Danger in interpreting Scripture
Andrew Wilson, Brisbane, Australia | Dunstable, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Reading things into the Bible
If exegesis means ‘drawing out’ truth from scripture, then eisegesis means reading things into the Bible. For example, someone might argue that Psalm 45. 1 NKJV teaches that we should have a ‘theme ’at the Breaking of Bread. However, Psalm 45 says nothing about the Breaking of Bread. In any case, the King himself is the theme of Psalm 45. If we are focussing on the Lord Jesus at the Breaking of Bread we are ‘on the theme’.
Other preachers go too far in their speculation about things that the Bible never clearly states. Who was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews? Answer, the Bible does not say. Does the Bible teach that God laid our sin on Christ during the three hours of darkness? Actually, all Psalm 22. 1-2 tells us is that God forsook Christ in the ‘daytime’ and in the ‘night season’.
Another danger is spiritualizing the Bible. There is truth in typology, but spiritualizing makes everything symbolic. One early Christian writer spiritualized Jonah chapter 1 as follows, ‘Jonah pictures man fleeing from God, the sea equals life’s troubles, the boat represents life and the whale is time, always moving and gobbling up everything!‘
Many truths are twosided. Many heresies are based on the denial of one side of a truth. For example, the Lord Jesus is both God and Man. Yet while God neither grows weary nor sleeps, Ps. 121. 4; Isa. 40. 28, the Lord Jesus did both, so how can He be both God and Man at the same time? The Bible is both God’s word and the words of human authors at the same time, and they were not primitive dictation machines. The Bible teaches that God chose some people to be saved and yet it also teaches that people can receive or reject Christ. There are truths about God that are beyond our intellect and those who refuse to acknowledge the authority of God’s word will stumble at them.
This point illustrates another serious danger in Bible interpretation. Any source of authority that we exalt above God’s word will lead us into error, whether it be our reasoning faculty or our sense of fairness, the pronouncements of science, tradition, or making a commentary a ‘paper pope’. Scripture must be the final authority in matters of faith and conduct.
Interpreting the difficult in the light of the clear
This principle is sometimes abused. For example, some will argue that Paul’s allowance of women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. 5 is a difficult passage and must be interpreted in the light of Paul’s prohibition of the same in 1 Corinthians 14. 34-35. Curiously enough, those who advocate that women should speak in the church use the same argument. Chapter 11 verse 5 is easy to understand, they say, and the difficult verses in chapter 14 must be interpreted in the light of the clear.
Likewise, those who teach there is no consciousness after death will plead that various Old Testament verses that speak of those in the grave not praising God, Ps. 6. 5, are obvious and easy to understand and we must interpret verses in the New Testament, Phil. 1. 21-23; Mark 12. 27; Luke 23. 43, in the light of these ‘clear pronouncements’.
Therefore, the principle of ‘interpreting the difficult in the light of the clear’ must be used with great caution. It is used by every Bible-twister alive today to dismiss ‘difficult’ verses in favour of verses that appear to teach what the interpreter prefers. Instead, we must give careful consideration to all the verses concerned with the subject, seeking to understand the full scope of the scripture’s teaching.
This is one of the most fashionable ways of avoiding unpleasant truths in the Bible. For example, some who believe that Christians will go through the great tribulation avoid the problem of the ‘restrainer’ in 2 Thessalonians 2. 6-7 in this way. Rather than argue against the idea that the Holy Spirit is in view here, or suggest a more appropriate alternative, they say ‘the passage is vague. We just don’t know who or what this is’. Liberals who deny the resurrection use a similar strategem. ‘Something happened’, they say, ‘but 2000 years later we will never know what’.
To say, ‘I don’t know what this means’ would be humble. But to say ‘we don’t know’ is to say that because I don’t know, no one else does either. To say ‘we just don’t know’ is to try to shut down discussion.
Another trendy way of avoiding the Bible’s message is to dumb it down. It is hard to argue with someone who asserts, about James chapter 4, that the big thing is to love God. However, the way James 4. 4 actually puts it is that those who are friends with the wo r l d c o m m i t adultery and are God’s enemies.
The Lord accused the Pharisees of inconsistency in their interpretation of scripture, particularly in relation to the Sabbath. He accused them of hypocrisy in forbidding Him to heal on the Sabbath whilst being happy about animals being rescued from pits, Luke 14. 5.
Someone might feel it is wrong to fill up a car’s petrol tank on a Sunday. But if we are going to keep the Sabbath we should not even light a fire (or an internal combustion engine). Others forbid the use of missionary slides or OHP’s in the meetings, yet enjoy preaching from hand-painted charts. Some say there is no mention of musical accompaniment of singing in the New Testament, despite the fact that we read of harps being used in heaven. Is it consistent to sing hymns (unaccompanied) that mention these harps?
Preachers should seek acceptable words, Eccl. 12. 10, for sweetness of the lips increases learning, Prov. 16. 21. Alliteration is often memorable, too. However, Bible study is more than Bible Boggle and sometimes alliteration seeks only to highlight the cleverness, or otherwise, of the preacher.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Commended by the assembly at Bexley, Sydney, Australia, in 1994, and together with his wife, Gillian, has sought to serve the Lord in New South Wales, Australia, and then London, UK. Involved in evangelistic, children's and Bible teaching ministries. He now resides in Brisbane, Australia.