The above question is relevant for many reasons. After all, how one interprets the Bible — more specifically, whether one does so correctly — determines whether one actually obeys the commands and principles within Scripture. That in turn has a direct bearing on one’s salvation (Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:9; 1 John 3:4; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). Since we are commanded to accurately handle Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), then doing so is possible and necessary.
Some believe truth is relative rather than absolute, a notion proven to be erroneous when one thinks about it honestly (cf. Lk. 8:15). The inconsistency of this proposition is shown by simply responding to the person who confidently asserts, “There is no absolute truth,” with the question, “Are you absolutely sure about that?” Still, many believe this misguided notion. A popular rock band from my youth wrote a song which opined, “This is not a black and white world/To be alive, I say that the colors must swirl/And I believe that maybe today/We will all get to appreciate/The beauty of gray.” This post-modernistic idea — the beauty of gray, no black and whites, no absolute truth — is very popular in our society for good reason. After all, the absence of absolute truth results in the absence of an absolute standard of right and wrong…so who are you to tell me if I am wrong for doing whatever it is I want to do?
Hypothetically, anyone could commit adultery with your spouse, murder your child, steal your money, and burn down your house and if you have a problem with that…well, that’s just YOUR definition of truth. The one who did these things would say, “MY definition of truth says it’s okay for do those things. Truth is relative, so we’re both right. Therefore, I will continue to do these things to you, and who are you to do tell me I’m wrong?” This mindset is both ludicrous and also extremely dangerous because chaos is its natural result (Judg. 21:25).
This mindset is even more dangerous when we see that it would make it impossible to correctly interpret Scripture. In a post-modernistic mind every word in the Bible would be subjective, open to multiple interpretations of which all are valid. You believe John 3:16 teaches God gave His Son because He loves the world? Fine, that’s YOUR interpretation. MY interpretation is that God sent Jesus because He did NOT love the world. Truth is relative, so we’re both right and who are you to tell me I’m wrong? Yet to the one who knows about and accepts the existence of absolute truth, a simple reading of John 3:16 shows the above mindset to be absurd because the passage very clearly states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Believe that statement to be absolutely true, and you clearly see the error of any other interpretation.
The existence of the post-modernistic worldview does not mean it is impossible to correctly interpret the Bible. Indeed, those who recognize the existence of absolute truth will find it easier to correctly interpret God’s Word because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). When one has already accepted the existence of absolute truth and then accepts that God’s Word is truth, one is well on their way towards correctly interpreting Scripture.
Yet even then it could still be possible to misinterpret Scripture. One could looks at parts of the Bible to be absolutely true while failing to realize that the entirety of Scripture is truth (Ps. 119:160). This fallacy of thought has led some to dismiss parts of Scripture as myth and other parts of the Bible as not applicable to us today. Yet Scripture says that every word of God is “tested” (Prov. 30:5), meaning both that every word in the Bible has proven to be true (John 17:17) and that it has a reason to be in Scripture, namely to guide us to eternal life and godliness and make us complete and thoroughly equipped for every work God deems good (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Thus, one continues to be on their way to correctly interpreting Scripture by recognizing all of Genesis through Revelation to be true and there to help them grow closer to God and eternal life. This will cause them to accept the biblical account of creation and the biblical record of miracles to be historically factual. They will accept the commands and principles of God within the Bible to be applicable to them and to all men of all cultures and times. Any conclusion that a law or principle found in Scripture would not apply to them personally will be only because Scripture specifically says so (cf. Heb. 8:7-13; 1 Cor. 11:13-16). Any conclusion that certain parts of Scripture are figurative rather than literal in its language will be solely due to evidence found in Scripture rather than one’s own musings and theories (cf. Revelation 1:1’s “signified”). If a certain verse is read that commands one to do a certain thing in order to be saved while other verses command additional things to be done in order to be saved, one will accept the fact that all of those passages need to be obeyed rather than a select few of them (Ps. 119:160; cf. John 3:16; Mark 16:16; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:21).
We must also remember that when we read Scripture we are reading documents written long ago, in a different culture which had different definitions to words which might still be used today. This happens in other contexts. 100 years ago the term gay meant to be happy or joyful; only in recent years has the homosexual movement applied the term to themselves, resulting in gay meaning something else today.
In like manner, God’s Word was written by Spirit-inspired men a long time ago (2 Pet. 1:19-21), completed about two thousand years ago. None of it was written in English. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a smattering of Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. It has since been translated into numerous languages. Even though the translators have generally done an excellent job in conveying the intent of the inspired authors through their translation of the original foreign words, it is still easy for us to read a word in our English Bibles and assume its original definition in the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek of long ago is the same as our modern-day definition of it in English. In most cases that assumption would be correct, but not in every case. In some of those cases, our mistaken assumption would make all the difference in the world in correctly interpreting the will of God and thus have a direct impact on our eternal destiny. An example of what I’m talking about is the biblical term baptize, which is a command from God directly correlated with salvation (1 Pet. 3:21) and which today is defined by many as sprinkling or pouring water onto someone…yet in the original Greek it means to dip someone in water. Thus, to do the former instead of the latter would be to not do what God had originally commanded.
One doesn’t have to be fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek…but we all should take our study of the Bible seriously and, when needed, do research to know for sure what God requires of us. This is why correct interpretation of Scripture is very important. The next editorial will continue this study, Lord willing. — Jon