Pass It On – A Rule For Good Bible Interpretation
During the dark ages the scriptures were chained to pedestals in the major cathedrals of the world. The common people could not read the bible and even the clergy were limited to reading it only where it stood. Those days have been eliminated by the courageous efforts of clergy and reformers like Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and a host of others who in some cases gave their lives in the effort. We now enjoy the fruit of their labors throughout most of the free world. Not only are all the versions of the bible available here in America but one publisher has begun offering the bible bound and covered in your choice of designer colors!
Yet for all of this profusion of bibles one of the flimsiest excuses for not reading or trusting the bible is still being used everywhere throughout the land. Who has not heard someone say, “The bible is open to interpretation and that’s why it can’t be trusted”?
If honestly examined, this excuse will be found to be just another one of those “common wisdom of the day” utterances that has no more truth in it than water in the desert. It is grown out of ignorance, watered by indifference and harvested in laziness. It is used glibly but has dire consequences; in fact it could cost a person their entire future.
The first rule of interpretation says that no one has the right to interpret the scripture in a merely personal or private way. …Knowing this first that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. I Peter 1:20 If the bible is not open to private interpretation then it must only be open to public interpretation. That is the key. The universal bible believing church the world over has an interpretation that qualifies this fact, the minor doctrinal differences and the trend toward liberalism notwithstanding. Whether Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist or any other major historical denomination the bible is interpreted the same. Jesus death and resurrection is the key to salvation and his teachings are the key to our best behavior. When people stray very far from this kind of interpretation of the bible they are bordering on heresy, cultism or something worse.
Another great rule of sound biblical interpretation is to let the bible interpret itself. Let the whole bible reflect on any part of it in particular. You will rarely ever go wrong by applying this rule. This of course implies that you would have to study the whole bible. That alone would just about eliminate any problem with bible interpretation you will ever encounter.
An old preacher from Vermont once told me of a basic rule of interpretation he had learned while attending Bible College. I have never forgotten it and I’ve never failed to use it. He said, “If the scripture makes plain sense, seek no other sense”. Being complicated is not a prerequisite to being a bible student so don’t bury your self in hidden meanings and obscurities, just get on with what is known and apparent.
Finally take a lesson from the smallest child. Ask them what Jesus meant when he said we should love each other, or that we should forgive others. They know what these things mean even when those who hide behind the idea that the bible is riddled with too many interpretations don’t. Some passages are simple but that does not mean they aren’t profound. Other passages are more complex but can be clearly understood by the simplest approach, much like that of a child. The child like approach to scriptural interpretation is the shortest route to understanding; in fact it is also the shortest route to salvation itself. Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. Mark 10:15
We must cease to view the bible as some deep manual of religion only to be known by the initiated or specially trained. Someone once said that the bible and more so, the New Testament is a letter from God the Father to his children. Who would think a letter from your father was meant to create confusion. It would speak of his love, his intentions, his ongoing plans and his final return home. It would give instructions and details on what to do until he returns. No one would throw a letter from their father in a corner and say I don’t understand any of that so I’ll just do what I want to until he returns home and take it up with him then.
The words of the bible never create confusion. In fact it is the dismissing of these words that creates confusion. If we hide behind the worn out cliché about “it is all open to interpretation” we will find ourselves with no where to hide in the final day. Jesus said the very opposite about his words, He said they would illuminate our lives and bring peace to us, not confusion. In fact they would produce life itself within us…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:33