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Pointers along the way #423

Reading into the Bible
- Jacob Ninan

The Bible is the most precious book we have on earth, inspired by God to meet our needs for comfort, encouragement, teaching, correction, rebuke, etc. It used to be read only by priests who thought that ordinary people could not interpret it correctly. But with the Bible now available in many languages and translations, it is there for anyone who wants to read it. Even though we don't need to be scholars to be able to read and understand it, we also need to follow certain basic principles when we try to interpret it.

One such principle is that generally the meaning of a passage is what is obvious! In other words, in most cases a passage means just what it says and what any ordinary reader will understand. The exceptions are when it is obvious that there must be another interpretation to it! For example, when Jesus asks us to pluck out our eyes and to cut off our hands if they cause us to sin, everyone knows that there must be some other interpretation for this other than the plain meaning.

Think of Mt.7:1,2 which says, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (NASB), "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (KJV). The obvious meaning is that our judgement will be just as merciful or harsh as we judge others. But imagine an interpretation such as, "If we judge someone for some sin, we shall end up getting judged for the same sin later on. When we judge someone we are actually sowing a seed which will grow up and cause us to fall into the same sin!"

This kind of interpretation where meanings are added to the text is becoming very common these days, and many people accept it without question when it comes from a famous person. But what prompts a person to interpret a passage in an extraordinary manner? Perhaps it is because the ordinary interpretation is not exciting or fancy enough to catch the attention of the listeners? Wanting to 'tickle the ears' with new teachings is a temptation that is especially characteristic of the end times (2Ti.4:3). Perhaps it is because a new teaching or 'revelation' can easily catch the attention and establish the teachers as being 'great'. For this the teachers have to read into the text meanings that are not there.

A different type of example is, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit" (Pr.18:21). It is obvious that the literal meaning cannot be right because the tongue or the word has no power to make someone live or die. We need to remember that this is a proverb written in a poetic fashion, and so we must be careful not to interpret it literally. But those who believe in 'word faith' take it literally in order to teach their heresy! We should not read meanings into verses to fit our teaching.


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