"That's Your Interpretation"

Hermeneutics 2

When pointing out something that is taught in the Bible, it is not uncommon to hear people respond by saying, “But that’s just your interpretation.” Often this comment is made as an attempt to invalidate your point and end the discussion.

How should we respond to this remark?

First, it is helpful to acknowledge the truth of what the person is saying. The point you have just made from scripture is indeed your interpretation. Like all written texts, to be understood, the Bible needs to be interpreted by the reader. Scripture itself commends the work of interpretation and speaks highly of those who engage in it (Neh. 8:8; 2 Tim. 2:15). The point you have just made from scripture does in fact express your interpretation of the passage. If it didn’t, you would not have made the point. The question is not whether you are expressing an interpretation. The question is whether you are interpreting scripture correctly.

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” A point made by this verse is that there is a correct way (and, therefore, there are incorrect ways) to handle God’s word. Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote, “There may be a thousand different applications of one verse, but only one correct interpretation. My interpretation may not be right and yours may not be right, but if they’re different, they can’t both be right.”

When someone objects to your insights as being merely “your interpretation,” you might counter by asking them to explain their interpretation. After you have given them a chance to share their point of view, you might then ask them how they reached their conclusion. Have they looked at the passage in its context? Have they compared it to what is taught in the rest of scripture? Have they considered what the words and images in the passage would have meant to the author and the original readers? Have they noted the literary genre of the passage in question? Have they paid attention to how Christians have read the passage through the centuries and how Christians from other traditions and other cultures read the passage today?

After carefully listening to your friend’s responses to your questions, you might then offer to explain how you answered those questions yourself in formulating your view. There may be aspects of the text you explain to your friend which they have not yet considered. Likewise, your friend might point out biblical data that you have overlooked. Either way, if you take this approach, you will have succeeded in lifting the conversation above the level of petty squabbles about personal opinions into the realm of serious discussion.

Though biblical interpretation is not an exact science, it is not a subjective free-for-all in which anything goes. There are basic principles of interpretation which, when followed, lead to a sound understanding of any text. Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. of Beeson Divinity School has said, “Every text needs to be treated canonically, putting that text underneath the microscope of the entire Bible and allowing the Bible to address it.”

Of course, studying scripture this way is not easy to do and requires some training. Starting January 29, ACC will offer a 9-week class titled “Hermeneutics – The art and science of biblical interpretation”. The purpose of the class is to equip participants with basic tools and knowledge that will aid them in understanding scripture. The class, taught by David Ellis and JC Cha, will meet in the church office on Sundays from 12:30-2:00pm.

There is no charge for the class. The material will be helpful for adults and high schoolers. Participants are invited to bring their lunch with them to class.

To sign up for “Hermeneutics” click here.