a purpose for why they are writing.
Therefore, in order to interpret scripture, the reader must closely examine the author’s intent. Sadly, many people who read the Bible fail to even attempt to take the author’s intent in to account. As a result, what the authors of the Bible were conveying in their writings is often skewed by the reader.
I’m praying that whoever reads this article will be more careful in how they read scripture in the future. I will try to bring light to what may occur when we refuse to approach interpreting biblical content through the lens of how the authors intended it be seen.
Let’s begin with the idea of letters. Hypothetically speaking, if you were to give a letter that was addressed to you personally to one of your friends, they would have to put themselves in your place in order to understand it. It would be very strange of them to take your letter and read through it as if it was written to them specifically.
If they were to take such an approach to understanding the letter, then the meaning of the letter’s content would be very distorted. In the same way, there are a number of books in the Bible that are letters written to specific churches in a specific time. This means that these books of the Bible have specific context that must be understood in order to properly read and apply what they say.
Now consider the Gospel according to Luke. Luke is writing about the events that occurred in Jesus’ lifetime as a historical narrative. Because of this, the reader must approach the book just as they would approach a history book.
There are without a doubt some historical mistakes in history books, but it would be absurd for any student of history to take their history book and decide that they are simply going to interpret history however they feel like doing so. Why should studying the Bible be any different?
The Bible is filled with a conglomeration of literary genres that you can’t treat every single part of the Bible the same. So in response to those who ask the question, “Is scripture open to interpretation?” my answer would be both yes and no.
The fact of the matter is that it depends so strongly on what book of the Bible we are interpreting; each genre will be read differently. If the book of the Bible is a historical narrative, then absolutely not, it is to be treated as a historical document and not some allegorical piece of literature. If the book is outlining ways for Christians to live in order to glorify God, then by no means should we try to say “well that’s just your interpretation” because we merely want to feel right in how we live our lives.
Yet if the piece of scripture is a collection of wisdom, then without a doubt, there is some advice that can be applied and others that can’t be applied. No matter what, we must recognize that, even though scripture is written by people, it is still inspired by God the Holy Spirit and must not be rejected.
Here’s what the apostle Peter says about scripture.
“Know this first of all: that no prophecy of scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
2 Peter 1:20-21
The Bible was inspired by God, and we should be very slow to place our interpretation above His because it could very well fall short of what God’s word is actually trying to say.