Interpreting the Bible: Truth or Deceit?

Reading the Bible can be a dangerous thing. We are told that the words of the Bible are alive, powerful, and that they are always at work in us (1 Thessalonians 1:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). We are also told that they are sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).

We’re also supposed to read them so we can stay spiritually nourished and be left with a desire to know God more. The danger comes in, however, in the way we read Scripture.

Some people read the Bible with a huge sign that says: APPLICATION APPLICATION APPLICATION! Others read it with a sign that says: KNOWLEDGE KNOWLEDGE KNOWLEDGE! Those are both good things to want from spending time with God, but we must be careful not let what we think is important override what is actually important and Scripture. And what I mean by that is, each passage in Scripture has an objective, unbiased message minus your agenda.

It’s called context. Without it, you may end up frustrated and misled. You might read John 14:14, and your prayer after reading would sound like, “All right, Jesus. I asked for a pet bunny straight from heaven. Where is my pet bunny?” In all reality, Jesus was talking specifically to his disciples in that passage, and “in my name” implies that prayer requests should come from a heart in line with God’s.

Christians often pop open their Bibles with expectations and problems from the day, and they look for verses that will either support their view on an issue or help them feel better immediately . This can be a problem in scientific research as well. When performing research, you need two things: questions and an unbiased mind. Scientists often go out with a hypothesis, looking for objective evidence. With an open mind, they undoubtedly go where the evidence leads them. Then they find their unbiased answer (hopefully). Because humans drive science, their is room for corruption. Some scientists will come up with a hypothesis, formulate the answer they wish, and go find evidence that will back up what they are hoping to be true. Distorted much? This absolutely skews evidence, which means their biased answer is probably not the 100% truth. For example, Bart Ehrman, a popular textual critic of the Bible, has been accused of this in his research of Scripture.

What do you think happens when a Christian has this sort of mindset as they dive into God’s Word? The real meaning of the Bible is often squelched beneath our personal checklists and conclusions. When played out with others, this means that we have a hard time explaining what Scripture means and tend to leave the Divine Love Letter as a relativistic document. Also, difficult passages like 1 Kings 22 puzzle us in ways we don’t prefer. And because we read the Bible hoping for something else, we either ignore the difficult questions altogether or it pushes us away from God completely.

The truth is that God’s Word is wonderful. There are stories, cultural norms, and societal traditions laid deep within Scripture that change the entire meaning of what surface words may seem to convey. One may read about slavery being permissible in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (with a bewildered reaction), but once one reads on and finds out slaves had rights in court and the ability to be free on a variety of grounds, slavery looks nothing at all like an 1850s plantation and looks more like what we call “bond service.” The same goes for controversial verses like 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (I posted a really sweet article outlining that passage here).

This is not to say there are no true areas of difficulty in the entire Bible. Certain books contain certain words that are hard to interpret (Hosea is full of them). Anyone who has ever read a commentary (which I challenge you to do) knows this. However, God’s main ideas are still apparent even in the face of unclear, ancient words.

So how do you know if you are prone to jump ahead of Scripture or not? As you saw above, people tend to fall to one of two extremes: an unhealthy hunger for application and practicality, and a rabid rancor for mere knowledge. Here’s your tests:

Application: for those of you who tend to fall in the ‘Application Camp’, I’ve got some questions for you. Do most of your devotions tend to be randomly opening the Bible and randomly reading two or three verses in total? Do you tend to shy away from the Old Testament? Do you have a hard time remembering verses after reading them? Typically, people largely driven by practical action without substance end up being legalistic and judgmental.

Knowledge: If your brain just can’t get enough facts and details, I’ve got a set of questions for you as well. Do you base your spiritual condition on how much you know about God? Do you neglect outreach and being missional frequently? Do you study Scripture often without talking to your Heavenly Father in prayer about it? Do you bury your head in more books than the book? This is where I tend to fall between the two, and being a knowledge-nerd usually leaves the person with laziness and complacency.

Whichever point on the spectrum you’re on, you must always come back to the fact that God’s Word is truth. It is the truth, and it can never be broken. We as humans are broken every day, but once our broken lives meet God’s unbreakable Word, restoration occurs. Scripture is life-changing.

It is good to desire application from the Bible. And attaining more knowledge about who God is happens in every healthy relationship with him. We just need to remember that God’s plans are bigger and better than ours. That is our hope as we read Scripture. But when we let our expectations and plans haze over God’s truth, we change God’s Word into our word.

We all know where that goes.

Where do you fall in the two extremes? Application hypercannon? Knowledge hoarder? Or, have you learned anything really cool from Scripture lately? Hit me up.


4 thoughts on “Interpreting the Bible: Truth or Deceit?

  1. Over the years I’ve come to regard the Word of God as a truly supernatural force – not of this world – with powers far beyond anything we could comprehend. I’m not so sure “how” you read it really makes all that much difference. If you read it, it changes you. Even if you don’t know how a passage applies or don’t think you’ve learned anything from it, that power is already at work inside you. It actually sounds kinda creepy and maybe it is. The Word of God has the power to transform lives. It’s neither a text book nor an instruction manual – it IS the power of God (Romans 1:16). Of course it’s important to study it and meditate on it, but study and meditation are not what gives it power. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit – it is “alive” and “active” (Heb 4:12). The Bible is not just a book filled with information. So many people think they need to visit haunted houses, or attend a seance to try to make contact with the supernatural. All they really need to do is open their Bibles. The supernatural is waiting to make contact with them!

    Anyway, great post! It is important both to study the Word of God to find a place for it in your mind (knowledge) and meditate on it to find a place for it in your heart (application). You tweeted today that your heart breaks when you think about people who have never known the love of Christ. You did not learn that or apply that from a passage you studied. That is the evidence of the true power of the Word of God – a heart that has been transformed to feel compassion for the lost.

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