Pen Points 9
What Does it Mean?
It is one thing to read a text. It is another to ask, “What does that text mean?” Just reading a text word for word does not in itself tell us what it means. Asking what it means will necessitate entering the realm of interpretation. It is inevitable (e.g., try teaching parables without interpreting them). Saying “we don’t interpret; we just read what it says” is naive at best and dishonest at worst. If one truly believes that interpretation is itself a problem, then we should expect only the reading of the text from that person with zero commentary. No one really operates that way. At least I’ve not seen it in my own life.
Interpretation is necessary, but not all interpretation is equal. There is always a need for keeping a passage in context and using terms correctly. Figurative language is everywhere (hyperbole), and even straightforward language has challenges (Why was it said? To whom was it said? How universal is it? Etc.). Making proper connections takes careful study, and knowing something about the way translations work is helpful.
Much of this is done through normal common sense (insert obligatory “common sense isn’t all that common” here). We are continually inferring from what we read and hear (please don’t deny the importance of inference; it’s a bad look). Even the way we read a text can change its meaning. People can understand Scripture, but we need to recognize what we are doing, see the challenges, and work hard at it.
One of the most egregious mistakes we can make is using or changing a text to fit our already-established agenda. This is easy to do because we are already coming to the text with various preconceived ideas and opinions. If we decide ahead of time that our chosen agenda must be true, then we will find a way to support that through how we interpret Scripture. This manipulates the text to serve our own ends rather than letting the text guide our minds to the truth to which we should submit. We are all susceptible to this problem.
Why am I writing this? 1) Because I was just thinking about it; 2) Because it helps me be more careful; 3) Because I see Scripture manipulated to serve worldly agendas; 4) Because this is my page and I want to promote sound Bible reading and exegesis. :)
Be careful how you read, what you take from it, and how you use the text. It is not our clay to shape however we want.
According to God’s Will
When we make plans apart from seeking God’s will, we are guilty of arrogance. Such boasting is called evil (Jas 4:13-17). That may not seem like evil to us, but it is. Why? Because that is the attitude at the foundation of all evil.
We usually think of evil in terms of various moral transgressions, but the arrogance of disregarding God is an evil because pride is the basis for dethroning God and making self the final authority. Like Adam and Eve, we think we can be our own gods to decide good and evil for ourselves (Gen 3:5).
The same arrogance that lies at the heart of evil boasting is also at the heart of all other evils, for it is the basis of a self-appointed authority that comes from dismissing God in favor of the god of self.
Once we think we can decide for ourselves what is right or wrong, we have opened a door that we cannot shut, and we will not like what comes through. If good or evil, right or wrong are simply matters we decide for ourselves, then there is no reason why others cannot do the same for themselves even if they take it to levels we never would have accepted. We will be in no position to draw lines for them any more than we would want others to draw lines for us. We cannot judge them without first judging ourselves.
James 4 hits at the foundation of where evil thinking begins, and it is the point at which arrogance dismisses the will of God for one’s life.
God’s Wisdom in Relationships
When it comes to human relationships, we need to be careful that we are not pitting human wisdom over against the wisdom of God in the Gospel. If the Gospel is lived out in our lives, we will overcome prejudice, evil judging, injustices, and the works of the flesh that put up barriers between us, God, and others. We will learn what it means to love, to live kindly and gently, to deal with sin, and to put away the selfish ambitions that run roughshod over others. If someone thinks the Gospel insufficient to this end, then I shall reply that we have not then understood the Gospel. The question is how far I am willing to go to actually live it out the way it is intended. The weakness, then, is not in the Gospel, but in me. Yet because of the Gospel, I can try again.