The Internet Monk blog has a post about biblical interpretation that is worth quoting at length:
The idea that “I don’t interpret the Bible, I just read it” is specious; superficially plausible, but actually wrong. The question is not whether you interpret the Bible, but whose interpretation you assume is authoritative. Many of us regular commenters on Internet Monk, have grown up in conservative evangelicalism. We have grown up assuming that conservative evangelical interpretation of the Bible was authoritative. To challenge or question that version of hermeneutics was to “lose our faith”, and many of us struggled with that loss of faith. As Chaplain Mike noted, here is how we practiced that hermeneutic:
- Identify the issue: isolate that issue to one or two words. For example the word “day”.
- Get out your Strong’s Concordance and look up every instance of the word “day” in the Bible.
- Do an in-depth word study on the word. When you are done, you will find out that in Hebrew and Greek, the word means day.
- From collating and analyzing the verses, come up with a systematic statement of what the Bible says about that word.
- Conclusion: this is the Bible’s teaching about it.
- Apply your “biblical” position to a contemporary question such as “Are the days in Genesis literal days or does the Bible teach long periods of time?”
This was taking the Bible seriously, as the Word of God. To come up with any other conclusion other than the Bible taught the world was created in six twenty-four-hour periods was to “take the word of fallible man over the infallible Word of God”.
But as many of us have since learned, that is not taking the Bible seriously at all. It is taking a collection of ancient manuscripts and treating them as a single post-Enlightenment dissertation. It is reading scripture with a modernist mind-set and insisting that is the only way that scripture can be read. That interpretation of scripture is actually disrespectful to both the ancient authors and their ancient audience. It is disrespectful because it presumes that an engineering-technical-manual mode of writing is the only way that truth could be conveyed, when, in fact, that mode of writing is the worst of all ways to impart eternal spiritual truths. It is also ironic, in that the very One to whom the Scriptures were supposed to point to spent most of his time teaching by telling stories.
See also the next post in the same series, on the need to take seriously the Bible’s status as a human book with human authors, whatever else one may feel they need to say about it. Darrell Lackey also wrote about this topic:
Cross-referencing, using a concordance or Bible index, are great study tools, but they are not the equivalent of scripture interpreting scripture. The Bible, or any written form of communication does not interpret itself. A passage, verse, or word in one place, does not interpret a passage, verse, or word in another place. All it does is give one information regarding how those same words, themes, or names, have been used in different parts of Scripture. Helpful to know—yes—but such isn’t interpretation.
Scripture does not interpret scripture. Only we do that. Only the reader(s) interprets.
On another aspect of what it does or does not mean to take the Bible seriously, to value not only the text but to value what the texts’ authors valued, Eric Reitan wrote:
The Bible loses all its value if quoting Scripture at our neighbors, or beating them upside the head with Scripture, or arrogantly denouncing those who disagree with our interpretation, replaces the work of love.
Richard Beck also shared a couple of important points related to love in the Bible. One was about the failure of a “trickle-down” approach to love, pointing out that love for God does not always overflow as love for other human beings/ He responds by advocating a “one love” approach, saying that loving neighbors is precisely how we are supposed to love God. The other was this quote:
One doesn’t become a Christian by believing that “God is” but by believing that God is love.
–Tomáš Halík, from I Want You to Be