Wise Words on Biblical Interpretation

  1. Some people assume that accepting the authority of Scripture requires a literal reading of the text. In other words, sometimes people confuse attachment to reading the Bible in a certain way (or, more technically, commitment to a certain hermeneutic) with acknowledging the authority of Scripture.
  2. Reading the Bible means interpreting the Bible. Some passages are clearly more difficult to interpret than others, but whenever we read we are interpreting.
  3. Interpretation is not up to each individual. It is not merely subjective or always relative to each reader. And yet interpretation is an art and not a science. Equally faithful people can arrive at differing interpretations.
  4. Passages of the Bible are laden with what Paul Ricoeur called surplus meaning. There is always more than what any one of us happen to find at any particular time, so we need to hear from each other.
  5. The Word of God is Jesus. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God. We encounter Jesus through the words of the Bible, but this is an interpretive process. Whatever we read in the Bible should be read through the lens of Jesus.
  6. Acknowledging the authority of Scripture is not a simple matter of reading a manual and following the instructions contained in it. Instead, we acknowledge the authority of Scripture by submitting to what we hear God telling us through it.
  7. Biblical texts are historically distant texts written in ancient languages. In addition to facing the challenges of translation, interpretation requires an imaginative leap into a historical, cultural, and social context not our own. We must first see what a passage could have meant to the original readers before we discern together what God is saying to us with that passage in our very different context.
  8. Meaning arises from context. We do violence to the Biblical text—and most likely to other people—when we use passages ripped from their context for our own argumentative, polemical, or ideological purposes. The definitive context is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.



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