Obstacles to Good
Interpretation If Bible Interpretation is so important, then why
don't many Christians do it well? There are many reasons
contributing to this. Some are discussed below.
Ignorance The biggest reason Christians don't practice
Biblical Interpretation skills is because they do not even know
they exist. Often, the way Christians find out about biblical
interpretation skills is out of their own curiosity or by
accident. It is not something typically taught
by churches or considered a foundational element of the
Laziness It's easier to just do what the church or leaders
say and to agree with what they teach than it is to check it out
for yourself. A lot of people would rather just be told what to
do. Why invest in learning the Bible when you can just have the
church tell you what to do, and you will be praised for being a
"good disciple" or "loyal member?" It sounds spiritual and
submissive, but it can be a mask for laziness.
Reluctance to Question Many Christians are reluctant to question their own
beliefs and the teachings and practices of a church. Such things
can appear "Biblical" if Bible verses are presented as though
they support them. Many Christians just never think to question
Misplaced Loyalty and Affection If the person generally likes a church, its leaders
and people, they just not likely to investigate the basis for
its teachings and practices. But part of good Biblical
Interpretation is attempting to set aside such biases and
striving to understand what a passage meant to the original
Desire to Please Others
It is natural to want to please church leaders by supporting
what they do and teach. This can lead to selective study--
seeking out passages that seem to support church practices but
neglecting to challenge those beliefs or consider passages that
might refute them. Remember that the Bible is the authority, not
the church leader or church program. Have the integrity to seek
out what is really true.
Enjoying the "Good Times"
People often don't care about deeper study of the Bible until
something bad happens in their church experience. Once church
teachings or practices lead to serious problems or destruction
of some sort, people may question the biblical basis for those
things in the first place. But part of Christian faithfulness
demands that these skills be used to at least some extent from
the very beginning of one's walk of faith for the very purpose
of avoiding such problems.
Mistaken Notions about Personal Opinions
Some Christians may have the mistaken idea that Biblical
Interpretation allows putting one's opinions in place of what
God has said in the Scriptures. Nothing could be further from
the truth. Proper Biblical Interpretation strives to get
people's preconceived opinions, traditions and biases out of the
way and determine what the passages meant to the original
readers. In fact, the scholarly term for this is "exegesis" and
the term means to draw out from the passage and its context what
it was intended to communicate to the original readers.
Mistaken Ideas that "God Showed Me" Something
I think God does help us understand the Scriptures. But God is
not going to show you something that will not hold up to
scrutiny, contradicts other Scriptural teachings, or follows
poor interpretation practices.
Overvaluing Sincerity, Undervaluing Study
Sometimes Christians get the mistaken idea that it is most
important to be sincere and zealous (or "passionate"), and not
important to be studious, challenging and inquisitive about
beliefs and practices. In reality these are traits that ought to
be balanced in the life of a Christian.
Fear of Change
Understandably, Christians want to protect their faith and have
a sense of fear in anything that might challenge it. But
Christians need to realize that the issue is truth. A strong and
sincere belief in something that is untrue or distorted is not a
virtue but a flaw. Do you really want to believe and teach
Traditions have a powerful effect upon our thinking. For some, a
long-established tradition can have the force of something
commanded explicitly from the Bible. Of all people, Christians
ought to know that traditions sometimes blind us to truth.
By practicing better interpretation skills, the Christian can
refine beliefs to eliminate false things and strengthen true
beliefs. This is part of what it means to mature in one's faith.
It starts by being willing to question one's beliefs and there
is no need to fear this. Something that is true and challenged
will be found to be true over and over; something that is not
true will not stand up to the examination and can safely be
The "Low Information Christian"
There's been a fair amount of recent discussion in the United
States about citizens who are not well informed about important
issues, but nevertheless vote for candidates or causes that they
are relatively uninformed about. Such people are described as
"Low Information Voters."
Unfortunately, Christianity has its own version of this, the
"Low Information Christian." Christians may support various
teachings, methods or approaches, but may not be very familiar
with the Scriptural, historical or practical basis for these. For whatever reason- lack of
time, lack of energy, lack of interest, or mistakenly thinking
that is it noble to be unthinking, they just never get into
examining these things.
Feeling Alone in the Quest
Sometimes you may feel all alone studying the Scriptures, as if
nobody else cares about good interpretation. You may feel
surrounded by bad interpretive practices and teachings that are
not well founded. Take heart and know that God cares about good
interpretation, and other Christians also do.
The Trap of Perfection
Sometimes we can get the idea that every question, every
doctrine, every practice can be completely understood and
outlined with legal precision. It should be evident that this is
not true. Since the Scriptures were written to address
particular circumstances in real life, we should be aware that
very few doctrines and teachings will be as well explained and
defined to the "nth degree" in the Scriptures as we would
like. We need to be comfortable with such unanswered
questions. Our confidence in a particular teaching ought to be
in line with how certain we are about it from the Scriptures.
Fear of Discovering "Something Big" that Goes against the
Every Christian that studies the Bible will sooner or later come
across this question. What if my studying shows that idea "x"
that is very important in my church is wrong? Now what do I do?
First, you have to realize that pretty much everybody who
studies the Scriptures will end up in this place. There are too
many diverse teachings on various topics for this to not happen.
Second, you'll have to decide how certain you are about your
conclusions. Avoid black and white thinking here. If you think
there is a 50% chance that something is right, there is an equal
chance that people on either side of the issue are correct.
Third, you will have to consider how important the issue is. Not
all issues are equally important. How bad it is to be believing,
doing or supporting the thing you have discovered is wrong?
Remember too that God is gracious and he allows us to believe
wrong things from time to time on our journey to greater
learning. If God is gracious and allows you to learn, perhaps
you can be similarly gracious and allow others to learn as well.
You can maintain your faithfulness and integrity while allowing
others to grow and learn as well.
This is just a short list of obstacles to Christians practicing
good Biblical Interpretation. But Christians are going to have
to deal with man of these, plus others not specified here, to
interpret the Scriptures well.
It's stunning how many obstacles there are, and how powerful
these are in the lives of people. Many of these work together to
form a "perfect storm" of factors that pretty much guarantee
that some people won't invest in learning to understand the
Scriptures. Don't you be one of them!
We can hope that some of the church and church leadership
factors behind the neglect of good Biblical Interpretation could
be changed through awareness and a sincere desire to get back on
track. We can hope other Christians will dedicate themselves to
good Biblical Interpretation. But we can't make others change.
In fact, trying to change how churches think and do things is
usually a losing proposition.
But you can make learning and using good Biblical Interpretation
skills a priority in your life. You can challenge your beliefs
and understandings, knowing that if something is true the
challenge will only confirm it. You have everything to gain.
Being responsible to God, any of us can do our best to learn and
understand God's word for ourselves.
We are wise to be open to learning and re-examining our
understandings. Personally, I've had all sorts of ideas about
many passages over the years, and through study, reading and
experience have come to better understandings of them. Not only
has my learning improved-- but I've also learned that I always
need to be open to learning new things and ideas about the
Scriptures even as I build my life on what I already know about
Honest, faithful Christians can disagree about some passages. We
should maintain our integrity even while respecting the freedom
of others to disagree. Differences ought not to divide, but lead
us to understand others and broaden our own understanding.
No church, church leader or program can stop us from practicing
good interpretation skills once they are learned. So if you are
just beginning this journey or have been on it for a while---
enjoy the journey as you learn what the Bible says and as it
guides your relationship to our Lord.