Last week I raised questions about Bible interpretation because I get these questions constantly in my travels to college campuses.
Here’s what I always say first in my replies:
Don’t interpret the Bible in isolation.
This statement usually rubs a few students the wrong way. They value hearing directly from God.
For them, direct communication from God bypasses the imperfections of human interpretation and ivory tower wrangling over ancient language grammar and syntax.
They value inspiration more than perspiration.
I guess I’m just enough of a mystic to believe that God still speaks directly to his people. You hear a word from God, you act on it. That’s basic discipleship.
Yet, I’m really firm about this notion of interpreting Scripture (and words from God) in community. It’s called the interpretive community, the historic conversation — the sifting of scriptural meaning through the authority and wisdom of the church.
So I guess in that way I’m pretty traditional. Why?
1. Because we were made for community. That’s how the Christian life is to be lived (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, etc.).
2. Sin extends to the understanding. Our minds are fallen.* We misunderstand people, situations — and Scripture. Our best safeguard against misinterpretation is the wisdom of community.
I believe the God of history speaks through history — that we as contemporary Christians rightly “stand on the shoulders” of the saints who’ve gone before us.
That’s two millennia of interpreters. We ignore them to our peril.
* Theologians and philosophers sometimes call this the “noetic effects” of sin.
Of many good books on the subject of Bible interpretation, my favorite is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Fee and Stewart.