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Featured How are scriptures interpreted?

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by JohnB445, Feb 9, 2019.

  1. JohnB445

    JohnB445 Well-Known Member

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    By logic/reason? By an emotional feeling?

    What is the method?

    we can't roll a dice to determine truth. I.e "if the coin lands on tails and I blinked 3 times, therefore my interpretation is true". Won't work

    So what is the correct method?
     
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  2. Pavel Mosko

    Pavel Mosko Arch-Dude of the Apostolic

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    There are multiple ways of interpretation. Hillel had seven rules that are considered a classic text book example of biblical hermeneutics. Hillel's 7 Principles of Bible Interpretation
    Besides that there are issues of literary genre to consider that would affect how you would interpret.


    In Judaism there also is a principle that revelation can be "super charged" and that there are multiple valid interpretations or uses for it in a given text. That is something we see in the Bible, where an OT passage is used in a literal fashion, but later taken later as a more abstract principle in the New Testament. Paul using the passage for "muzzling the ox" to show why ministers of the Gospel should be compensated for their labor being a great example, but there are others especially when it comes to things like Eschatology etc.


    Besides all that I would add the issue of how the early Christians have interpreted a given verse (Aka "The Faith once delivered to the saints, Jude 1:3) as an another important method and kind of the main stay of Christian orthodoxy. This often goes by terms like "the rule of Faith", "paradosis"/ tradition and so on.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019
  3. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    It depends upon what you think the Bible is. I think if you look at it without preconceptions, it’s a witness to God’s actions, reflecting varying viewpoints, and the culture within which it was written. If that’s the case, then you look at it to show what God was doing with Israel, what Jesus taught and did, and how he changed the early Christians. From that you learn about God and Jesus, and become a follower yourself. But you understand the Bible through the best historical and literary scholarship, in the context of when it was written.

    If you think it’s a creation of the Church, and the Church is the primary living witness to Christ (the Catholic view), then you understand it in as the Church does. This commits you to a tradition the in principle doesn’t change, but in practice blends modern understanding with traditional views, particularly in the area of sex and gender. In practice Catholics usually understand the Bible in the same way as the first approach, except in a few areas where it conflicts with established tradition (and for American Catholics it's not so clear that there are there are actually such exceptions).

    If you think the Bible was created by God through the agency of humans, but is his direct message to us, independent of culture, then you ignore a lot of its character, and read it as a legal document and theology textbook. But since this is actually impossible, you view it through the framework of traditional theology and ethics. There are many of these, so most likely you pick the one through which you came to be a Christian.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019
  4. Carl Emerson

    Carl Emerson Active Member

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    This is what worked for me...

    I took 5 years out of my life to read the scripture prayerfully, regularly and exclusively.

    I had no input from commentaries, denominations, social media etc.

    In time I found that the big picture that scripture presented to me threw light on the smaller issues that are potentially difficult.

    If your life style will not allow for this approach I suggest you seek out someone who has made a similar commitment in a non-denominational context and "sit at their feet"

    Blessings,

    Carl Emerson.
     
  5. royal priest

    royal priest debtor to grace

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    The best interpreter of Scripture is itself.
     
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  6. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    In practice, all of the major approaches to Scripture lead to getting guidance from your own Christian community. That's what sermons are about, after all, and for people wanting more understanding there are commentaries, introductions to the Bible, etc. Certainly prayerful reading on your own will have lots of benefits. But you'll miss things where people were making references that depend upon the 1st Cent context.

    There's also another danger. Very few people come to the Bible without some preconceptions. There's a great risk of reading that into the Bible. If the Bible were actually a theological textbook this would be less likely. But Jesus taught by stories, apparently trying to get people to react personally. And most of the Bible tells us about the story of Israel and then the early Church, but how we understand that story is to some extent up to us. It's very easy, therefore, to see this through our own preconceptions.

    The advantage of paying attention to others, is that you can read people from other times, e.g. the early Church or the Reformers. And you can get the benefit of scholars who have studied the 1st Cent and can help you understand what Jesus and the early Christians said in their own context.
     
  7. Oscarr

    Oscarr Senior Veteran Supporter

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    By reading and believing what it actually says. There are parts of the Bible that are written for us, and others that are written to us. Most of the confusion is people not knowing which is which. The rule of Hermeneutics (the principle of interpreting Scripture) is determining who is the Scripture directed to, why was it written, and in what context is it written?

    For example, Paul said, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". Who is he writing to? The Roman Christians of his time. What is the context? The conflict between Law and grace. What is he saying? There is no condemnation. Who are the ones benefiting? Those who are in Christ. Basically, Paul is informing the Roman Christians that there is no condemnation to those who have received Christ as Saviour. Because Paul is writing to a Christian community, and we are part of a Christian community, then the Scripture is written to us as well. It is also written for us so that we can know the truth of where we stand with God in Christ.

    Let's take another Scripture: "Judas went out and hanged himself". We see that in the context, Judas had betrayed Christ for money. Then after he realised the enormity of what he had done, he despaired of life and committed suicide. This Scripture is written for us, but not to us. What we see are the consequences for someone who betrays Jesus, and the hopelessness of anyone who turns away from Jesus. It doesn't mean that every person who sins against God should go out and hang himself.

    In the book of Joshua, there are descriptions of pagan Canaanites being slaughtered as the Israelites went in to possess the land. Therefore, some zealots may use that to think that they can uphold their religious position by killing their opponents and believe that they are doing exactly what Joshua did. But if we read the Scriptures carefully we see that God instructed Joshua to "subdue" the Canaanites. He gave no explicit instructions to slaughter them. What we get from this is that just because personages in the Old Testament did certain things, it does not mean that we have the right to do the same. Most of the Old Testament was written for us but not to us. Just because Elijah became depressed at having his life threatened by Jezebel, it doesn't mean that we should think that we are being spiritual by getting depressed.

    What about the instruction: "Tarry in Jerusalem until you are endured with power from on high"? If we took that instruction out of its context, then we could believe that the only way to be baptised with the Holy Spirit and power is to go and book a room in a Jerusalem hotel and wait there for it!
     
  8. Radagast

    Radagast is a Trinitarian Christian

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    Certainly if one has a pet theological theory that says that 99.9999% of Christians are wrong, this pet theological theory is pretty much certain to be wrong.
     
  9. Oscarr

    Oscarr Senior Veteran Supporter

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    That seems to be characteristics of most cults.
     
  10. Roidecoeur78

    Roidecoeur78 This world is not my home.

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    There are countless ways to misinterpret it, as many have done and will do by leaning on their own biased and limited understanding. Their emotions leading them to pick and choose which verses to cling to and fit into their preexisting worldview, and which verses they dispute, or ignore altogether, because they do not fit into their preexisting worldview.

    The only correct way would be with the Holy spirit.
     
  11. Oscarr

    Oscarr Senior Veteran Supporter

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    And who is the arbiter who has the authority to say that a particular interpretation is of the Holy Spirit?
     
  12. mark kennedy

    mark kennedy Natura non facit saltum Supporter

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    Interpretation isn't a matte of opinion, it's an appreciation of the context of a passage, both literary and cultural. What passes for interpretation comes down to opinion which is meaningless compared to the testimony of the text itself.
     
  13. Roidecoeur78

    Roidecoeur78 This world is not my home.

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    An arbiter would only be necessary if one is bent on arguing, but arguing about the faith is forbidden by scripture itself.

    Arbiter: A person appointed, or chosen, by parties to determine a controversy between them.
     
  14. Oscarr

    Oscarr Senior Veteran Supporter

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    What I'm reacting to is someone legislating for others their own interpretation of Scripture and saying that it is the Holy Spirit. This implies that if someone else contradicts them, they are contradicting the Holy Spirit. But, just because someone says that I should comply with their interpretation because it comes from the Holy Spirit, do they have the right or authority to attribute their interpretation to the Holy Spirit?

    I can read a passage of Scripture and sense that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me through it, but that is personal to me. But I don't think I have the right to say "Thus says the Lord" to someone else on the basis of that Scripture. I think I would be taking the Lord's name in vain, and using the Holy Spirit as a hook to hang my spiritual hat to manipulate others with my interpretation of the Scripture.
     
  15. Roidecoeur78

    Roidecoeur78 This world is not my home.

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    Did anyone claim that they themselves had the Holy Spirit while others did not, or was an objective statement made about the scriptures being able to be interpreted according to the reader's own understanding? An atheist can read scripture and interpret it to form his or her opinion, the same as you or anyone else, and yet without the Holy Spirit being involved any or all of those interpretations are quite possibly biased and self-serving. So Paul says test yourself to see if you are in the faith, and John says "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God". The Holy Spirit is also referred to as the Spirit of Truth, so that would likely mean interpreting the scriptures by or through any other spirit would lead to error. Ultimately, one would have to take the understanding that God grants them and hope, have faith, and pray that it is in the Spirit of Truth. Faith not being just a trusting belief that one is right, but faith being a loyal and trusting belief in Jesus being the son of God that came in the flesh and was given as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that leads to obedience to Christ's words and example of living.

    If you are reacting then it is not from any aggression done to you, but something to do with your own conception or misconception about what was being said. Did you think it was about you?
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  16. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    It's worth noting that there are two levels to interpreting Scripture. One is understanding what the original author was saying to the original readers. The other is applying it to ourselves.

    At least among those who practice current critical methods, I think the first of these isn't too much of a problem. I don't mean that everyone agrees completely on every passage, but it's not enough to be a problem.

    The real issue is on how we apply it to ourselves. Almost every discussion you see in CF is about this. It's pretty clear what the creation account in Gen 1 is. The discussion is on the implications for us. It's pretty clear what Jesus and Paul say about following Jesus, justification, and salvation. Producing a single, coherent description of salvation is a much more difficult problem. At least within the specific communities I mentioned (roughly mainline Protestant and Catholic) it's pretty clear what the major Christological texts in the NT meant in the original context. Yet there were and still are lots of disagreement on about the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. The major culture war issues are similar.

    This is where the conclusions depend upon your assumptions. Do you think there’s a single right theology and ethics, which can never change? If so, the Orthodox position becomes interesting.

    But if theology isn’t revealed, but is a human attempt at summarizing and understanding what Scripture says, and you accept that specific ethical decisions has changed over time although the principles haven't, and that Jesus gave the Church the authority to make ethical decisions, you may prefer the mainline Protestant position.

    The Catholic and conservative Protestant positions seem to be kind of a compromise. I don’t find them compelling, but others disagree.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  17. icxn

    icxn Bραδύγλωσσος αἰπόλος μαθητεύων κνίζειν συκάμινα

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    The scriptures are like a garden with a variety of fruit trees and other edible plants for the nourishment of our soul. Ideally our parents are the ones to nourish us when we are still young, regurgitating the meaning for us or nursing us the simple milk of faith and ethos until we grow the necessary teeth to chew our own food and a stronger stomach to process the nutrients. Now some fruits have soft skin with lots of nutrients in it as well as in the main flesh, New Testament apples are like that (Song of Solomon 8:5). Old Testament nut trees (Song of Solomon 6:11) on the other hand, hide the meaning under the thick husk of the letter. More effort and stronger teeth are required to break through these. One should use whatever teeth he has, logic, reason, ‘emotional’ feedback, experience, virtue, understanding, wisdom and nourish his soul as best as he can. Having said that, it is the ruminating animals that chew the cud and split the hooves that are considered clean according to the law. In other words, those who carefully study the scriptures and apply them with discernment in their walk are the ones that discover the truth.

    Finally, just like fruits, scriptural passages have a multiplicity of meanings (nutrients). Our spiritual condition or maturity if you like determines how much we can absorb, from the simple, literal meaning to the tropological (moral allegories) or to the more theoretical anagoges. If it produces good fruit in us, a peaceful and humble mind, a willingness to struggle against the will of the flesh, attentiveness in prayer, forgetfulness of earthly concerns, a desire for what is eternal, love of God and neighbor, then it is safe to assume that our understanding of scripture is true.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  18. 1213

    1213 Disciple of Jesus

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    Avoid all interpretations and read directly how Bible explains what it means. :)
     
  19. Oscarr

    Oscarr Senior Veteran Supporter

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    Anywone anywhere can receive a verse of Scripture and sense that the Holy Spirit has spoken to them through it. I am not disputing that at all.

    I have three bookshelves of books from Christian authors who believe that the Holy Spirit enlightened them from God's Word, and have committed it to writing so that others may be blessed. I have read every book, and have received excellent instruction from them. There have been books that I had on my bookcase for years, and then at random took one off and started reading it and found that the Holy Spirit spoke to me very clearly through it. I am currently reading a book written 150 years ago, and am amazed that the author although dead for over a 140 years can still speak today through the Holy Spirit in his writing.

    My books cover from Eusebius, 4th Century, Augustine, Calvin, English Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Barclay, and works from many authors in the 20th Century. For me, to ignore the writing of these godly men and try to get some different "revelation" from the Holy Spirit direct from Scripture, is just sheer foolishness. No matter what interpretation is received, it has been taught before through the writing of godly men, or through the writing of cult leaders (depending on the Scriptural accuracy).

    Joseph Smith decided to ignore all the writing of godly men and decided to set out his own "revelation" which resulted in the Book of Mormon. Ellen White did the same and her works form the basis of the SDA movement. Russell came up with his "revelation" and the Jehovah's Witnesses were born. All these were adamant that the Holy Spirit revealed the "revelation" to them.

    Actually, if you want to put a finer point on it, the Bible itself was written by godly men. Most of these men did not acknowledge that what they wrote was inspired by the Holy Spirit. There were many other Jewish and Christian works written at the same time as the Old and New Testaments, and it was the church leaders who decided which was inspired Scripture which wasn't.
     
  20. Radagast

    Radagast is a Trinitarian Christian

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    That's not possible. To read the words and say "this is what they mean" is to interpret them.
     
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