It’s all a matter of interpretation. This is the mantra of our non-absolutists friends and also, unfortunately, many in the church when it comes to the correct interpretation of Scripture. I say unfortunately because there are many who do not believe in the absolute truth of Scripture. Once you remove the idea of absolutes, authority is lost as well. Therefore, the Scriptures mean whatever the reader desires them to mean, usually to coddle their sin, always to their own detriment. But I can’t say that “it’s all a matter of interpretation” is entirely false. It just depends on how it’s interpreted – based on the author’s intent, not the reader’s subjective bias. Reading 101.
It often boggles my mind (not really) how some people voraciously scrutinize the Scriptures seeking to prove its “falsehood and unreliability” without applying the same measure of scrutiny to the daily paper or current news journal. Now if you’re going to fight, fight fairly. Also, what weakens the rejecters position is that more than likely the basic rules of the science of interpretation (hermeneutics) haven’t been applied honestly. Now if you’re going to fight, fight intelligently.
In the realm of Scripture, correct interpretation is a must for various reasons. Some of which are (1) to understand the nature and character of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) (2) to understand the revealed will of God (3) to understand ourselves (4) to understand sin and (5) to understand the gospel and its implications. Scripture clearly attests its authority and its efficacy concerning these things.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV)
With such a claim, it is our duty to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). Notice the emphasis on “rightly”. This means there is a wrong way to interpret Scripture, and it is done far too often. The first step in understanding how to correctly interpret Scripture is to submit to its authority. The ultimate Author of Scripture is God, not man. The second step is to understand the unique literary qualities of the Scriptures. The Bible is composed of several different genres of writings. Within the genres, various literary devices are used to help emphasize meaning.
Genre: Law, History, Wisdom, Poetry, Gospel, Epistles, Prophecy, and Apocalyptic Literature
Literary Devices: Allegory, Anthropomorphism, Hyperbole, Simile, Metaphor, etc.
Each genre and literary device, when present, must be considered when seeking to attempt to correctly interpret Scripture due to the varying nuances.
For example, the book of James is an epistle and the book of Proverbs is wisdom literature. Because each of these belongs to different genres, certain rules apply respectively. Or when we say “the arm of the LORD”, we can’t take that literally because the LORD is Spirit. This is an example of the literary device of anthropomorphism. Several misinterpretations of Scripture are believed due to poor hermeneutics and eisegesis, rather than exegesis. We must know when to take the Bible literally and when to understand when a literary device is being employed to emphasize a point, lest we end up making mistakes like this.
A few resources worth purchasing:
* A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules / Robert H. Stein
* Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word / Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
* 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible / Robert L. Plummer