6 of the Worst Ways to Interpret Scripture
Pride and stubbornness may drive division between believers in Messiah, but the root of our disagreement is often nothing more than just bad, inconsistent Bible interpretation. Too many of us impose our own ideas and frames of reference on the Bible, rather than letting the Scriptures speak for themselves. Sadly, there are are an abundance of commonly used methods of interpreting the Bible that are guaranteed to yield an incorrect understanding. Here are just six of them.
Cherry-picking is the practice of ignoring or dismissing relevant passages that oppose a point you’re trying to make or a doctrine you’re trying to defend, and only using verses that appear to support your position. For example, while some believers maintain that predestination and free will are mutually exclusive (that we either have total free will to choose to follow God, or God predetermines our choosing Him even before we were born), there is, in fact, a tension in Scripture between these two. Only when we cherry-pick the verses that support our beliefs can we conclude it is only one or the other.
Proof-texting uses isolated and sometimes unrelated, out-of-context verses to support a belief or doctrine. An example of this would be to use Acts 20:7 to “prove” that God changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. This would require isolating the verse from its surrounding context and reinterpreting its various parts as being reflective of modern-day church services. This cannot legitimately be done, of course, especially since the verse itself has literally nothing to do with the Sabbath.
An argument from silence is a highly problematic approach because it draws a conclusion not from what the Scriptures say, but from what they don’t say. In other words, you are using an argument from silence when you attempt to assert that something is true based on the absence or lack of evidence that it’s not. For instance, Yeshua never spoke about homosexuality. The argument from silence takes Yeshua’s lack of explicit comment about homosexuality as evidence that if homosexuality were a sin, He would have said so. But this ignores all that Yeshua did explicitly say about natural marriage and sexual immorality.
Among less formal bad interpretive principles is one we might call, “That was then, this is now.” According to this principle, we can simply claim that a troublesome passage of Scripture is irrelevant or obsolete, based on when, who, and the culture to which it was written. Probably the most obvious and globally applied version of this is the way most believers relate to the Torah, claiming that since we are not “under the Law,” then we can dismiss it altogether.
Our interpretation also suffers when we over-personalize the Scriptures. As we read the Bible, it is more than reasonable to ask ourselves “What does this Scripture mean?” But we wander off into the field of bad, unreliable interpretation when “What does this Scripture mean?” becomes “What does this Scripture mean to me?” While it is true that a given passage can impact each person differently, and carry different emotional and spiritual weight at various times of our lives, we can’t change its objective meaning to match our subjective situations.
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And finally, it’s wrong to spiritualize the Scriptures when we believe that God’s shown us a new and spiritual meaning for something that has a biblically fixed definition. For example, Christian theology spiritualizes Israel whenever it replaces Israel with the Church. But this literally reimagines and undermines the entire context of Scripture.
When it comes to understanding the Bible, we are often our own biggest obstacle. Regardless of any good intentions, by treating the Scriptures as either a spiritual playground or an intellectual puzzle, we make ourselves deaf, dumb and blind to the plain and simple truth of God’s word. Our ability to correctly understand the Bible depends upon our commitment to simply let the word of God speak. Let us stop trying to hear what clearly isn’t there, and seek instead to listen only to what the Scriptures say.
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