Contend Earnestly: Learning Bible Interpretation through Skimboarding

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Learning Bible Interpretation through Skimboarding

I know that this post might be a little corny, and I really don't care. It will however hopefully make you think the next time you try and interpret the Bible.

For some reason, yesterday, I bought a skimboard thinking I would be able to quickly pick this up and have some fun at the beach. So, either I am just getting old and have very little balance or the skim board is broken and was falsely advertised. My thinking is that the skimboard has to be broken because there is no way the former is true.

In actuality I learned some things from the skim board.

1. It looks easier than it is
2. There are rules that govern the skimboard that must be followed or you will fall on your face
3. The skimboard isn't broken, I just suck at it

When I started to think of these things I realized that it really does parallel what we learn in Bible interpretation as well.

1. When one takes a look at the Bible and they hear their preacher or other theologians interpret passages it looks, or maybe sounds easier than it truly is.

2. There are rules that govern biblical interpretation so that the meaning of the text is found and it aligns with the whole counsel of God. If you don't follow these rules you will fall down and in the worst of cases, lose your soul.

3. The Bible isn't broken when you can't "figure it out" you just suck at interpreting it.

Let's take a quick look at each one of these to get a quick glimpse of hopefully helping us all to interpret the Scriptures better. This is going to be a small post that is mostly full of reminders, not full of new awe inspiring thoughts.

When one takes a look at the Bible and they hear their preacher, or other theologians, interpret passages it looks, or maybe sounds, easier than it truly is.

Sometimes layman, or people like myself who do not know Greek and Hebrew can look at our great theologians and think that interpretation is very easy. We will look at some of the Scriptures and just think a particular part is just "obvious" and wonder why not everyone "gets it." The thing that most of us don't see is the hours of study that have gone into particular passages to get their full meaning and we just take things for granted. We sometimes forget how this particular passage fits with the rest of the flow of the Scriptures, the book at hand, or even the particular surrounding passages. When these things are left out of the interpretation, you can really messed up.

So, what we need to learn from this is that one passage never stands alone and although it might look easy to interpret Scripture at first, it can be very much a difficulty at times and can be a dangerous art if not placed within the overall context of Scripture. This is most profoundly found in cults like Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Pelagianism, etc. It is also found today on TBN with the all the crazies with their wigs and pimp suits sitting on their purple thrones talking of God's blessing while their congregations go hungry because of continually sowing their seed.

There are rules that govern biblical interpretation so that the meaning of the text is found and it aligns with the whole counsel of God. If you don't follow these rules you will fall down and in the worst of cases, lose your soul.

This really flows from the first but is definitely a dinstictive. The Bible is made up of poetry, narrative and prophetic language, that can either be very easily recognized or can be confusing at times. Writers can move from a historical narrative to poetry and end with a prophecy very quickly. Think of Genesis 3 with the historical narrative of the fall, the poetry of the condemnation of the man, woman and the snake and then right in the middle we get a prophecy in Genesis 3:15, called the proto evangelium.

We must continue to ask when interpreting Scripture the question of which kind of writing is taking place as prophecy and poetry can tell two very different tales yet sound very similar.

Some also take a historical narrative as being a truth that needs to be followed. Such as polygamy. It would seem at first glance that polygamy is okay with God because of the Old Testament. The problem with polygamy in the Old Testament is that everywhere we find it, it is in historical narratives and God never gives it as lawful or okay in marriage context. This might seem obvious, but this happens all the time with biblical interpretation. So, when looking at historical narratives we must ask how these historical truths fit into theological ones...because they could be very different. So, just because David danced naked in the streets doesn't mean that we should do so as well.

There are many other rules to govern interpretation, such as context, culture and word usage in those cultures, but I don't want to spend the whole time on all of these.

The idea of this is just to understand that there are some rules in interpreting Scripture and one must understand this before just pulling out a verse from the Bible and making it fit what they want it to fit. The biggest mistake I find in biblical interpretation comes in the form of not allowing the Scripture fit into the overall counsel of the entire Bible. People like to parse the verse without asking, "How does this fit within the whole context of God's revealed word?"

When one does this, it would be like coming to Seattle on a sunny day and saying that it never rains here...big mistake.

The Bible isn't broken when you can't "figure it out" you just suck at interpreting it

This is the harshest of realities. People try and look at the Bible, they see contradictions and things that don't make sense and they, as a finite humans say that the infinite word is broken. It is almost funny, if it weren't so sad. It is like me saying that the skimboard is broken because I can't figure it out.

Are there things in the Bible that don't make sense? Of course. Is God one that can be fully grasped? No. But would you want God to be fully figured out? Because if he could be, then how is he greater than us? If I can figure out everything about who God is and why he does what he does, am I not at the same level he is at? If so, why would I worship him and not myself? There is a reason that his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are higher than our ways.

The Bible isn't broken, we are. We suck as we try to interpret and follow it. The problem are those who aren't humble enough realize this. These people will eventually end up thinking everyone else is stupid and they are always ultimately right, or they will do the unthinkable: they will think that God is stupid and therefore there isn't One that reveals himself through the Bible.

The call for us Christians would be the same as it is for someone who knows how to skimboard. We are to show that it is possible to follow what God has written in this life for the eternal hope. The reason I know that my skimboard isn't broken is because I can see all these 12 year olds doing it masterfully all over the beach. This is what we are to be to the world. We are to be the example to everyone else that there is a God, who sent his Son to die for us that suck and we look to follow him, and guess what...WE SHOW IT IS POSSIBLE.

This whole post is just to get us thinking about biblical interpretation. I haven't put anything in here that you probably haven't heard before, but I just wanted to give you another reminder of being careful when you come to the Scriptures. Don't take them lightly or you will fall on your face like I did many times yesterday on the skimboard.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done Seth. What used to frustrate me is believing folks I thought knew more than I did about the bible would say that the bible was written for the common man to understand. While that may be true to some extent with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But I have come to understand the words Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:15 meant that accurately handling the Word of Truth requires hard work and diligence.

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