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.