As I prepare this article, it's Monday. The sun is shining, the temperature is hovering around 63 degrees; all in all it is a beautiful day.
Given this setting, if I were to say to you, "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" How would you respond? Would you think, "I wonder what he means by that"? Would you respond, "Well that all depends on your definition of beautiful"? Or would you simply recognize my statement for what it is and respond, "Yes, it is a beautiful day"?
Neither being a prophet nor the son of a prophet, my guess would be that at least the vast majority of you would recognize my statement for what it was and respond in a proper way.
Now, suppose at the end of the day, the sky is brilliant hues of orange and purple, blue and white as the sun begins to dip below the horizon, and I comment, "What a beautiful sunset." How would you take that? Would you comment, "You're living in the past man. Everyone knows the sun doesn't set. It's fixed. We're the ones revolving around the sun. Only the unenlightened would make such a ludicrous observation"?
I may be mistaken, but I don't think many would respond in the way indicated above. Instead I think most would respond quite simply, "Yes, the colors are brilliant aren't they?" Why?
Because you understand what I am saying when I mention the beauty of a warm-sunny day or recognize the beauty of a particularly colorful sunset. You don't assume (I would hope) that by my reference to a sunset I am revealing an unscientific bias. You would simply recognize that my words have particular meaning given their particular context.
You wouldn't try to find some hidden meaning behind these statements; you wouldn't assume they were anything more or less than what they were intended to be, simple observational statements. That is the beauty of language. If you have to interpret everything I say using various standards you may decide upon, any true effective communication is out the proverbial window.
Sadly, when it comes to the Bible, reason seems to disappear. Point out something that the Bible says and someone is going to say, "Well, that's just your interpretation" as if there are many other ways of looking at the same thing.
Then to make our point, we will wrest passages out of context, twist meanings, put our own spin on the interpretation and if none of that works we will then simply appeal to the argument that "well that verse doesn't apply today."
If the Bible is God's self revelation to man, if it does contain in its pages a record of God's redemptive plan, and if we believe the Bible to be God's final authority on matters of faith and practice, I have news for you: you cannot hold the view that each passage is open to many varying (and sometimes contradictory) interpretations.
Following the rules of language, just as there is only one way to correctly understand and respond to the two examples used to introduce this article, so there is only one way to correctly interpret any given passage of scripture.
If that is not the case, we no longer are left with an authoritative book that reveals objective truth. If each passage is indeed open to the interpretation of the reader or listener, then the Bible is reduced to nothing more than one's own subjective experience, and Barth was right when he declared that the "Bible becomes God's word when it speaks to me."
There may be many applications to a particular passage of scripture, but it is both foolish and erroneous to claim there are many different interpretations of a particular passage.
You may state that you disagree with or disbelieve a particular claim, but you are being intellectually dishonest if you claim that such disagreement stems from an interpretive methodology. The very purpose of Scripture is to reveal truth to us.
I hardly believe that God would reveal truth to us in a way makes the fallen human heart the final authority on what is true and what is not.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA, 30016. Send e-mail to email@example.com