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Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?

Every denomination believes they are teaching the right thing. Are there different interpretations of the Bible?

The idea that there are many legitimate interpretations of the Bible is a lie of Satan who wants to confuse us about what God has told us. Yes, there are many interpretations, but that does not mean each is legitimate. Interpretation is simply knowing what something means. When you communicate to someone, usually there is only one intended meaning.

We correctly interpret things every day. If we could not, society would cease to function. Words have meaning. Language orders concepts. If I say that I have a dog at my house, you would not expect to find an elephant there. Why? Because dog means dog. The goal of interpreting communication is finding the author’s intent.

Here are a few key principles we can apply to find the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Consider the immediate and wider context. When you come across a passage that could be understood in more than one way, it’s important to look at the context of the words. Start by looking at the verses around the passage, then the chapter, then the book, then the whole Bible. Scripture can’t contradict itself, so the right interpretation cannot contradict the rest of Scripture.

Take the Bible literally according to its genre. Some think that Lutherans do not take the Bible literally because we do not read the book of Revelation as historical narrative. Instead we interpret the book as apocalyptic literature. We do not read the Bible literalistically, which is to deny that there are different genres of literature. When reading poetry, we interpret it as poetry and watch for figures of speech and images. When reading historical narrative, we interpret it as we would someone recounting an event. The book of Revelation is a vision we don’t take literally.

Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Let the clear passages shed light on those passages that are more difficult. When reading the book of Revelation, for example, some of the images describing the Last Day can be hard to understand. How shall we interpret them? By looking at the clear passages about the Last Day such as in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. Those clear passages help us understand those that are not immediately clear.

Ask, “Is God glorified through this?” Every false teaching attempts to rob God of the glory due him. Those false understandings stem from either a misuse of reason or the desire to contribute to one’s own salvation. Reason is a wonderful gift of God to help us understand his revelation to us in the Bible. However, reason must not set aside what God says. We let the clear words of God stand even if we cannot fully understand the concept. Some truths of Scripture are above our ability to fully reason. God as Trinity or Jesus as true God and true man are examples. We must not allow our reason to be more important than the clear meaning of the words of Scripture. We also need to beware that inside of each of us, because of our sinful nature, is a strong desire to think we earn our own salvation or at least contribute something to it. We must be careful to give God all the credit for our salvation.

By using these principles of interpretation, you can be assured that you will not only come to an interpretation, but the right interpretation of Scripture. Give it a try in the Bible study!

Have a question, ask it here!

Author: David Scharf
Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021

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David Scharf

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