How Do We Interpret?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. It seems there’s a lot of interest in inerrancy and thus, I invite readers to also go to our Facebook page where you can follow along and see what happens on the blog as it happens. I would hope that it also becomes a good place for discussion and debate.

Regularly, from the non-Christian community, we can be asked how it is we are to interpret texts. It seems like the Bible is all literal or all figurative. This certainly isn’t the case. My reply to such a question is the same each time. “How are we to interpret Plato? Aristotle? Chaucer? Shakespeare?” Think of any great writer. How do we interpret them?

Well you have to do the study. If a term seems hard to understand, you look it up or you consider if the culture has changed and you need to study the culture. Yet somehow, so many people think the Bible is exempt from this. It seems we often have a view of the Bible that somehow, no study is required to understand it.

This is not a good view to have. The Bible is divine in origin, but it is also through human hands. I am told that Mark does not have good Greek, but Luke certainly does. All the writers wrote on their own level. We know some texts are Pauline because of the style with which he wrote.

In the Old Testament, I am also told that Isaiah has simply elegant Hebrew. I am sure there are writers whose Hebrew was hardly stellar. However, each were inspired by God to write, although I do not believe each was dictated what they were to write.

While some may prefer to take the literal right off the bat every time, this is not necessarily the right way. Can we compare with other ancient writings and see how they were written? Why should we expect that Moses wrote in a style amenable to 21st century man? Moses would have written in a way understandable by his contemporaries.

Believe it or not, the Bible was not written just for our day, age, and place. One wonders what it could mean if people alive 500 years from now could wonder why God didn’t speak directly the way that they speak. We could say that that’s ridiculous, but modern man, especially in America at least, seems to do that.

So unfortunately for most of us who want the answers handed to us and wonder why God didn’t just spell everything out, we have to study the text. Not just the text, but we also have to study the culture and the time that the text was written in. If we do not learn the languages, we need to rely on those who do, although hopefully, more of us will learn the languages. We must remember that God is looking for disciples and not just converts.

And maybe once we do that, so many “contradictions” in the text will just disappear.

  • Nick, have you read the anthology of articles on hermeneutics that came out of the second ICBI summit conference. It has the multi-part thesis statement on hermeneutics, affirmations and denials, and essays with lengthy responses from two readers each. By working through this tome, you might just keep yourself from attacking a strawman position. 🙂 Win

  • Win Corduan

    Oh, I forgot, it’s entitled Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible: Papers from the ICBI Summit II, ed. by Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984). Including appendixes it’s 921 pp. long, a pretty good indication that evangelicals who hold the original understanding of “inerrancy” were not unaware of hermeneutics and genre criticism.

  • I have not, but which straw man do you see here?

  • I have not and do not assume that I will. I just wanted you to be sure of this resource. More on a direct person-to-person message on FB.

  • Okay Win. Your statement made me unsure of if I had committed a straw man or not. If I had, I wanted to be sure of it.