Daily Inspiration

February 18, 2012

Interpreting Scripture

[N]o prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

~ 2 Peter 1:20-21

The Bible is not to be interpreted according to our own desires and prejudices. We must seek to understand what it actually says and guard against forcing our own views upon it. It is the sport of heretics to seek support from Scripture for false doctrines that have no basis in the text. Satan himself quoted Scripture in an illegitimate way in an effort to seduce Christ to sin (Matthew 4:1-11).

The basic message of the Bible is simple enough and clear enough for a child to understand. Yet the meat of Scripture requires careful attention and study to understand it properly. Some matters treated by the Bible are so complex and profound that they keep the finest scholars perennially engaged in an effort to sort them out.

There are a few principles of interpretation that are basic for all sound study of the Bible. They include the following:

(1) Narratives should be interpreted in light of “teaching” passages. For example, the story of Abraham offering Isaac on Mount Moriah might suggest that God didn't know that Abraham had true faith. But the didactic portions of Scripture make it clear that God is omniscient.

(2) The implicit must always be interpreted in light of the explicit; never the other way around. That is, if a particular text seems to imply something, we should not accept the implication as correct if it goes against something explicitly stated elsewhere in Scripture.

(3) The laws of logic govern biblical interpretation. If, for example, we know that all cats have tails, we cannot then deduce that some cats do not have tails. If it is true that some cats do not have tails, then it cannot also be true that all cats have tails. This is not a matter merely of technical laws of inference; it is a matter of common sense. Yet the vast majority of erroneous interpretations of the Bible are caused by illegitimate deductions from the Scripture.

All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.

Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean ‘Love is God’. They really mean that our feelings of love, however and wherever they arise, and whatever results they produce, are to be treated with great respect. Perhaps they are: but that is something quite different from what Christians mean by the statement ‘God is love’. They believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else.

And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.

Lord, let me always read your Bible clearly and correctly, without distorting it. Amen.

~ from Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis


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