A common thing for Christians to say when studying the Bible with others is, “what the Biblical text means to me is…” or “my interpretation of this passage is…” The scary thing about these statements, is that they suggest that several people can read the same Biblical text and each of them walk away with several completely different understandings. The reality is that this should not be the case. In this short blog, I want to reexamine the way Christians often read their Bible.
Every time we read the Bible, we take part in what is called interpretation. Robert Stein defines interpretation as “the expression of a reader’s understanding of the author’s meaning”.¹ Interpretation is the way in which you seek to express the meaning of the biblical text. Pay close attention to this, the goal of interpretation is finding the meaning of the text (notice meaning is singular). If this goal of interpretation is misunderstood, then disaster is near because there can always wrong interpretations of any given passage.
For example, a faulty interpretation of 1 Samuel 18:3, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” would be that David and Jonathan were homosexuals and were involved romantically. What is the problem with this interpretation? It does not match the author’s intention.
This is the goal of interpretation is being faithful to the author’s intention. When reading a passage of the Bible, always keep that in your mind, what was John’s intention when he wrote this? What was Paul’s intention? What was Moses’ intention? When you figure out what the author intended to communicate, you are well on your way to having a correct interpretation.
So you may be wondering why this is important. This is inexpressibly important because many readers of the Bible, even many pastors, don’t think this way. They ignore the intention of the author and inject their own opinions and faulty views into biblical interpretation. That way, they can use the Bible to support whatever sinful desire or unbiblical opinion they may have. Don’t do this. 2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
¹Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 49