3 misunderstandings concerning bible interpretation

bible, scripture, interpretation, translation

Written by Mark Lafler

B.A., Global University; M.C.S., Regent College I am currently serving as a youth minister at our church in Sarasota, FL. I am married to Tera (15 Years +) and we have 3 beautiful daughters.

May 14, 2011

bible, scripture, interpretation, translation

[serialposts]Here are three misunderstandings about the interpretation of the Bible.

First, the Bible has a plain meaning that everyone can understand.

The Bible might have a plain meaning, but it is difficult to access this plain meaning from a plain reading of scripture.  The plain meaning is steeped in a culture foreign to us and hidden in the past by 2,000 years.  There is a great chance that our own worldview will guide us in our interpretation.

D.A. Carson states, “No humans being living in time and speaking any language can ever be entirely culture-free about anything” (Biblical Interpretation and the Church, 19).  What we perceive going into our interpretation will often be the outcome of our interpretation.

This is why hermeneutical principles become so important.  We must try to understand what the text meant originally before we interpret what it means today.  A literal interpretation without regard for exegesis may bring a naive conclusion to our interpretation.

God does speak to all people regardless of educational abilities.  However, the more we can learn about the Bible, the time of when it was written, etc. the better we will be able to understand what  God is saying to us through the scriptures.

Second, the Bible should be interpreted based on my spiritual experiences.

The experience of a believer is important but one should not let experience precede hermeneutics.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “…what we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience” (Johnson, The Psychology of Biblical Interpretation, 45).

We should avoid looking in scripture to support an experience.  We should let our understanding of God derived from scripture drive our experiences within our community.

T. Maddox writes:

The primary activity of reading the Bible as Scripture becomes not one of hunting for propositions and factual statements; these are at best a secondary activity…. Scripture becomes an encounter with the world in front of the text and the ways to live in relationship with God, and following from that, ways to let our lives take the shape of God in this world (Maddox, “Scripture, Perspicuity, and Postmodernity,” 577).

In other words, our experiences in this world should be shaped from intense study and time spent with God’s word.

Neither experience nor intellectualism is primary because God calls the whole person (Luke 10:27; Deuteronomy 6:5).

Third, the Bible suggests that I only need the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures (John 14:26).

The Spirit does guide us to truth (John 14:26), but with ramifications for the community and the individual – not just the individual.  The early church communities were formed by the Spirit and became fellowships of the Spirit.

One person is not a church.  However, assembled Christians meeting together, united by the Spirit doing certain things are the church.

S. Grenz and J. Franke explain:

Although the gospel comes to us personally, God’s purposes for creation find their fulfillment not in the formation of an aggragate of “saved” individuals but in a community of reconciled people (Beyond Foundationalism, 78).

God is calling together a people for his name not 21st century individuals that only need the “Holy Spirit to intepret God’s message.”

Next week I will share more on what it means to interpret the scriptures in community.

So, what do you think?

Do you agree with what I call misunderstandings?

Do you know of other misunderstandings that should be added to this list?


  1. Andrew Brewer

     Good stuff here! I especially agree with the second misunderstanding: “the Bible should be interpreted based on my spiritual experiences.” There can be no doubt that it is actually the other way around. When we use our own opinions and experiences to determine how to interpret scripture, we can get in world of trouble fast. I mean, if I wanted to, I could take many verses and phrases out of context to justify almost anything I wanted to.

    For example, if my experience is mass murder and genocide, I can easily go to the Old Testament and take Scripture out of context to “prove” that God supports mass murder and genocide. From a deeper understanding of some of these stories, we know that’s not God’s heart, but we sure can make it seem that way if we really want to.

    Thanks for posting this, Mark!

    • Mark Lafler

      Thanks for the comments and thoughts and adding to the discussion.

  2. J. Armstrong

    Another good one, Mark. Perhaps it’s my relative ignorance or naivete on the particular hermeneutics, but this all makes sense to me. I’m just waiting to see if/how someone can possibly disagree with any of this.

  3. Andy Carlson

     I really appreciated the first paragraph under the first misunderstanding…..we rarely hear that thougt in our considerations of what is practiced or taught or considered…thanks….also, leaning the differences in the terms “hermeneutical” and “exegesis” is….very confirming of the need to understand history…..in context…thanks again.  Loved the quote from C.S Lewis….kind of like living with our own self deception..only not knowing we are deceived…..” and “exegesis” is….very confirming of the need to understand history…..in context…thanks again.  Loved the quote from C.S Lewis….kind of like living with our own self deception..only not knowing we are deceived…..

  4. Bill

    good opening, I look forward to your next post.  Perhaps it is a both/and – We read and study scripture where it is and what it says AND we let scripture read and study us where we are in our context.

  5. Matthew

    Just noticed that the read.pray.server banner you have above the comments, available is spelled incorrectly.

    • @bibledude

      fixed! thanks for pointing that out!


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3 misunderstandings concerning bible interpretation

by Mark Lafler time to read: 3 min