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So many interpretations?

One of the objections I hear from time to time about the Bible runs something like, “There are so many different interpretations, its hard to know which to believe”, or “That’s just your interpretation”. Sometimes it comes from genuine uncertainty, and sometimes it seems more like a throwaway defensive answer.

Yet in both cases there is generally a common denominator—the idea of the Bible being a vast fog of mixed up interpretations has kept them from actually reading the Bible.

This is sad, because for the most part the Bible is clear and interpretation isn’t an issue. Granted there are some passages which are complex—we would expect that when a complex God speaks into a complex world; there are some passages that require a knowledge of the culture and customs of the day; but vast chunks of it are startlingly clear.

They require no interpretation; they speak for themselves. They are as capable of being understood by a child, a housewife, a working man, as a trained clergy. They just say what they say—much like a stop sign or a direction sign at the roadside. We don’t dismiss a sign warning of a dangerous bend, saying, “I don’t know what that’s about, there are just so many possible interpretations.”

For example, these are fairly clear:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” – Romans 3:23

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” – Romans 6:23

Jesus said, ”I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except by me” – John 14:6

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” - Ephesians 2:8-9

I don’t know what has caused this—whether it is preachers and clergy wanting to impress with how they alone are able to understand and interpret the scriptures, or a fear that the ‘untrained eye’ might make a complete mess of understanding something. Whatever the cause, the upshot is that the ordinary person feels incompetent to look at the Bible. This is a tragedy for it has removed God’s word, its powerful life-giving message, its wonderful promises, its unambiguous warnings, and its crystal clear hope, from people, leaving them dependent on others who often talk around scripture, rather than letting scripture talk for itself.

The truth is that the things we need to grasp for eternal life are sufficiently plain, not a matter of interpretation. Other issues may need deeper thought, but the main things are the plain things. If we read the plain things and believed them, they alone would radically transform our lives.