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"We don't interpret the Bible" (1)

Such a statement inevitably occurs in the midst of a conversation where a topic is being discussed, Scriptures are brought in, and the response comes up, "That’s just your interpretation." Not wishing their point to be blunted, the other says something to the effect of, "I’m not interpreting it." And then to solidify their point and establish solidarity they add, "We don’t interpret the Bible."

We don’t interpret the Bible.

Some believe this to be true because they like to think the Bible is written in such a way that anyone, anywhere, at any time who can read at a third or fourth grade level can understand any part of it. That’s one of those dangerous half-truths (like Abraham telling others Sarah was his sister), that gets us in trouble. While there are significant portions of Scripture that fall under this category, there are significant portions that don’t (which not coincidentally happen to be the very parts we are least familiar with).

The Ethiopian struggled with a section of Isaiah (Acts 8:30-31). This didn’t astonish Phillip because he asked him if he understood what he was reading (v. 30). It wouldn’t have surprised the apostle Peter because he was under the impression that Paul wrote some things in his letters that were "hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16). The truth is, the Bible is just like life --- parts of it are quite easy but other parts are difficult and require a lot of work. We do no one any favors if we promote the view that the Bible is always easy to understand. (In fact, when we suggest this I think we’re doing our part to promote biblical illiteracy since people who believe us will get quickly discouraged when they aren’t able to understand the "always easy" Bible we promised them). To say the Bible is always easy to understand doesn’t square with what it says about itself!

But the more far-reaching aspect of this is the demonizing of the word interpretation. In its pejorative sense, the word has to do with placing a (usually self-serving), spin on something. But the broader meaning of the word is simply to assign meaning to something. As such, it is an essential part of the communicative process. You cannot communicate at any level without assigning meaning to words. The thing is, most of the time we do this unconsciously so we don’t think we’re "interpreting" --- but we are. When unfamiliar speech is used, then we become conscious that we’re interpreting. So whether we’re reading sections of Scripture that are easy to understand or navigating through the difficult sections of Paul’s letters, we are interpreting.

I purchased a Jaguar a couple of years ago. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis kind of thing, I’m not sure. I didn’t take it to church on Sundays or Wednesday nights so most of the members where I preach weren’t aware that I had it. At home, I always put it in the garage --- I never left it in the driveway. To tell the truth, I was a little too big for it and after a while I realized I needed to do something with it so I gave it to my daughter. You can see a picture of by clicking the link to the second part of this post.
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