The Barnabas Ministry

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 faith. 

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 these things.

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 readers.

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 untrue things?

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 discarded. 

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 Church
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.

Conclusion
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 them.

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.


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