June 20, 2024

The Problem of Differing Interpretations

Bible and Cross

Any document of any complexity will be read and interpreted differently by the readers.  This is true of the Constitution to the United States and it is true of the Bible.

This fact has more to say, though, about the reader than the text itself.

Each person brings to a work the biases and worldview by which the frame the world.  On this very blog people have read and interpreted what I and others have said on various sides of arguments to mean things entirely different than they were intended.

We have the tendency to judge a work on our preconceptions instead of letting the work speak to us for what it is.  We bring our baggage, and then claim that someone else is wrong because they see it differently.  And this doesn’t just happen with Atheists, but between Christians as well.

Take, for instance, that both Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Dr. James Dobson both consider themselves Christians.  Both of them have very different views on a lot of things (if we can take Sen. Barak Obama’s recent statements on the Bible).  And yet both claim to be Christian.  So, the skeptic’s complaint is—how can you claim you have truth when people that claim the same book have differing, conflicting interpretations of said book.

I respond like this—it’s simple:  What does the book say without the baggage?  Just like I’d ask the question of the Constitution or any book.  Most people are able to agree on the exact text and context.  It is when we start to try to apply it, or to fashion principles out of it that we run into trouble.

So, when you see conflict in interpretations of any work—not just the Bible—stop and ask yourself what’s being said.  Figure out what’s simply a person’s beliefs imposed upon the work and what is what the work is actually saying.

When it comes to the Bible, pray that the Holy Spirit may help you to set aside your own personal beliefs, that you may be changed to think His thoughts.  Come to the Bible fresh, expecting to hear from God about what He has to say—not to always hear what you’ve heard before.

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