Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Personal Preference Method of Biblical Interpretation

One of the best aspects of blogging is getting to interact with other Christians who have different interpretations than I do of various biblical passages. The discussions we have both stretch me and force me to ask myself why I believe what I believe.

These interactions force me to face something I'd rather not: my own method of biblical interpretation. Specifically, I'm referring to NT church practices and their application for today. We all face this struggle. In some passages, we see practices that we believe we should follow today almost exactly as we read of in NT times. In other passages we see the early Christians doing things that we believe provide us with principles for today, but not necessarily anything specific to imitate. Finally, we read of other things from the NT church that we believe we are free to ignore (or not) if we choose to do so.

What concerns me is that the way I interpret may best be described as "A Personal Preference Method of Biblical Interpretation." I hope this is not the case, but I fear that it may be.

Here's my angst in a nutshell: Rather than reading scripture and trying to discern what the original authors intended, I'm reading to see what I want to see based on personal preferences. The things that I like a lot I interpret literally and/or say that they have direct application for today's church. Those things that I don't like that much or feel indifferent about get interpreted in such a way that we learn principles only. The aspects of church life that I'd rather not have to deal with I simply interpret as completely optional.

In the end, the method of interpretation is not, "What did the author mean and how would God have that apply to us today?" Instead, the method ends up being, "What are my own likes and dislikes when it comes to the church, and how can I find evidence for these in the bible?"

Let me give a few examples. I like meeting in homes as a local body of believers. Therefore, I find evidence for this in the bible and say we should all do this. I don't particularly like the idea of washing feet or giving holy kisses. Therefore, although I see evidence for these practices, I say that they are examples of loving behavior but not things we are supposed to be doing. As for giving to the poor, I'll just suggest that this is optional and a nice idea.

This type of interpretation is not something that only I struggle with. We all do to one degree or another. Although the Holy Spirit helps us understand what scripture really means, our own indwelling sin leads us to sometimes warp what we read to support our own purposes and preferences.

This should not terrify us. Rather, it should spur us on to always ask what God is saying in the pages of the bible. What does God want? What did He mean then and how does He desire that we apply this today? What would He have His church look like?

If we reach the point of thinking that we can interpret the bible with little to no error, we are in a dangerous place. Instead, we must approach the scriptures with humility. We must remember that we have been wrong in the past and will be wrong again.

Sometimes as we discuss church-related issues in the blog world we run into this problem. We defend what we believe about whatever issue because we feel comfortable with/like our position. Take any issue. How about the Lord's Supper? Too often we read about and/or get involved in a discussion about meaning, form, frequency, etc. based on what we like. It's as simple as that.

We must guard steadfastly against allowing our own carnal desires determine what we believe the bible says. We cannot have a selective method of interpretation based on what we want the bible to say. Instead, trusting the Spirit to lead the way, let us humbly approach the bible and attempt to figure out what God meant and what He means.

We need each other for this. Multiple people involved in biblical interpretation act as a guard against all sorts of incorrect interpretation. Yet another benefit of community.

Let's continue to have good discussions about church issues. Let's even disagree some of the time. However, let's also do our best to keep our own personal preferences out of the mix. We won't be completely successful in this, but the attempt is worth it. An accurate awareness of our own fallibility should give us pause and keep us humble.


Aussie John said...


The gorilla in the closet!

Eric said...


And one that is so difficult to tame!