"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

- Martin Niemoeller

"It's pretty clear now that what looked like it might have been some kind of counterculture is, in reality, just the plain old chaos of undifferentiated weirdness."

- Jerry Garcia

Here are just a few things I meditate on when struggling with sin:

The Lord is worthy of my obedience.

Would I ask Christ to die for this? (if facing temptation)

My spirit is seated with Christ in the heavenlies, just as he is here with me. (applies to believers only)

The moment I see Jesus, I'll wish I had given him more. Right now is that opportunity.



Isn't one interpretation just as good as the next?
2) rules and illustrations


"For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different 'good news', which you did not accept, you put up with that well enough. ...For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ's apostles."

- 2 Corinthians 11:4,13

"...and the Bible is nothing to me, only in so far as it agrees with what I think or know."

- Robert G. Ingersoll

14.7 The rules of interpretation.

In this post-Reformation era, is it fair to say the Bible open to interpretation?

The Bible is open to interpretation, but its openness is restricted by the rules of proper interpretation. For example, "do not murder" cannot be rationally interpreted as communicating "murder anyone you want". This would violate grammatical principles fundamental to understanding communication. Therefore, it is absolutely not true that the Bible can be interpreted to mean anything anyone wants it to say.

Without following proper and reasonable guidelines, open interpretation would end up denying the fact that specific words have specific meanings, and then all hope for what the authors were trying to communicate would be lost.

The Grammatical-Historical approach to proper interpretation can be broken down into three categories of considerations:

1.) the Grammatical area in which the words, forms, and styles are scrutinized;

2.) the Historical area in which the various cultural, political, and geographic contexts are taken into consideration; and

3.) the Theological area which takes into account factors peculiar to the uniqueness of the biblical texts.

For the sake of brevity, only the main considerations in each of these areas will be listed, and without commentary. Books such as Louis Berkhof's Principles of Biblical Interpretation are excellent, comprehensive references that offer many examples and details for readers who desire to pursue the subject of interpretation guidelines to greater depth. Here are some examples:

Grammatical Considerations:

Historical Considerations:

Theological Considerations:

The controversy of interpretation.

Bibles were not burned in the streets of pre-war Germany by Nazi Schutzstaffeln because of disagreements over translation. Pastors like Dietrich Bonhoeffer were not executed because words such as "hill" might better have been interpreted "mountain", or "dog" translated as "wolf". The controversy over the Bible's interpretation is and has always been over the denial or acceptance of its prima-facie intent. This is the real heart of the interpretation issue.

We know that the German churches of the Nazi era which conformed their supposed belief in the Bible to the political atmosphere of the day avoided trouble; the so-called German Christian Movement. They remained silent when manipulative public leaders were putting forth their own politically correct interpretations.

Today's political atmosphere is thankfully much different, but an important question remains: May we legitimately conform the Bible to our own political and social leanings? May the Bible be reinterpreted in a less judgmental, more inclusive, and more tolerant fashion than simply accepting its hard-line positions on various issues?


This author's former interpretation of the Bible was that it had been written sincerely, but allegorically; fictional fables with morals like "be nice to others". I thought the Bible was only relevant in a purely figurative and philosophical kind of way. Once subjected to this kind of relative interpretation, of course, the Bible no longer conveys absolute values and consequently no one protests it.

My former interpretation was incorrect, not because it appealed to me, but because it violated those basic rules of communication and interpretation. I wasn't interpreting the Bible so much as I was manipulating the Bible.

Manipulation is often evidenced in those things of Scripture to which people do and do not object. For instance, few people contest the verses of Scripture that say how glorious afterlife can be. Yet something predictable usually happens when it comes to verses on discipleship, accountability, and judgment. My own thoughts went something like, "I don't think God will send anyone (me!) to hell like the Bible warns; either it means something else, or something must have been lost or added in the translation."

Of course, this judgment was not made on the basis of objective evidence or interpretive rules, but on subjective feelings; feelings of what I judged to be fair and wanted to be true.

14.9 Arresting wrongful interpretation.

Expectedly, most people favor interpretations that favor them in return. I'm not just referring to the Bible, but to the interpretation of any rule or law. If at all possible, we want interpretations that justify how we live but don't require any substantial changes on our part. This is as true for theology as it is for tennis, Monopoly, or anything else.

Here's an example that illustrates the manner and selfish motivations some people exercise in trying to manipulate proper biblical interpretation:

Policeman: "I'm afraid you ran the stop sign at that last intersection."

Driver: "Well, ...that's an old sign so it doesn't apply to today."

Policeman: "You're required to come to a full stop, not just a rolling stop."

Driver: "That's just the kind of backwoods, fundamentalist interpretation that misses the loftier meaning behind road signs altogether. They're really just reminders for those reckless nuts out there to be careful."

Policeman: "May I see your license, please?"

Driver: "That sign was put there so long ago that we really have no idea what it originally meant. Trust me - the people who posted that sign were a different generation in a different time."

Policeman: "You have fifteen days to pay this fine or appear before the judge."

Driver: "But its message is so ambiguous that it doesn't even say what it is that I should stop. Doesn't that indicate that whoever was told to make that sign probably got it all screwed up?! Since when do we have to stop just because of some stupid sign painter? I read about those guys - I think one of them was a drunk!"

Policeman: "Have a nice day."

Driver: "Next time, if some judge really means for that to apply to me, I'll only believe it if he or she is standing here and tells me so in person!!"

In case it's not obvious, the driver has no concern for the proper interpretation of traffic signs. He was just hacked that he had gotten a ticket. His objections were basically the same as those sometimes voiced against accepting the orthodox interpretation of the Bible.

If you have ever been arrested, or shall I say, if you happen to know of a friend who was ever arrested, you probably recognize four things that an arrest typically results in:

1.) a bruised ego,

2.) being held accountable to a behavioral standard other than your own,

3.) the threat of punishment, and

4.) the only way out.

This also describes the Bible's presentation of our position before God. Here's how:

1.) The revelation of our true position before a holy God can squash a self-righteous ego. It results in the realization that, though we are extremely important to God, we are far less righteous than we like to think of ourselves.

2.) The Bible sets forth God's standard of behavioral perfection and makes it clear that we are being held accountable to his standards, not our own.

3.) We fall way short of attaining God's standards and, as a consequence, we are in danger of suffering because of our sin - both immediately and ultimately.

4.) And as the sure and solitary way out, the Bible directs us to Christ - God's specific and unique provision for us to enjoy life fully, and to avoid ultimate condemnation.


Both right and wrong interpretations of Scripture exist, and not discriminating between the two is an error that is far too common. Go back to that traffic intersection in the previous story and this time imagine four cars centrally converging on it from different directions; each driver in agreement that traffic signals are open to interpretation.

Free interpretation might seem fair in that it allows each driver to do whatever he or she wants, and tolerant as it does not inhibit any vehicle's course or speed. Everyone likes it this way... until they all collide in the intersection. Afterwards, each person will be fully convinced of his or her own innocence, and equally convinced of either the traffic sign's ineffectiveness, or that they were victims of someone else's guilt.

Each driver will argue that the stop sign was relative to them, but was an absolute to everyone else. This is the inevitable problem of relative interpretation: everyone's personal interpretation invariably ends up as a poor justification for his or her own lifestyle, and usually to the detriment of others.

An even worse effect of errant interpretation is that it robs the Bible of its intended role as our trustworthy guide for living. For instance, in talking with different people, I have heard how it is basically "okay with the Bible" to live sexually unrestrained (generally from those who do) or "okay" to choose not to obey Christ (generally from those who don't). But I doubt I will ever meet anyone who feels the Bible is completely open to interpretation AND who also finds many hard teachings in it.

People who interpret the Bible based on their personal feelings rarely find anything in it that really violates their comfort zone, or are convicted of their sin to the point of life-altering repentance, or who feel an urgency to share its important message about Christ's sacrifice.

So whenever professing believers fail to discriminate between proper and improper interpretations, and they live in hypocrisy of the Bible's clear intent, the Bible gets mistaken by nonbelievers as being totally subjective. In that case, it's not really the Bible that loses value, rather it is the effectiveness of that person's life as a showcase for God's values and blessings that suffers loss.

By contrast, people who accept the absolute, reverent, orthodox interpretation of the Bible do struggle with it. Struggle does not by itself validate orthodox interpretation, of course, but it at least suggests a person is not merely following a god and bible crafted in his or her own narcissistic image.

14.10 That long, narrow road.

Always discerning the proper interpretation of Scripture and always walking our talk is very difficult. The Bible's exhortation of God's love for us is accompanied by hard teachings concerning our behavior and accountability. I regrettably and admittedly fall short of living out my own profession to the truth and importance of these hard teachings. But I still acknowledge that God's high standards cannot be interpreted away.

Relative interpretation of the Bible yields messages which God never intended; messages largely motivated by our selfish desire for choices without regard to consequences, and by our desires for uninhibited comfort and happiness.

If we misinterpret the Bible to mean anything, then, as the standard for living, the Bible really means nothing. But neither the human authors nor the divine author went to the trouble of preparing fifteen hundred years of writing, and protecting and preserving it for another two thousand because it communicates nothing.

The Bible does communicate to us, but it can only do so efficiently if we grant it to have the true and proper interpretation its Author intended it to have.



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See also:

How can different translations exist of the same Bible?

Printing Tips, Contact, Search,
Links & Bibles,
The Gospel







Previous chapters have shown many proofs for the veracity of Scripture.

Even granting those to be true, one's acceptance of the biblical writings still involves interpretation.

This section discusses the nature of interpretation, and if or how it has changed since the time of the original writings.

1. Grammatical considerations
2. Historical considerations
3. Theological considerations
4. Interpretation controversies
5. The arrest illustration