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The Shocking Truth about Biblical Interpretation: Interpretation Itself

Updated on May 12, 2014
The founder of Christianity. A painting of the Sermon on the Mount, by nineteenth century artist
The founder of Christianity. A painting of the Sermon on the Mount, by nineteenth century artist | Source

Everyone interprets. Everyone. When you read a sentence, you interpret the meaning of each word based upon context. Most words have more than one definition. Which meaning do you use in any one context? This is part of what it means to interpret.

When the translators of the Bible did their work, they interpreted the meaning of the source language, whether it was Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament), Aramaic (the language of Jesus) or Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament), and searched the target language for words of similar meaning.

Sometimes, the target language does not have a word or phrase which exactly matches that of the source language. Sometimes there are trade-offs and compromises. The translation is frequently an approximation of the original.

Some Christians pretend not to interpret. For them, their view of the Bible is the "correct" view; it is God's view. But is it really? Are they stepping over the bounds into arrogance? They don't explicitly say so, but they are implying that their interpretation is equivalent to that of God. Sounds like arrogance to me.

When I tell them that I don't know—that my interpretation is imperfect, they are quick to agree and quite helpful in telling me the right way to understand scripture. But they miss the point. I am suggesting that they gain a little humility for themselves and keep searching for answers. The typical response is that they are already humble and that they do not need to look any further; they have found all the answers they need. Only God knows for certain. But wouldn't it be safer for them to assume that they do not know all the answers?

This is sad. Why? Because blindness comes from thinking that you already know. As soon as you decide that you know, you stop looking for answers. Scientists sometimes do this. They call what they've gained, "laws." But these so-called "laws" sometimes fall to new discoveries. For instance, Newton's laws of motion don't work very well at speeds approaching that of light. That's where Einstein's relativity comes to the rescue. Any incomplete knowledge is an imperfect tool. It can be a good tool, but it remains imperfect so long as we are not "one with" God—the source of all physical reality.


This is the beginning of a series of articles on Biblical interpretation. I offer my own interpretation not so much to tell anyone what they should think, but to excite them to look for themselves rather than falling back on someone else's dogma.

A lot has been done to Christianity over the ages. Some of it not very nice. We've had two Emperors who meddled in religious affairs and their actions shaped the dogma we have today. I'm talking about Rome's Constantine and Byzantium's Justinian. Though about two hundred years apart, they performed very similar roles in changing the fabric of the faith. How much of their own ego and selfishness was imprinted on Christianity? We may never really know. But when certain ideas become outlawed, one has to suspect an ulterior and a potentially sinister motive.

When political leaders in modern times profess their faith openly and in public, this may seem a good thing to some believers. But when those same politicians want to imprint their own version of Christianity on the nation through its school boards and its laws, they cross the line. I do not think their version of Christianity is correct. I want the freedom to search for truth directly from God—not to rely on their limited interpretation.

List of Articles

Here I will list articles as they are written. I look forward to any and all constructive feedback.


Also of Interest

Reincarnation, Karma and Biblical Interpretation

Warning: Everyone Interprets Scripture

What if You Get to the End of Your Life and Find Out You Were Wrong?


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    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Thank you, @ShalahChayilJOY, for your kind words. I hope, through God's blessings, we can all learn more.

    • ShalahChayilJOY profile image

      Shalah Chayil 5 years ago from Billings, Montana

      You hit the nail on the head. Many that call themselves Christians are coming to realize that to merely believe whatever they have been taught is a whole lot of misinterpretation. Thanks for your great insight into the subject.

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Amen, Wesman! There is so much more to learn for us all.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Well interpretation is important, and it's a gift that some have, and ought to use to share what they've learned.

      Of course the spiritual gift of interpretation is also something that often misused for pride and gain from tithing audiences.

      In the end I have to trust the judgement of what is so vastly my superior that I can't comprehend it, and that's always comforting!

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Outstanding, Pedro. I wholeheartedly agree.

      I like your phrase "own" the Bible. I suppose another way to phrase this would be to "take responsibility" for it (as a manager or a shepherd would).

      And you hit another topic that could bear repeating--that not "all" interpretations are worthy of being considered. Terrorists step over this boundary far too often.

      I have made some discoveries in the Bible, and I'll be writing about them over the next few weeks. But, though I'm excited about these discoveries, they mean much more to me as inspiration that others may come up with a far better interpretation. If they share that breakthrough with me, I would be delighted.

    • Pedro Morales profile image

      Pedro Morales 6 years ago

      You have an excellent idea in terms of inspiring people to 'own' the Bible and not just let established dogmas limit their relationship to it and to Jesus. I think many people have many questions after they read the Bible and the traditional dogmatic answers do not satisfy them but in order not to be seen as a 'problem' or as 'faithless' they stop reading the Bible on their own.

      In the Old Testament the book of Malachi exhorts the Jewish people to study and practice the law even if the priests fail to do so. In the New Testament Jesus told us to trust in God and ask in prayer anything we need. By listening to these two voices I understand that we have the right to read the Bible on our own and we can read the Bible without fear. God is not going to condemn us if we get a slight different message than our neighbor. Contrary to what some people believe interpretation is not open to 'all' kinds of meanings. Because there are some interpretations which are unquestionably false: whenever an interpretation fosters racism, violence, oppression, and anything of that nature, for me, it is a wrong interpretation.