Answering the Objection: That’s Your Interpretation of the Bible
By Pastor Ron Jones, www.titusinstitute.com
“There are so many different interpretations of the Bible, why should I believe yours?”
“There is only one valid interpretation of each of the books of the Bible or any literary work and that is the one that gives the author’s intended meaning based on the text that he wrote.”
E.D. Hirsch, Professor of Education and Humanities at the University of Virginia, wrote in his book, Validity in Interpretation (p.26) that the only norm to judge the validity of an interpretation is the author’s meaning.
“As soon as anyone claims validity for his interpretation (and few would listen to a critic who did not), he is immediately caught in a web of logical necessity. If his claim to validity is to hold, he must be willing to measure his interpretation against a genuinely discriminating norm, and the only compelling normative principle that has ever been brought forward is the old-fashioned ideal of rightly understanding what the author meant.”
1. The valid interpretation of the Bible must be based on seeking the author’s intended meaning revealed in the text.
The traditional approach to interpreting fiction and non-fiction literary works is to discover the author’s intended meaning. There is only one valid interpretation of any literary work, the author’s intended meaning and there is only one valid interpretation of the books of the Bible, the author’s intended meaning
Main question when reading: “What does the author mean by what he says?”
2. The valid interpretation of the Bible must be based on the authors’ intent and the original readers’ acceptance that the books of the Bible are non-fiction historical accounts of God’s revelation and miracle working in their midst.
One of the most important questions we can ask when we are interpreting any literary work, is “What kind of literary works are we interpreting, fiction or non-fiction?”
The books of the Bible are intended by the authors to be non-fiction literary works. They are intended by the authors to describe real people, real places, and real events. They were accepted by the original readers, Jews of the Old Testament and the Christians of the New Testament as non-fiction literary works.
There are two very distinct issues here.
1. What is the author claiming? 2. Is what the author claiming actually true?
Once the author’s intended meaning is discovered, then the historical truthfulness of it can be evaluated separately, but not in the interpretation process.
1) The authors intended and the original readers accepted the books of the Bible as non-fiction literary works.
How do you know whether the author intended his work to be taken as fiction or non-fiction?
1. The author writes in the genre of non-fiction.
2. The readers understand it to be in the genre of non-fiction.
The sixty-six books of the Bible can be categorized into six major genres:
1) Historical narrative:
Genesis and the first half of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jonah, Acts
2) Law: the last half of Exodus; also Leviticus, Deuteronomy
3) Wisdom: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
4) Poetry: Psalms, Song of Solomon, Lamentations
5) Prophecy/Apocalyptic: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel, Revelation
6) Biography with narrative: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
7) Epistle/letter: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude
All these genres can be easily placed in the non-fiction category of literary works.
The largest amount of material in the Bible is historical narrative, which is a non-fiction genre.
These narratives are historical and describe real people, real places, and real events, which have been verified by secular historical literary and archaeological sources.
Non-fiction involves truth claims by the author. We need to understand that the authors of the Bible made very definite truth claims about the supernatural in these non-fiction works.
2) The authors intended and the original readers accepted the books of the Bible as historical accounts of God’s revelation and miracle working in their midst.
The Bible is a collection of 66 books about supernatural happenings written in the genres of non-fiction.
The Jewish people believed that the Old Testament was the historical record of God’s revelation to man given to their ancestors. The early Christians believed that the Old Testament was the historical record of God’s revelation to man given to their spiritual ancestors. The early Christians also believed that the New Testament was the historical record of God’s revelation through Jesus and the apostles.
Both the OT and the NT combine to form a history of God’s people history involving God, his revelation and his miracles.
Let me show you an example of this from the OT.
Exod. 14:19-30 (1446 BC)
The OT and the NT are records of God’s word and power in the lives of God’s people written as non-fiction.
3. The valid interpretation of the Bible must be based on using an historical grammatical literal approach to the text, which is the only way that the author’s intended meaning can be discovered.
The Bible must be interpreted according to a historical grammatical literal approach to the text, which is the only way that the author’s intended meaning of a non-fiction literary work can be discovered.
How do we discover and understand the author’s intended meaning of the Scriptures?
The historical grammatical literal approach to a text involves understanding five things about a text. This applies to all ancient non-fiction texts.
1. The literary genre
2. The historical background
3. The grammatical usage
4. The literal and figurative usage of words (while giving priority to the literal meaning of the text)
The literal meaning of a word is the normal, plain meaning of a word. The figurative meaning of a word is the word used symbolically.
The literal interpretation of a text means that the interpreter gives the literal meaning of a word priority and seeks the literal meaning first.
If the literal meaning doesn’t make sense given all interpretive factors or there is a clue in the text that the word or phrase is being used figuratively or idiomatically then the figurative or idiomatic use is accepted.
This is how non-fiction texts are interpreted with a literal interpretation.
5. The literary context of the work
If you have to understand what the author means in light of what he says in the whole book, in the chapter, even in the paragraph.