On Interpreting The Bible

A community continued to lose population and its small churches got smaller. Someone proposed the citizens have a town meeting and determine what options they had. One attendee suggested the declining churches merge to form one community church, and that it be called the Christian church.

A Baptist deacon rose to protest.

"I've been a Baptist for 60 years," he said, "and nobody's gonna' make a Christian out of me!"

A blogger recently insisted that denominations are wrong and a symbol of our failure to hear Jesus' prayer that we be one (John 17:21). Perhaps so, but I don't think we'll see any change in the denominational landscape in the foreseeable future. Denominations exist because we don't interpret the Bible in the same way.

But I'm convinced all of us should hold to three principles as we read the Bible.

First, we interpret the Bible literally. This was the contention of the late Dr. Clyde Francisco. He said we don't read the Bible because we don't understand it, but because it disturbs us.

For example, the Bible says, "love your neighbor as you love yourself," and "forgive one another as God through Christ has forgiven you" and "seek first God's kingdom and everything else will find its proper place." These commands are simple in language, but "pack a wallop" when we obey.

Second, we interpret the Bible symbolically. Often the Bible uses symbol to convey truth. In the gospels Jesus said that if the people on Palm Sunday were silenced, "the very stones would cry out" in praise to God. This is poetry. We know Jesus could've made stones sing if he wished, but this strains the point. He was using poetry to say that praise was in order that day.

And Jesus sometimes used hyperbole--the language of exaggeration that shocks the hearer. He said that one is to "hate father and mother" when following him. The Bible is clear that we're to honor our parents, but his point is that our love for God must be so great that all other loves pale in comparison.

And Jesus said if we have lust in our hearts we should pluck out our eye or cut off our hand. The Bible teaches our bodies are God's gifts and we treat them like a temple--a place where God dwells. And losing an eye or a hand wouldn't cure a heart problem anyway. This shocking language is a way to say that lust is destructive and must be battled.

Thirdly, we interpret the Bible seriously. Jesus told of our final exam in Matthew 25. One day we'll be tested on how well we read God's word and obeyed it.