How Do We Interpret the Bible? (a new series)

How Do We Interpret the Bible? (a new series) December 10, 2013

How do we interpret the Bible when we only have the Bible?

This means…no commentaries, theology books, footnotes, knowledge of original language, etc.

whenyouonlyhavebibleIn many (or most) missions contexts, resources are so limited. All people have is the Bible.

In this series, I will lay out a method on interpreting the Bible that anyone can use, even if he or she is a new Christian, is uneducated, or lacks resources. This approach enables lay Christians to both test what they hear as well as contribute to Bible study discussions. Accordingly, pastors and missionaries can establish sound DNA in churches, helping them not to be overly dependent on any single “expert.”

Who Needs Interpretation When You Have Theology?

I’ve written before that biblical interpretation is one of the most important and most neglected aspects of missions strategy. In fact, the problem is probably not restricted to missionaries. In my experience, very few churches train people in this particular skill.

I first want to reiterate a few key ideas to highlight the importance of this subject.

(1) Part of the problem may be that people confuse theology and interpretation. In other words, people confuse the process of interpretation itself with the conclusions that comes out of that process. Doctrines are the result of interpretation. In other words, understanding a lot of theological doctrines––however complex and important that are––is not the same thing as knowing how to interpret the Bible.

(2) If congregations or students do not know how to do interpretation, the pastor/teacher becomes their functional authority rather than the Bible. After all, the congregation does not know how to test the conclusions being taught. The average layperson often assumes that they just don’t know enough or that the Bible is too hard to understand, so they consent to just taking the pastor (or the missionary) at their word. The pastor is the unchallenged “expert.” This is obviously not a healthy state.

Interpreting the Bible is Not About Being Smart

I am constantly surprised and saddened at how intimidated people are about interpreting the Bible. People think that only “professional” Christians (i.e. pastors, scholars, missionaries) can interpret the Bible. Ironically, I know a number of missionaries who express their own anxiety about interpreting Scripture.

Time and again, I have been in a study with very educated people who freeze, seeming unable to tell me what “because” and “therefore” mean. In any other context, they would have no hesitation telling me what a sentence or paragraph means. When it comes to the Bible, however, they think they need a few commentaries, knowledge of Greek, and an upper-level seminary degree.

In the next post, I’ll point out a few very common but unhelpful things people do to interpret the Bible

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