Every so often we meet someone who says with great feeling, “You don’t have to interpret the Bible; just read it and do what it says.” Usually, such a remark reflects the layperson’s protest against the “professional” scholar, pastor, teacher, or Sunday school teacher, who by “interpreting” seems to be taking the Bible away from the common person. It is their way of saying that the Bible is not an obscure book.
“After all,” it is argued, “anyone with half a brain can read it and understand it. The problem with too many preachers and teachers is that they dig around so much they tend to muddy the waters. What was clear to us when we read it isn’t so clear anymore.”
There is a lot of truth in this protest. We agree that Christians should learn to read, believe, and obey the Bible. And we especially agree that the Bible need not be an obscure book if read and studied properly.
Let it be said at the outset that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before.
The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text,” the author’s intended meaning. And the most important ingredient one brings to this task is an enlightened common sense.
The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of what is written. Correct interpretation, therefore, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.
The antidote to bad interpretation is not no interpretation but good interpretation, based on commonsense guidelines.
Next time we'll explore the two essential tasks in interpreting the Bible.