“I Get This...”
Some time ago, when I was in seminary, I was discussing a Bible passage with my brother-in-law, a very intelligent individual, at the time an electrical engineer working with Honeywell, and we disagreed on the passage.
His response was, “Well, that’s your interpretation.”
When someone says this, the implication is, “My interpretation is as good as yours, so you just be quiet and forget it.” But is this always the case? Are all interpretations equally valid? The answer is a resounding no.
I find this statement from Paul in Ephesians 3:3-4 immensely encouraging when it comes to such issues: “...that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (NASB).
What the specific mystery is that Paul refers to is defined by the context of the chapter. But what I want to emphasize here is the fact that by reading what Paul had written, the Ephesian Christians could understand the mystery. It’s something that once was hidden, but now is revealed.
Scripture wasn’t written to obscure the truth, it was written to reveal and clarify the truth. It wasn’t meant to be difficult, though some passage of Scripture are more difficult than others (2 Pet 3:15-16), but the base line is that the writers of Scripture, and the Spirit who was inspiring them to write, wanted the reader to understand the message.
This is underscored by the original languages of Scripture, which are for the most part not written in a high literary style, but in the ordinary language of daily speech. We are intended to get it, and the writers of Scripture insured that their language itself would not pose a barrier.
That further implies that there is a message, something specific that the writer wanted to communicate, and it’s not just a free for all. But in the real world, people do come up with different interpretations and different understandings of the text.
There is a right way to understand the text, but there are also often multiple applications consistent with that understanding that can arise. How do we deal with this? How do we get to a right understanding and how do we discuss it with others when we disagree? Whole books have been written about this, but let me suggest three tips:
- Always approach the Scripture remembering that God is behind it, and that time in the Scripture is time with the ultimate author of Scripture. This means that we read it prayerfully, literally asking God each time for insight and wisdom to get it right.
- Getting it right doesn’t just mean an intellectual understanding (which is still important, mind you), but it means obedience. We spend time in the Scriptures to find out what God wants us to do, how what he says changes our lives. We submit in humility, which is simply the recognition that God knows better and that we should listen to him.
- We remember that we are finite and sinful, and that we do sometimes get things wrong. Scripture may be infallible, but we are not. When we disagree with someone, that means listening to them respectfully, really attempting to understand their arguments and feelings, and responding courteously and with kindness. Sometimes that means that we are the ones needing to change, sometimes it means that the other person needs to change. Either way, we encourage one another and speak to one another as fellow seekers in search of God’s truth for our lives and how to walk in that truth.
It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it to seek to understand God’s word with the help of the Holy Spirit.
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