Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, interpretation is part of almost every human’s daily life. Communication would not be possible without a common understanding and means of interpreting. However, even with years of practice, we can all misjudge or misinterpret someone else’s—even our own spouse’s—words, actions, or facial expressions.
This danger of misinterpretation is even greater when we come to the Bible. For one reason, we are sinful by nature and still struggle with sinful thought-habits after we are born again by the Spirit of God. Second, the subject matter of the Bible is far more important than even communication with our wife or husband: the Bible speaks to us regarding the only and eternal way of salvation.
There are numerous ways of misinterpreting the Bible, but only one way of understanding it correctly.
There are numerous ways of misinterpreting the Bible. Yet we might sum them up into three broad categories: 1) errors of preconception (e.g. our sinful nature, religious/educational background, personal spiritual maturity), 2) errors of perception (e.g. human and linguistic limitations, failure to consider context, failure to recognize possible alternative meanings to a word), and 3) errors of integration and/or application (e.g. ignoring or overemphasizing certain portions of Scripture, allowing emotions or denominational pressure to influence interpretation).
When we consider the many errors it is possible to make when considering any passage from the Bible, it should motivate us to remove every prejudice or bias that we can, to study carefully and completely the passage and its context, and to refuse to allow any outside pressures or inward sinfulness to keep us from receiving the full impact and accurate message of God’s Word. There are numerous ways of misinterpreting the Bible, but only one way of understanding it correctly: we must understand and apply it as God intended. This will mean not only avoiding wrong interpretations, but also actively seeking to understand each passage accurately and in its proper context.
The Bible, though complex in its wisdom, is purposefully simple in its communication.
In the end, it is crucial to remember that God has given his Word, not for scholars to analyze but, for believers to enjoy. The Bible, though complex in its wisdom, is purposefully simple in its communication. While the Bible is deep enough for the scholar to drown in, it is shallow enough for even a child to wade in. So wade in!
We must be careful not to ever pretend to have fully comprehended God, his ways, or even his purposes. However, we should properly appraise the Bible as God’s faithful and clear communication to his creatures. If we are honest and humble enough to come to his Word with the simple and faithful desire to understand, to enjoy, and to do what he tells us, we can be confident that his Word will prove sufficient for every need in our lives.
While the Bible never claims to be exhaustive in its treatment of God, mankind, salvation, or any other subject, it does claim to exhaustively equip the child of God with what he or she needs to know for the true and joyful Christian life. Let us trust that it does, and labor to equip ourselves accordingly.