Session 3 – A: The Transition from Observation to Interpretation

Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks

Professor Agassiz (the fish guy) said, “Facts are Stupid things…until brought into connection with some general law.” Facts are great, but, so what? What do they mean? The facts that are discovered through observation must be interpreted before they mean anything or before being applied. Proper interpretation is based on good & thorough observation. Conversely, poor observation will produce poor interpretation.

God Himself has revealed His mind through His Word. Bible study is “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” God used mere men and time, working through their circumstances, personalities & concerns as His “co-authors,” led by the Holy Spirit to purposefully craft His
Word.

Q. – Why Interpret God’s Word? A. – Time & distance have thrown up barriers between us & the original writers which can block our personal understanding of the Scriptures. What are the barriers?

4 Barriers to understanding

  1. Language barriers – whenever a translation is made, those translated words are sometimes subjective. You must understand the culture and the worldview to
    understand what is being said. We have to understand the nuances of the words or terms. Example: when I say the word to; do I mean two, to or too? What is the
    context & is there something behind the word?
  2. Cultural barriers – similar & definitely tied to language barriers, but taken a step further. Politics, trade, geography, perceptions of time, religion. Culture colors the language. Example: the word “gay” meant something entirely different 100 years ago as to the first meaning that comes to many people’s minds today.
  3. Literary barriers – what is the genre of passage that we’re reading or studying. The Bible is written in a variety of genres from poetry to apocalyptic to narrative to parable. Each must be approached differently as we come to understand them.
  4. Communication barriers – what are we “hearing” as we read. Sometimes communications break down. Ask your child or spouse! Since God is infinite and we
    are finite, can we truly understand what God is saying to us?

We have to learn to know how to “handle” God’s Word. Learn to interpret God’s Word accurately, practically and profitably.

6 Pitfalls of Interpretation:

  1. Misreading the text – the text MUST be read thoroughly & properly. Ignorance of what God’s Word is saying is the “unpardonable” sin of interpretation.
  2. Distorting the text – it’s perfectly OK to struggle with the meaning of text, but it’s an entirely different thing to purposefully distort it to mean something that it isn’t. God will judge you on that one!
  3. Contradicting the text – distorting is bad, but contradicting is worse. Satan used that tactic in the Garden, with Jesus, and with us. The interpretation of Scripture must match the character of God.
  4. Subjectivism – the meaning of the text is in the text! How we often feel about it is completely irrelevant. As we are obedient to Jesus, we love God with all of our mind as well as our heart, soul, and strength. Christianity is truly a thinking person’s religion. As we take time in Bible study, spiritual fruit is yielded.
  5. Relativism – God’s Word is not relative. It is eternal. The meaning doesn’t change over time. There may be various practical applications (which may have changed over time) but the meaning hasn’t.
  6. Overconfidence – pride goes before a fall. 1 Corinthians 8:1 teaches us that knowledge puffs up. We must always be teachable. No one is the ultimate authority
    on anything.

Can we disagree with interpretations? Of course. Contradictions or conflicts in interpretation are due to our limited understanding of the Scriptures, not due to contradictions or conflicts in the Scriptures themselves.

Remember that God is not confused about what He said. In the end, as we interpret Scripture, we need to be responsible & faithful to accurately handle His Word. Paul said it best in 2 Tim 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (emphasis mine)


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