Bible Interpretation: You’re Doing It Wrong. (maybe)

It’s not a cardboard platform, those aren’t flat plastic game pieces, and we’re not playing with our 4 year old nephew at the family reunion because we don’t want to watch the slide show of my 3rd cousins, grandparents baby pictures because I don’t even know who those people are anyway.

We’re playing on a board made of marble, with 3 dimensional pieces that are pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, a queen, and a king. So it’s a problem if we’re still playing by the rules of checkers. Maybe someone tries to tell us that we’re not utilizing the game for it’s intended purpose, but we insist that we are, because we’ve been king’ed twice and look at how many times we’ve jumped the opponent. It works, so I must be doing it right. Someone may point out that it doesn’t really work that well because those pieces don’t balance on each other when we’re king’ed, and most importantly, there’s a better, more accurate game to be played.

If you’ve been close to the Christian subculture for any amount of time you’ve probably heard someone espouse the nobility of interpreting scripture “literally.” I agree with some of those people on their meaning behind that, but the fact is that no one interprets scripture literally, not all of it, and no one should. I am in no way advocating for interpreting scripture any way you like, reading into it whatever suits you, in fact it’s quite the opposite of that, one purpose of good interpretation is to discover the story that God is trying to tell, not the one we are trying insert.

Let me give you an example of the “literal” problem; 1 Thessalonians 5:26 says clearly to “Greet all brothers with a holy kiss,” if there is any sect of Christianity that currently does this, I am not aware of it. Yet there it is, in black and white, no way around it. But for some reason, with this scripture, most believers across the spectrum seem to all agree that this begs to be put in context, and so we look to the culture of the day and we see that kissing was a common way of expressing sisterly and brotherly love, and that the heart of this passage, Paul’s intent, was that we should show our love, in Christ, to each other.

When you don’t look to the cultural context you wind up with some bad theology, you make Esther out to be a whore, men can’t wear hats (and women have to), heck Adam and Eve weren’t even properly married were they(maybe eating the apple was really their 2nd sin)!

This is not to say that nothing can be taken literally because much of the Bible should be. Jesus’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner,  for instance, was meant to be taken very literally.  The Bible’s call for sexual purity, while perhaps out of fashion,was meant to be taken literally.

In addition to scriptures original cultural context, we must also interpret through the lens of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, he forever altered history. Now we have to interpret everything that came before and after through the lens of Jesus’s death and resurrection. This is not something I’ve pulled from the sky, but Jesus himself in the Bible, proclaimed it. In John 5, he tells the Jewish leaders who are out to kill him “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me…” We must read scripture, Old & New Testaments, in the light of Jesus. We must see, as Paul said, the “shadows” of the old covenant, speaking of the coming new covenant, that Jesus ushered in.

The problem comes when we don’t use our Holy Spirit driven discernment. Most of the time it’s because we don’t want to. We’d rather read specific passages, the way our parents, friends, or pastors tell us to read them, lest we be a isolated in our theology. Just as bad, we decide what we’re going to believe, what’s consistent with our politics or other worldview, and then we go looking for it in scripture, and what do you know, we tend to find it every time.

Don’t take the checkers/chess metaphor too far; interpreting scripture demands humility, and it isn’t about outfoxing an opponent. The thing about checkers is, it’s less complicated, you don’t have to think much, and it doesn’t demand much of you. It’s also not very fulfilling, I mean really, have you ever been overjoyed about winning checkers?!

But to play chess, you have to fully engage, it is more difficult, more is required on your part, but it’s also more rewarding. And if you’re playing with chess pieces, on a chess board, the only correct game to play, is chess.

This obviously isn’t an exaustive look at proper exegesis, but what do you think? Am I off base? Have you seen the checkers method of interpretation?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.