24 Mar 2000

Problems of Interpretation

Submitted by theshovel
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Our problems of interpretation are simple: we have been trying to figure out what it MEANS instead of determining what it SAYS. This may sound like semantics, but I assure you that it is not. It is the difference of APPROACH. I would venture to say that you've sensed it from time to time. It has hit you each time you were aware of how precarious an interpretation sat within its context, and if you were teaching it you hoped that no one would ask you what that NEXT verse meant. You may have felt it as you realized that your interpretation only stood within the framework built from OUTSIDE verses, and not at all upon the context.

Now, until you begin putting yourself into the shoes of both the writer of the letter AND those of the recipients then you will be forcing your situations and perspectives into the words of the Bible instead of the other way around. In other words, if you really want to know what it means to YOU then find out what it meant to THEM. Then, you discover that you FIRST must see what it SAID to them. When you know what something says the meaning ends up taking care of itself.

Why isn't this how most teach the Bible?

Because it takes way too long.
Because we would have to say too often, "I don't know".
Because it would involve constant ridicule and attack from the "qualified" perspective.
Because we want to hear what we want to hear.
Because what we really want to do is to validate our own views and opinions.
Because we are afraid that we will lose that "personal" understanding.
Because we will be rejected by most.
Because we would find ourselves on the outside.
Because we enjoy the respect of being considered an "authority".

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Comments

Hi Jim, I get a lot of insight and wisdom from reading what you have to say. About Interpretation. I hold that the text, letter, etc., cannot mean something different today then it did to those the author was writing to. In other words it has to mean the same thing it meant to them. This to me, then keeps me from “proof-texting passages. What is your take on this?
theshovel's picture

Regarding interpretation, I have witnessed much abuse from some who, as you say, proof-text verses and passages so that they mean something totally different than what was originally intended. Now, I understand the desire to hear God speak in a living way through the Bible, but the truth is that the religious mind has gotten us into this mess in the first place. You see, as long as we establish a faulty basis that says God only speaks to us in this time through the Bible, we will find ourselves manipulating individual words and verses to work around the restriction.

Having said that, I won't deny that we might be triggered into unrelated insights through out-of-context Scripture. But then in the same way — and I'm sure this will rub a few the wrong way — we can just as easily be triggered into similar insights from God through various other avenues, such as, other books, some observable happening, something in nature, a movie, a song, a dream, an experience, etc. Of course, that doesn't mean it will shed any insight into the interpretation of a verse of passage ... but then again, I've often had my religious or Biblical preconceptions of a verse or passage  challenged or adjusted by such things. In other words, by having received some other insight, I have often come to recognize that it reflected a similarity to the context of a passage that I had not considered before. I hope that makes sense.

Whenever I consider a Biblical passage, I want to know what it meant to the original writer and the hearers. When I look for insight from God, I look for it everywhere. smiley

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