Interpretation 1: The Nature of the Reader

We started our class Sunday morning talking about “Interpretation.”  So much of the “stuff” of arguments in religion comes from a lack of good interpretation. 

So many believe that you don’t need to interpret and they argue that those who do interpret tend to “muddy the waters.”  They claim that all a person needs to do is just read the Bible and do what it says. 

While I agree that many tend to muddy the waters, I do not agree that we should not interpret.  In fact, since the Bible is a written document and a document written in a particular time in history to particular people, there is no way to not interpret it.  I will have more to say about the nature of scripture in a later blog.

There are two basic reasons that one must interpret the Bible.  These reasons are stated in Fee and Stuarts book that I mentioned in my last blog. 

First, there is the nature of the reader.  Like it or not everyone who reads the Bible (or any other book for that matter) is by nature an interpreter.  Not only that, but one who reads the Bible has a background, culture, presuppositions, and a score of other things which affect how they read and interpret. 

Most people tend to think that they understand the things they read.  For example, when they see the word “baptism,” they assume they know what that means.  However, to many, it can and does mean different things, based upon their understanding of the word.  Without interpretation one might never understand what it really does mean.  

“We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent.  But, as stated above, we invariably bring to the table all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas.  Sometimes all of this, unintentional as it is, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.”  (Fee and Stuart 17)

How do you picture “The Cross?”  Most people think (^) when more likely it was (T).  That’s the way our culture thinks of a cross.  Though this particular example doesn’t do much harm to theology, there are other examples that might make a real difference.  

The need for interpretation is also to be found by noting what goes on around us all of the time. “A simple look at the contemporary church, for example, makes it abundantly clear that not all ‘plain meanings’ are equally plain to all.”  (Fee and Stuart 18)

Some examples that Fee and Stuart give are: 

1. Most people in the church who claim that women should keep silent in church based upon reading 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 at the same time deny the validity of speaking in tongues and prophecy, the very context in which the “silence” passage occurs.

2. People who think that women, as well as men, should prophecy according to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, at the same time deny that they should do it with their heads covered.

 3. Both “eternal security” of the believer and the possibility of “losing one’s salvation” are preached in the church, but never by the same person. Yet both are affirmed as the “plain meaning” of the text.

So in this first of my first ever attempts at a blog series we learn that 1) We are all interpreters and 2) the nature of the reader affects in a big way the interpretation.  In the next of this series, I will talk about the nature of scripture as another reason for the necessity of interpretation. 


6 responses to “Interpretation 1: The Nature of the Reader

  • Greg England

    Bring it on! How is the church responding to the teaching?

  • That Girl

    I’m very impatient with interpretation. I hate the way some people just accept what a preacher says as the truth without any study on their own and on the other hand, I don’t want to have to study it – I want to be able to just read and know what God is saying. I don’t like knowing that all I have are opinions. I’ll be stayed glued to this spot in hopes that you can help me learn.

  • steve

    In this vein, I like what James says,

    James 2:12, Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (and over our interpretations I believe!)


  • cwinwc

    Now this is my kind of Bible Study class! I’m still waiting for the Church that holds the Lord’s Supper in an “upper room.”

    Hey, I guess since we have a basement we might be in compliance.

  • Keith Davis

    Greg, It’s really too early to tell, but Sunday was a good start. There were many taking notes. Others wanted to know about Fee and Stuart’s book. The really hard part will come trying to teach words like “exegesis” and “hermeneutics” without being over some heads, but I think it’s important to learn the concepts of these two words before proceeding. We will see.

  • Meowmix

    Cecil, I never thought about the “upper room” context of the Lord’s supper……..although I have wondered a lot if anyone anywhere “washes feet.”

    Keith, I’d love to be in that class. I’ll be glued to your posts, as well, just as I have been to John’s posts on Luke.

    This brings to mind a confrontation I feel like I’m going to have to have with someone I hope I can still find! A couple or three weeks ago, a man and woman knocked on our door, introducing themselves as the preacher and his wife from a Church of Christ in our neighborhood…….one I’d never heard of. They began by asking a few questions I now feel like were leading, and I stood on our front porch for over an hour talking to them. They assert there is “one true church”, and basically it’s them. From what I remember, they are small in number, totalling 30-40 congregations nation-wide. They 1) do not have fellowship meals in the church building, 2) do not have elders because none of their godly men feel like they can qualify, according to scripture, to be elders, but they act as “leaders” anyway, 3) do not believe in paid preachers, 4) do not believe in training preachers in a preacher-training school such as HGS, 4) have more than one preacher per congregation (this one had 6, as I recall), 5) do believe women should attend and help make decisions in business meetings, 6) acknowledge Christ as the head of the church but do not adhere to the autonomy of the local congregation. They all teach the same thing and are in complete agreement, otherwise, the other congregations have the authority and responsibility to sack the preacher(s) and replace them or close the congregation altogether if need be. All of this is how they interpret the Bible, and they don’t have a lot of use for any of us who disagree with the above.

    Last night, a neighbor and fellow church member down the street called to say this same man and another man knocked on her door and in the course of their congregation, he referred to me (not by name) but in such a way as she knew who he was talking about, and he grossly misquoted and misrepresented things I had said. She defended me, knowing I had not spoken as he said I had, but I feel I must “take a witness with me” and try to find this fellow. He left me his name and phone numbers, but I threw them away.

    Wish me luck……….


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