Yesterday, I wrote about why you should trust my interpretation of the Bible. But I’m sure it wouldn’t be complete without listing some reasons, both good and bad, why you should take my Bible interpretations with a grain of salt.
Some good reasons
1. Fading memories: As previously described, daily readings and Bible study were an important part of my childhood and early adulthood. However, with time those memories fade a little. Sometimes, verses are still at my finger-tips, while other times they aren’t. And this bothers me, because it increases the risk that I miss something important.
For example, last year I was trying to trace how Romans presented replacement theology. I knew as a believer that it had been a difficult book to follow, and I hadn’t been near it for years, so I found it intimidating. I was petrified that I might be missing something critical, or failing to see the forest for the trees.
2. Not understanding the original languages: The Bible is mostly written in Hebrew and Greek, and I don’t understand either of those languages. As a result, I have to rely on English translations and comments from those who do understand the original languages. And, while I trust our translators, it’s quite possible that I miss important nuances in the original text.
This also applies to a lot of historical Christian teaching. For example, in one of my hostile takeover posts I quoted from English translations of Augustine (originally written in Latin) and Luther (originally written in German). I quoted from English translations of their works, and I read other commentaries on the texts to try and find details I missed, but I couldn’t guarantee my interpretation was perfect.
3. Not understanding the original cultural context: The books in the Bible were written over a period of hundreds of years, with many authors and editors. As a result, different books had different historical contexts and target audiences, and almost certainly they were very different from 21st century Australia. This is fine when I am discussing interpretations that I heard from others or used myself - it is valid to criticise the effects of these interpretations, even if they aren’t the “original meaning” of the text. But it does mean that where I am looking for the original meaning I could be misreading the text because I don’t properly understand the context.
Basically, there will always be someone who knows more about the Bible than I do, and knowledge of the text in modern English is not a perfect substitute for really understanding the original texts and their respective original audiences. And I’m fine with that, because I’m writing more about my personal experiences and background than I am about finding the one authoritative interpretation of the Bible.
Some bad reasons
1. Only believers can interpret the Bible properly: To me, the Bible is just one of many religious texts, available for anyone so inclined to study and reach their own conclusions. However, I’ve seen the suggestion that the Bible is so special that it can only be properly interpreted by people who are led by the Holy Spirit. And since I don’t believe I’m being led by the Holy Spirit, this would definitely count me out.
However, I think this raises bigger problems: It suggests that a god who is supposed to be all-powerful is unable to present his teachings in a clear, stand-alone form. It also raises questions about the justice of said god: If denying that spirit leadership to some humans is withholding from them his message, and if, as we are told, he plans to punish people who have not received and responded to that message, then he is clearly punishing them for his own acts of omission.
2. Unbelievers aren’t open-minded enough to interpret the Bible: It is said by some that, since we unbelievers start off assuming the Bible cannot be the word of God, we are unable to see the clear evidence in front of us. I don’t think this is true, and it is particularly problematic for former believers like me. Remember, I came to unbelief while reading the Bible as a believer. At the time, I wasn’t just open to the Bible being the word of God - I was literally begging God to give me some reason, any reason to hold onto the Bible in the face of mounting evidence against it.
Right now, when I read the Bible I do assume it is a human book. But that is due to the evidence I have seen over a number of years, not because I’m “closed-minded”.
I’m open to reading the text as it is without having to fit it into my pre-conceived ideas about God’s master plan. And I remain open to evidence that the Bible is the word of God, but the evidence would have to be significant to overwhelm the evidence I’ve already seen against it. What I’m not open to is a false equivalence which says it’s just as likely for the Bible to be the word of God as not. And I’m not open to giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt where I wouldn’t give it to other religious texts.
Just for Christadelphians
For the record, it should be noted that many of the “good reasons” I listed above also apply to the vast majority of Christadelphians. As a generalisation, the community dismisses scholarly expertise in favour of everyone seeking out Bible truth for themselves. And while many speakers dig into the Strong’s Numbers to try and find hidden Hebrew and Greek insights, few understand enough of the original languages to draw valid conclusions from this.
To me, this makes my critiques of Christadelphian teachings at least as valid as the teachings themselves. And I don’t believe it would be honest for Christadelphians to dismiss my amateur theology unless they were also willing to dismiss their own.
So there you have it - I’m not the world’s foremost expert on interpreting the Bible, but nor am I hopelessly misinformed about the Bible. There are certainly people around far better qualified to study the nuances of Bible teaching and practice than I am.
However, I still think that my varied perspectives means that my interpretations are worth considering.