Friday, 21 March 2014

What is the correct interpretation?

There is an expression that has become extremely popular in the last decade, one that you know very well.

"Well, that's just your interpretation."

It doesn't give certainty.  It doesn't communicate truth.  It doesn't offer the correct interpretation.  All it does is throw doubt into the situation.  Confuse things.  It reminds me of the garden of Eden, when the serpent asked Eve, "Did God really say...?"  My dear Eve, are you sure you aren't interpreting it wrong?  (Notice the double negative)

Do you see the deception in this question, in this statement?  Nothing is added.  But certainty is removed.  When someone says, "Well, that's just your interpretation," they are not saying "The interpretation is this... because of these reasons."  They are simply saying, "I don't like what you are saying, so I want you to feel like what you are saying is only true for you.  I want to remove your certainty."

Here's the million dollar question: Is there a correct interpretation of God's Word that is true for all people of all times and places?  God certainly thinks there is.  And He says we can know it, believe it, confess it to others.  He has not given us His Word so that we stumble around in the dark, but so that He may draw all people to Himself.  There are true interpretations and there are false interpretations.

Then, how do you know which is true and which is false?  So many people will throw their hands up in the air at this point, as though they don't know how to do this.  We do it with everything else in life, but when it comes to God's Word we suddenly feel like it is impossible to do.  It is not.  Because God has spoken His Word in a real language - that has real rules - and real plain meaning. 

The reason "various interpretations" arise is because people read wrong, they bring their own ideas to the plain text and "look" for things.  We all do it, but it is important to know how we do it.  This is most evident in the post-Reformation era where all the various denominations (confessions/interpretations of teaching) have sprung up.  The post-Reformation era was the Enlightenment, in which, for the first time, "man was the measure of all things."  People were influenced by philosophies not present when the Bible was originally written - yet they brought these philosophies to the text of Scripture.   We can trace how those secular philosophies continue to impact a denomination's tradition and interpretation of Scripture to this very day. 

Let's look at a household example of how different interpretations arise.

Mom: "Clean up the dishes."
Child 1: "Mom wants us to clean up the dishes."
Child 2: "No, Mom is telling us she wants us to clean up the dishes, AND we are able to do it."

Ok, these two children have a slightly different understanding of Mom's words.  The first child has taken the plain meaning of her words.  We ought to clean up the dishes.  But child #2 has added something - ability - we can clean up the dishes.  Evidently, child #2 has brought this to the text, because the plain meaning of the words "Clean up the dishes" only communicate the ought.  The can is assumed.  For whatever reason, child #2 wanted to interpret the words this way.  It is not the basic meaning of the words.  Should Mom have wanted to communicate what child #2 "heard" she would have said something like, "You are able-bodied and have no other responsibilities, and I know I can count on you to clean up the dishes.  Please do so."  It is certainly possible Mom also assumed they could do it - but that is not in the words.  An assumption made on both sides is the epitome of bad communication.

The example seems silly, I know, but I used it because it is a real discrepancy that different Christian denominations have over the text of Scripture.  Certain interpretation traditions assume human ability into God's commands.  They cannot imagine how God might want to communicate what ought to be happening, even if it can't happen right now.  Like the frustrated parent that wants their one year old to speak with words so they know what they want!  Not going to happen, no matter how much you want it...haha.

What does all of this mean?  Words matter.  The words of the text matter.  What do the words say?  The plain meaning is always the truth unless the context can prove it is otherwise.  So read your Bible.  But don't look for the social problem in the text.  Don't look for the agenda.  Look for the plain meaning - what is good in faith - because Christ is speaking there.

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