Can We Know What Scripture Really Means?
“It all comes down to interpretation.”
“There are so many different interpretations of the Bible, who knows who is right?”
“That’s just YOUR interpretation.”
I’ve heard these statements and many more like them. I would like to briefly challenge the entire cultural understanding of the Bible and meaning and interpretation.
When an author writes something (a love letter, a text message, a blog), the author is trying to communicate a message. Since telepathy is impossible for us mortals, an author must think of the message, write it down, have it read by and understood by his audience.
Our culture likes to start this process with the audience. I, the reader, pick up a book and I read it. Then I get to declare MY understanding of the book. I hear this spoken in phrases like, “to me this says…” “I read it this way….” “my thoughts on the passage are….”
Perhaps you’ve said this.
Let me be clear, if my thoughts do not match the thoughts of the author I have misinterpreted the passage.
But some might say, “Who are you to give YOUR interpretation as what the AUTHOR meant?” Simple, if I follow the previously described process of OBSERVING what the author wrote, then I will INTERPRET according to the author’s thoughts, not my own.
I understand that when I give an interpretation of a passage, I am saying, “thus says the Lord….” This is no small matter. God did not give us a book so that we could make it say whatever we want it to say. He didn’t intend to. He communicated his message skillfully, artfully, culturally, using words and figures of speech and poetry and a host of other tools that should be learned in Sophomore literature classes.
Interpretations are only as good as they are faithful to the text. Many interpretations exist, but better interpretations are the ones based on better observations, better data, and better analysis of the text. In other words, Interpretations are only as good as they accurately reflect the mind of God who wrote the book.
God perfectly communicated his message. We should not be concerned with what it means to us, but with what it means to Him. There is only one correct interpretation/meaning but there are different applications for believers.