Interpretation or Application?
Every once in a while, I receive a question or enter into a conversation about whether the Bible can be interpreted a variety of different ways or not. I am sure that most, if not all of us, have read a verse at one time in our lives that comes across completely different when we read it years later. Of course, this leads us to the conclusion that we can interpret the Bible from various vantage points depending on where we are in our “walk.” But can we really take editorial license with the Bible and decide how we wish to use it for whatever need we may have at the time?
Certainly most people would say that the Bible is a living document and therefore, can be interpreted different ways at different points in our lives. If the Bible is God’s Word and we try hard enough to “hear” God through the written word on the page, then it could follow that we can interpret the Bible to fit our current situation.
In fact, there are a number of different theological disciplines that focus on various ways to consider the Bible. For example, Biblical theology covers the major themes of the Word and considers the threads from the Old Testament all the way through to Revelation. Systematic theology focuses in a similar manner on topics that deal with the Trinity, Salvation doctrine, Angels and Demons, Endtimes, defense of the faith (Apologetics) and a host of other topics that have threads running through the Bible.
There is even a type of theology called Character theology. In other words, people can interpret the Bible from the vantage point of someone in the pages of Scripture that they identify with – for example, a member of royalty may see the Bible from the perspective of King David, or someone who has been persecuted may interpret the Bible from the view of the oppressed people of Israel before the Exodus. A father may even feel a kinship to Abraham or one of the other patriarchs. We all know that there is virtually every type of character represented in the pages of the Bible and we could all choose someone we identify with and frame our interpretation from that association.
But the truth of the matter is that none of these sub-themes in the Bible should attract our attention as much as our focus on the story of God, Jesus and the lessons that God wants to reveal to us through the pages of the Bible. It’s not really about King David, or any single character in the Scripture – it is the story of God’s love for His people and their journey from the Garden of Eden to our entrance and eternal life in heaven.
Allowing the possibility that the interpretation of Scripture can change starts us down a slippery slope. How far can we bend our view of the Bible? If our circumstances change, are we at liberty to change our view of the Bible? What is the truth and how do we know? All of these are valid questions.
In order to prevent us from sliding into an abyss, many scholars have come to believe that the original languages – Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, form the foundation of the interpretation of the Bible. The books of the Bible are God breathed, recorded by men, to be shared with the world as the Word of God. However, based on where you are in your faith walk, and level of spiritual maturity, the application of the various verses can impact us differently as we age and grow – but the interpretation doesn’t change.
In other words, one interpretation – many applications. How do we know this? Well, we are told, in our verse for tonight, that part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate believers to have a deeper understanding of the Bible. Those who don’t believe can’t understand the meaning of the pages of the Bible. And as our faith deepens, the Holy Spirit allows us greater understanding of God’s Word. So the interpretation stays constant but the application in our lives can change from season to season.
We are told, by the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:9-14, “However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit reveals the word of God to us. My encouragement this evening is that God, through the Holy Spirit, wants to reveal His Word to those who believe in Him. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will walk with you and provide you with the ability to apply God’s Word to your life as you develop a deeper understanding of God’s holy book. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…