Some Thoughts About the Bible: Interpretation

I have just read another article, this time a sermon, by a prominent American church leader in which he kindly and eloquently referred to his point of view on a matter, and that of his congregation, as “the biblical position.” In another place he defended his viewpoint as “simply standing for what the Bible teaches.”

Here is my earnest request. Please stop saying stuff like that.

It doesn’t matter where your position falls along the theological spectrum. It doesn’t matter whether or not you happen to agree with me. Your view—whatever it is, whatever the issue—is not the only biblical position.

You may consider any other view heresy, but for heaven’s sake have the good grace to acknowledge that there are people who value the Bible every bit as much as you do who have come to a different conclusion about what the text means. It’s simply the most responsible and the most courteous thing to do.

Human communication, especially when it is in writing, requires interpretation. The proliferation of social media is ample illustration. I read posts on Facebook and Twitter and in blogs, and I think I know what the writer meant. But then I read the comments that follow the posts, and I wonder if the person writing the comment read the same article I did.

It is obvious how much misunderstanding and misinterpretation accompanies written communication, even among people who share a common culture and language. Is it any wonder we have trouble coming to consensus on the interpretation of a text written thousands of years ago in a culture foreign to us and in a language we don’t speak?

Now you may respond to that question by reminding me that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in the interpretation process. But what does that mean in view of the multitude and variety of interpretations of virtually every biblical text, many of which are blatantly contradictory?

Is the Holy Spirit enlightening some interpreters and not others? If so, who is being guided by the Holy Spirit, and who is not? And who wants to be the first to suggest that their group is not being guided by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation of the biblical text?

All of this simply reinforces the need to hold our interpretations lightly and our convictions with humility. It is the only hope for unity among Christians.

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