The Battle for Interpretation

When one considers the current spiritual environment from which local churches are emerging, one cannot lose sight of the battle that has been raging in the past decade concerning the Bible and how it is interpreted. I have to be honest at this point that, the major contributor to spiritual ignorance is wrong methods of bible interpretation. How people interpret the Bible is a great cause of concern. In Jesus’ day, he even posed a question to the religious teachers, “How well do you read the Scriptures?” In other words, how one comes to the Scripture with his presuppositions can greatly contribute to his understanding of any Scripture passage. If your assumptions are wrong or biased, they will reflect in your understanding and interpretation of that passage. As we all know, the goal of interpreting Scripture is to lead one to application of the revealed truth. Thus, if your application is derived from a wrong hermeneutic, then you are likely to lead a religiously wrong life.

The Bible is both simple and difficult. Despite the religious people wanting to make it a “mere simple” book, we have witnessed that it has become the source of frustration and religiously incorrect behavior especially in our day. Most people who have taken their theories and preconceived ideas have found a solace in its pages, howbeit, wrongly and as a result, they have lived a lie instead of truth. We should bear in mind that having a self professed faith in the Bible as God’s word does not imply that a person has correct understanding of what the Bible teaches. I am in line with theologians when they say, “There is a difference between what the Bible says and what it teaches.”

Just recently, the national newspaper carried a story of an emerging church in Zimbabwe with one of its senior pastors defending a certain prophet (of course, the church’s founder) who was insisting that the church’s teaching on sacrifices is Scriptural and that the Bible teaches sacrifices. He was arguing that their people should continue the sacrificial system and in this era, that sacrificial system had to be in monetary value. Thus, certain figures were pegged by the man of God who claimed it was God’s revelation and will for this church as a way of coming into a covenant with them. In this case, payments had to be in sevens e.g. $7, $77, $777, etc. the Pastor went on t explain that several verses testifies to the continuity and perpetuity of sacrifices and if God’s people are not sacrificing on this era, then they are being robbed of a special covenant privilege with God. God desires sacrifices to enact his covenants with people.

I read the article with great dismay and was so surprised that people still read the Bible and wrongly interpret it simply to support their quest for financial greedy. What surprised me was the amount of jubilation and ululation in the crowd. Several thousand had attended this church’s event and were made to believe that God wants them to have a covenant and it had to be initiated by the rite of money. Sadly, they were following closely the verses that they were being given but no one dared to examine what the Bible’s teaching on sacrifice and covenants is. They simply believed because it is written and the man of God has decreed and declared it.

Something is really wrong! The church has been invaded by spiritual marauders who are characterized by greedy and are seeking for every opportune moment to milky the flock “in the name of Christ”. The believers on the other end are so eager to follow anything found in the religious marketplace even if it costs their souls. They do not care as long as the vocabulary and terminology is Christian. They were not taught or trained to read and interpret the Bible on their own, so they become an easy prey to the enemy’s schemes and wiles while the wolf rejoices over the simple prey. This brings us to the question, why are there so many interpretations of the Bible? Is God not the source of all these interpretations? Is there no possibility that some people are gifted in spiritual revelations while others are just reading and interpreting the Bible in the flesh? Doesn’t the level of spiritual insight differ because of spiritual gifting? These and other such questions can occupy our minds but still at the end, we should be able to know the truth that sets us free. It is for this reason dear reader, that the church needs the sound teaching ministry of wholesome words, the undiluted and pure word of God to help us recognize the enemy’s activity in the churches. Otherwise, we are doomed not knowing the way to go.

What is Correct Bible Interpretation?

The Bible is a masterpiece of ancient literature consisting of sixty-six books with various literary genres, written to different groups of people on different occasions. To overlook this important fact is the first serious error a reader of the Bible commits when the need for interpretation arises. The word ‘interpretation’ simply means to explain the meaning. Thus, the word itself suggests a text or event has inherent meaning. With a biblical passage, interpretation presumes justice has been done to the text without speculation. It begins with finding the meaning for the original readers, primarily without trying to affix modern understanding and interpretation to it which will cloud our judgment for the given text.

Therefore, we may rightly assume that, if the Bible is God’s book for all people, then everyone should be able to understand it. True, to a certain extent but experience has shows us that most people are quick to neglect the basic rules of sound interpretation and often by default, give way to uninformed and biased human judgment. This is often the case when people simply take a verse and apply it without first looking carefully at it to see what it really teaches. David Feddes, one of my instructors at Christian Leaders Institute has rightly observed, “We’re living amid a surplus of Bibles and a shortage of Bible knowledge.” Many people think they know the Bible because they read it over and over, from cover to cover. I normally see this trend especially with my countrymen who have done religious studies or divinity at high school or secular college. They claim to know it all and they don’t need anyone to tell them about the Bible. Yet, they do not understand that there is a vast difference between the field of religious studies and true biblical theology.

A correct interpretation of the Bible will assume that there are three things first: an original audience, a secondary audience and a modern audience. The original audience would have been the people to whom an oracle, law, or statement was first directed, often in oral form. The secondary audience would be the wider ancient audience for whom a biblical composition was directed in written form. The present-day audience includes the contemporary reader. The literary genre of the given passage should be taken into account for there are grammatical rules that govern the interpretation of each genre. For example, the way you interpret a parable is different from the way you interpret prophecy. However, if one is ignorant of the genre analysis of the text, one is tempted to bring a foreign interpretation to the text. It is thus important to understand that the primary and ultimate purpose for reading and studying God’s word is to know God, the owner of His written word. The Scriptures themselves are not eternal life but they testify of the giver of that life (John 5:39). Thus, as believers, we do not worship the Bible lest we be guilty of bibliolatry, but our worship cannot be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) if the Bible is ignored or wrongly interpreted and applied in our lives.

For a correct interpretation, one should first come to the Bible and approach it as it is, the written word of God. If your affirmations are not precisely correct, then you will be forced to conceive of the Bible as just another ordinary good book. Most unbelievers think so of the Bible and they are justified in their own minds as to the reasons why they reject the Bible as God’s only true and inerrant written word. But, for the believer, to treat the Bible like an unbeliever is to show utter disrespect to God. There are several churches that claim the Bible is one of the spiritual books that God has given and doesn’t really exemplify or embody the whole truth apart from other religious books and revelations. As a result, their approach to the Bible is biased. The danger with such propositions is that, you cannot tell which verse or passage is God’s word and which verse has been tampered with by the genius minds as is often advanced by these critics.

Translation Battles

One of the reasons why people fight over the Bible lies heavily on translations. Ignorance on bible translations and versions has caused much confusion in the religious arena. One church prefers a particular version over another and they claim that such-and-such version is the only word of God on earth or in any particular language and anathemize all other versions. The folks are confused, they don’t know which Bible to purchase or use since they are supposedly tampered with or altered. Some churches prefer the KJV only stance and most people from non-English speaking countries find the outdated four hundred plus years of archaic English phrases in the KJV so confusing and un-understandable. But, because they have no choice, they end up buying the Bible because maybe their church or pastor is claiming that it is the only word of God in English.

I have to be honest that nowhere in the Scriptures are we ever mandated to such a stand as the basis for faith and fellowship, as is often the practice among my fellow churchmen and theologians. While I appreciate the great importance of the KJV in theology and Christian life, I have to stress that it is still the product of fallible men and it’s a translation. Thus, you also find many errors in the KJV just as in any other English version. However, it is correct to say the KJV is much nearer to the truth in the ancient manuscripts as compared to many recent versions that have been a deliberate tampering on fundamental biblical doctrines, and as a result, it remains my all time first choice when it comes to my English bible versions. What we often fail to see in most cases is that, all translations of the Bible are interpretations. You may be wondering why I am saying so, but let me explain.

The original manuscripts (hand written copies) of the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic or Koine Greek are nowhere to be found on this planet earth. Thus, there are no original autographs. What remains are apographs, copies of these manuscripts that are found to be extant in the world today. These manuscripts differ in small detail others in large details but still others are the same only offering a variant reading which may have been inserted comments by editors. The task of translating these manuscripts and preparing one final manuscript from which a translation is then made is so demanding and translators, linguists and scholars have to decide which English equivalent is best to render a certain phrase, thought or idea. By so doing, we have normally two forms of translations: word-for-word translations, thought-for-thought translations and sometimes paraphrases are grouped with the two as a third category. Thus, there is what is known as dynamic equivalency in translation. This should be obvious especially when we understand that we are separated by time, culture, geography, custom and language with that of the Bible characters. Thankfully, historical and archaeological studies have helped to bridge some gap and have supplied us with numerous details to help fill the void and understand some gaps in our understanding of certain biblical passages.

One writer has summed it up well:

When one reads the Bible in a language other than its original, one is reading the “interpretation” made by others. Scholars wrestle with which word to use to translate the original language. Since languages differ in vocabulary and syntax, scholars make an educated guess about which word to use to translate a particular Hebrew or Greek word. They also must decide whether to be consistent when translating a particular term or select from a menu of terms offered by the receptor language. Often, the receptor language contains more narrowly defined terms that can be used to convey the precise meaning suggested by the biblical context. So, in a sense, “interpretation” has already taken place before the reader has an opportunity to read the text.[1]

Thus, it is correct to assume that all translations as we have them are the product of translators and they have helped us to have the Bible in our own vernacular languages so that we can understand what God requires from each of us. As a result, we may be correct to say, using several translations and versions in one’s language can help you to arrive at proper word meanings conveyed by some seemingly obscure words in some version doing what I normally call comparative bible study. It is indeed a myth that everyone has to know the original languages of the bible to rightly interpret it. But, it is true to say, a person who has studied Hebrew and Greek is more competent in exegesis than someone who relies on commentaries, dictionaries and lexicons. The study of Biblical languages cannot be neglected or voided by a serious scholar or any interested student of the word. Before, I used to study the Bible relying on dictionaries, exhaustive concordances and lexicons. However, when I started learning Hebrew and Greek, my understanding changed dramatically and I began to see things in the Biblical text that I did not previously saw. I remember reading a copy of the book, The Bible I Never Knew by another author who made a similar discovery.

I have been privileged to take courses in biblical archaeology and they have greatly enhanced my understanding of many historical narratives in the Bible. There are some things that are not easily obvious to a person who just picks the Bible and reads. For example, what is your understanding of a house with one room or two rooms? Is your understanding oriental (Eastern) or occidental (Western)? What is the eye of the needle? How are the dead buried in a Jewish setting and how are the funerals performed? Is Psalm 23 justified to say sheep eats on a table or it was a translation error? Is it simple to understand the Psalms without considering their desert contexts in most cases? These and other numerous examples abound, but what we can ascertain is, the battle for correct interpretations is contingent to correct and unbiased translations. If you have a wrong translation, the chances of a correct interpretation are slim. If you have a right translation, likewise, your chances for a correct interpretation abounds.

Sadly, as already discussed, many people have chosen the way of folly. The spiritually ignorant opts for an easy walk towards the interpretive processes and relies on the fruits of another person shying away from diligent studies because it’s strenuous and time consuming. However, it is the most rewarding enterprise any believer can engage in. The Bible’s call to all is to be diligent students of the word (2 Timothy 2:15). Sadly, most of our church culture has produced a spiritual breed that is so hostile to study. We have more people in the churches that are idly seating and waiting for another sermon, another prophecy, another miracle and another revelation. They have no time to give themselves to the word neither can they study it. They are used to a religious culture of priest-craft, where the leader does all the work for them and all they need to do is pay him for another revelation or seed for another prophecy. Ours is a culture of laziness and this has greatly contributed to churches having different kinds of teachings and doctrines built on human wisdom and traditions of the elders. The church folk should be taught that spiritual ignorance which is caused by their own failure to learn to interpret the Bible correctly is no excuse. Rather, it is a license to get carried away by every wind of doctrine.

Spiritual Blindness

Another contributor to spiritual ignorance is spiritual blindness. When you go to a lost church, you expect nothing that spiritual blindness. You may be wondering, are there really lost churches? Yes, the Bible teaches that churches can be lost. First, it gives strong warning about the dangers of drifting and going back. When you spiritually drift, you get carried along by the spiritual waves and get lost. You get sidetracked, begin to concentrate on things that do not matter and think you are doing God a service. You can remain religiously committed but estranged from the Lord. For example, a study of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 clearly shows the condition of the churches. Note that Christ continued to refer to them as churches even if in one of these churches he was locked outside trying to get back into His own church but folks were busy on their religiosity!

Spiritual blindness causes people to interpret the Bible wrongly. Inaccurate interpretations often result when people’s understanding is darkened usually because of sin. People approach the bible with their proof texts, seeking some verses that can condone their sinful behavior. For example, there are some churches in our beloved country of Zimbabwe that allows church leaders to be polygamous and likewise church members. These believers claim that they have a biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28). As a result, the best way this portion of Scripture can be translated in the eyes of this sin filled folks are to see a man having as many wives as he can to help fulfill God’s program of human multiplication. They do not use any methods of birth control and they claim it is murder, for it is written “Thou shalt not kill”, yet the same Scripture that prohibits killing, murder and all such evil acts, does not condone lust, adultery, fornication and immoral behavior. This is a result of spiritual blindness. You make the verses of the bible to mean what you want them to say, something that condones your own behavior.

On a different note, spiritual blindness can also keep you away from reading or studying the Bible. There are those who have out rightly rejected the Bible, not because it is not a holy, good or righteous book. But rather, it does not condone or agree with their immoral behavior. Whenever the Scriptures are read, their hearts are pricked with conviction and the Holy Spirit convicts them of sin, righteousness and judgment. Thus, they don’t want to hear about that “Holy Book” because it is in reality, against all that they stand for in their religious spheres. The Apostle Paul wrote that the things of God are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Thus, we assume that anyone who wants to understand biblical truth or desires to interpret the Scriptures must first be spiritually born anew, raised to a newness of life and filled with the Spirit. This is the reason why many churches dislike the Bible: they are dead in their trespasses and sin. They are still unregenerate so spiritual truth to them is of no significant value.

The unsaved people do not understand the Bible. So they come up with all forms of twisted arguments: The Bible is an irrelevant book; the bible is hard to understand, the bible needs revelation, etc. In a nutshell, what they are simply saying is, we cannot understand it because of who we are! A spiritually undiscerning and dead church has been attributed with the birth of so many theologies and interpretations which are just but man’s philosophies devoid of any spiritual power. The battle for Bible interpretation is a result of natural man in his unregenerate state trying to comprehend spiritual things. Am I then, by this assertion claiming there is a secret path to knowledge for some spiritual elites? Or, were the ancient Gnostics correct to say that salvation is by some secret knowledge or revelations? It should be understood that Paul was not teaching salvation by knowledge. Rather, the emphasis is on being rightly related to the Lord, the owner of the written word, who can illuminate and unveil it to someone who is in a right relationship with Him. As indicated earlier, our goal for bible interpretation is to seek God and know Him. If you live in sin and you are not born again, the Holy Spirit cannot do His perfect will in you. He is limited, you have tied his hands. Rather, better chances are for those of the household of faith not some spiritually elite believers but all those who are saved and have the Spirit of Christ in them. Thus, we cannot expect like-mindedness among people of the household of faith and unbelievers who simply profess in word that they believe the Bible. For the Christian, it’s not only belief but living the word daily.

Spiritual Laziness

Bible study is not any easy task. It is a work for the spiritually energized and mature person who seeks to find a fulfilling spiritual adventure in his way with the Lord. The spiritual life is not a journey for the lazy Christian neither does the Lord promise to reward those that have failed to be serious in their walk with the Lord. The Lord expects believers to be diligent as shown in the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs has many proverbs that deal with work and our attitude towards labor. Sadly, most believers view work as something separate or foreign to their spirituality. Yet, God is presented to us as a diligent and working God who brings results from his labors in Genesis. From there, he instituted what theologians call “a theology of work”. Man was not only supposed to eat and enjoy the goodies Eden had to offer. Man had to learn to cultivate and till the ground, taking care of the animals and whatsoever required his duties. Even n a physical and spiritual environment, man was expected to work and God did not seek to promote laziness.

Likewise, when we come to the Lord, there are some spiritual duties to which we should avail ourselves. There are specific things that we should attend to as citizens of God’s kingdom and members of the household of faith. One of such duties is the discipline of daily study and meditation of God’s word. This is your daily responsibility as a believer. If you fail to do so, no one else can do it for you. Rather, you rob yourself of the most prestigious work that is spiritually rewarding, the only duty that makes you to gain God’s certificate of approval as an unashamed workman. The New American Standard Bible reads, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). To be diligent is to give maximum effort. The King James Version reads, “Study to show thyself approved unto God”.

Thus, we can see in Paul’s charge to Timothy that it is required of God’s workers to study, to be diligent and to give maximum effort in their spiritual cause. Bible interpretation requires maximum effort, and your availability. If you are not yet prepared to give yourself time to study the word, then your diligence is still questionable. Moreover, the kind of biblical interpretations that we normally hear from the pulpits is evidence of lack of seriousness and shows no maximum efforts in the pastor’s study. I remember talking to one pastor who argued that study is not important, all you need to do is pray more and listen to the voice of the spirit. To him, this is a sign of true spirituality than devouring pages of a lifeless book as he pointed to the Bible. He was so confident that he hears from the Spirit and gets new revelations which no bible student can get. I challenged him to convey any supposed ‘new revelations’ that his ‘spiritual practice’ has produced but he could not tell. Many people think spiritual laziness can be substituted by speaking in tongues and waiting for some spiritual revelations.

If that was the case, the Bible could not have spoken of teaching, learning and discipleship. True discipleship is teaching, instructing and training. If these elements are missing, then it’s a kind of pseudo-discipleship. In discipleship, we train believers to keep or observe whatsoever teachings Christ has taught us through the apostles, who taught other faithful men to duplicate and reproduce other disciples. The sign for spiritual laziness is negligence of diligence study. This leads to skewed interpretations of the biblical text. Not only so, people who are lazy to study are diligent fighters for error. They can fight for presuppositions, theories and philosophies while they are spiritually bankrupt. From Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, it is important to note that whoever claims to handle the word of God must give his best effort to its study and interpretation. If this quality is lacking, one disqualifies himself. For leaders, there is no mincing of words: A leader must be apt to teach! Most church leaders want to teach their congregations. Sadly, few of them can really teach or are apt to teach. The Bible stresses the ability to teach as a great and desirable quality that qualifies a church leader. This is essential especially in view of the discipling and feeding that the shepherd of the church does. His teaching, preaching and equipping role demands that he first sits under someone learning so that he can teach others also.

Pride and laziness goes hand in hand. Most lazy preachers and teachers are too proud and stubborn for nothing. They refuse to be taught. They claim they know it all. In my experiences, I have discovered that most people who have such great hatred for theological instruction are in fact, haughty, proud and un-teachable. As a result, they find all forms of excuses to shun theological training, or reading other people’s work on faith, theology, religion or leadership. They are their own authority and they don’t report or account to anyone. School will demand that they be disciplined and they do not want that part of spiritual sharpening. No man is an island, yet these religious leaders feel safe being lone rangers in the ministry. If they can find friends or partners, they are the guys from the same camp and there is no relational value in their friendships. This is the reason why most of them will opt to find mentors who live outside the country that they can only interact with for a few days or hours. In most cases, the relationship is not so much based on mentoring but impartation of anointing and gifts where the supposed mentor imparts something spiritual in exchange for monetary value.

Having a great mentor or spiritual father does not exonerate you from your spiritual duties. You have a biblical God-given mandate to study the word, know it and teach it correctly if you are a leader. If you are a believer, the task is equally the same, for every saint is a minister. To be diligent means, to employ sound hermeneutical skills in studying and learning God’s written word. Asking the right questions is also crucial. As Christians, we are communicators of God’s truth. Our responsibility is to be sound teachers of wholesome words. If we do not do so, the warning of the Holy Spirit for us not to want to become teachers should be heeded (James 3:1).

I am reminded of Jesus’ teachings on counting the cost. Most of us want to have influential positions of leadership but we do not want the cost that comes with such huge responsibilities. Ministry is not about eating believers’ tithes, offerings and gifts. Inasmuch as the church folk can share with us their financial resources, they have also entrusted us with the care for their souls and it is wickedness to eat of believers’ sweat when all we ever do is sweat on the pulpit only. We have to sweat in our studies, sweat in our prayers and be diligent like the termites in the book of Proverbs. Like the patriarch Jacob, we have to wrestle in prayer, study and meditation. The church that has a diligent pastor who watches his life and teaching closely is a blessed church. Woe to the church that have lazy and sleeping shepherds who abstain from their regular spiritual disciplines.

Laziness on the part of the clergy has contributed into some churches being the centers of spiritual ignorance. It is easy to see how spiritually ignorant people are when you listen to how they speak about spiritual matters. Most spiritually ignorant believers tend to be talkative and very active in churches simply because they tithe or give more money than others. Most church leaders draws these people close to them, give them positions to keep them busy with church work while their spiritual and social lives are a mess. They rarely care for them except to say, “I am praying for you.” The church in our generation should shun laziness and motivates all believers to go and work. We should be diligent bible readers, diligent church members, diligent in prayers with an unsurpassed zeal for the Lord.

Spiritual Biasness

This is another contributor to spiritual foolishness in the churches. When we have people that are selective, or who has a tendency of twisting the Bible to suit their preconceived ideas, we produce spiritually lethargic saints. We are all guilty of bringing our biases to the Scriptures, one way or the other. However, there should be a clear distinction between what the Bible teaches with one’s denominational teaching, theology or culture. Some traditions also affect our understanding of the Bible. Thus, when one reads a passage of Scripture, instead of being objective to its teaching and to what it is saying, a person looks at scripture through denominational, traditional or cultural lenses. The interpretation is marred by one’s biases. I remember one discussion I had with another lady. She asked me, “Do you tithe?” I said “No, I have passed the tithing age.” Then she said to me, “What does Malachi say?” I responded, “You tell me since you know what Malachi says”. Then she went on to quote the Malachi 3 passage wherein the prophet is calling for tithes to be brought to God’s house. After finishing her reading, I asked for her interpretation of the text. It was disastrous. It’s so surprising that people knows verses that support their ideas and are willing to go to great lengths to twist Scripture to suit their opinion.

This is equally true with most of the songs and hymns that we sing in the churches. Some are not even biblically based. They are based on creeds and confessions of some church council or some church boards. Yet, our foundation should be the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with a creed or confession that is in tune with a sound hermeneutic of Scripture, but, where creeds and confessions become the standard for truth and doctrine instead of the Bible, then, we have deviated from the faith. As believers, we should earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3) not for some sought of a creedal system of some denominations. Your task as minister of the Gospel is to preach god’s Word; it is to preach Christ and not some creed like the Apostle’s Creed. Creeds have their purposes and value, but they should never be taken to replace the written word of God.

I remember teaching a theology class at one of the denominational schools were I was the Academic Dean. As I was teaching, I was giving an example of how some well-known men of God have deviated from biblical truth and had led their entire congregations to believe lies simply because their churches have been taught to accept without question what ‘the man of God’ says. I mentioned the name of one such leader in Zimbabwe. And it happened that there were students from his church. Immediately, one of them shouted, “Do not touch the Lord’s anointed or God will curse you”. I laughed hysterically and then posed a question to him, “Who is a man of God”. He ran to Psalm 105:15 and tried to convince the whole class that the Scripture reference directly speaks of his Archbishop. I began to explain to him what that Scripture actually mean by asking some lead questions. As I continued, the Student’s Dean who was in the next office came and opened the door, interrupted my class and said, “Dr. Musekiwa is too learned. Do not listen to everything he tells you especially when he touches the men of God! We as a school, we tithe to him because we are under his anointing and covering”. She went on to defend the denominational position and policy instead of a biblical truth and principle. And, as I listened to her, I wondered how many people have been erroneously misled to think so highly of the spiritual leaders than what is necessary.

This is the reason why false prophets and apostles have taken the Southern African continent by storm. They can do anything they want, they are beyond question or criticism and whoever dares to speak or criticize them is in danger of judgment. People have been made to believe that these men have been declared untouchables and are God’s generals. Yet, the way that this has been taken has introduced deification of man in the churches. My argument is just plain simple; our denominational biases can cloud our spiritual judgment and leave us in a state of ignorance. To be spiritually ignorant is disastrous; it’s a highway to the grave.  We should guard against the error of taking our personal business into the biblical text and twist it to mean what we want. These personal opinions and business have found a new name especially among Pentecostals and Charismatics. They are called revelations. Many lies are told in the churches in the name of revelation.

Personal Rebellion

Karl Heitman has written, “Some people due to pride or worldly pressure attempt to find “fresh and culturally relevant” ways to deal with the hard and unpopular truths contained in the Bible.”[2] Here is a befitting executive summary of the contemporary times. Most believers these days can rarely stand with the Bible or its teachings when it comes to serious things that really matters. Instead, many can chose to side with religion, Christendom, culture or a plethora of other things. One of the things I have learned from teaching students at theological schools is the way they are so much passionate about cultural issues instead of God’s principles. The New Testament for example, clearly lays down what a believer needs to do or not do. Sadly, churches tend to venerate cultures that are even in direct contradiction to the Bible because they are afraid of stigmatization.

At one point, I was to officiate at a denominational graduation ceremony. Prior to my speech, I was taken aside by the Principal of the college and was warned not to touch culturally sensitive issues because we had some representatives and spies from the government who wanted to make sure that their agenda for gender is directly obeyed. I watched as the first speaker who had been invited from the University of Zimbabwe was forced to give a culturally acceptable speech in line of government’s directives and goals for the new millennium. He struggled, twisting Scripture verses to promote gender-equality simply because the church cannot stand to support biblical values.

How many times have we as preachers been forced to compromise the truth because of culture? Okay, and how many times have we personally rebelled against the Lord because we needed to solicit people’s favor? When trying times come, can you honestly stand and defend the truth claims of Christianity or you will compromise your stand because you want to be a men pleaser? I remember discussing with one of my students. He had had great success in planting a new church. I had been several times invited there to minister and had witnessed the blessing of the Lord on his work. The young man was now in a crisis. His church was composed of fresh believers from the world and those migrating believers who move from church to church. These believers were now saying to him, “Please introduce this-and-that as we used to do I these other churches. Let’s do this and that as we have seen other churches do”. He had refused to do so because he had pointed to them that it was not in line with God’s word. As a result, the church was about to split with the old believers crying to duplicate some old ungodly church systems into this newly established church. After our discussions, he went and faced his church and asked them a simple question: “If where you came from had everything right, why did you decide to leave?” Then he went on, “We are not going to have a church split, instead those that do not feel to be at home in this system should feel free to leave and return back to their former churches. We are not immigration authorities, we are a church on a mission, sent to rescue the perishing in the world and not to refurbish and furnish religious practices.” Those who wanted to leave left, and today he continues with those that want to serve the Lord in Spirit and in truth.

Many church leaders are just spiritual renegades. They are very rebellious like the ancient king Saul. They think they can cover up for their rebellion by giving God some gifts. Failing to study and execute your spiritual duties as a leader is rebellion. You should examine yourself lest you be found wanting and hear the voice of the Master say, “You have taught others to rebel against me” and to others, “You have joined the rebels!”

Wrong Attitudes

Most people today are guilt of wrong attitudes when it comes to the interpretation of the Biblical text. Below, are the thoughts from Dr. David Feddes, from his article, “God’s Book.”

If you’re like a lot of people, however, you don’t attack the Bible or say it’s false. You simply don’t talk about true and false at all when it comes to matters of religion. You figure we all need to choose our religious beliefs on the basis of what works for us. And so you choose your beliefs, not on the basis of whether the beliefs fit the facts, but on how they make you feel. Professor and author Gene Edward Veith points out that more and more people talk in terms, not of truth, but of taste. Instead of saying, “I agree with what that church teaches,” people say, “I like that church.” Instead of saying, “I believe in Jesus,” people say, “I like Jesus.” Of course, they don’t usually “like” the Bible’s teaching on sin, Hell, and judgment. What they do not like, they do not believe.

When people exclude truth, basing their faith on what they enjoy and what they desire, they can believe in literally anything. That is why affluent, well educated people are so open to psychic hotlines, crystal vendors, channelers of space aliens, and what would seem like obviously fraudulent New Age gurus. How could anyone believe in such things? The answer, of course, is that truth has nothing to do with postmodernist religious beliefs. Devotees say such things as, “The Maharishi is really cool.” Or, “I really like Buddhism.” Or, “Scientology really helps me get in touch with my feelings.” The greatest enemy of biblical truth these days isn’t any direct attack which denies that the Bible is true.

The greatest enemy is the attitude that it doesn’t matter all that much whether a belief is true; what matters is how a belief makes you feel. You look for a church that can give you the best pep talk in positive thinking and makes you feel good about yourself, without much concern about how truthful its teachings are. You look for a preacher who is funny and entertaining and likeable, without asking whether he’s preaching the Bible and not just his own cleverness. You join a church because you feel at home with the style of music without much caring how accurately its doctrines reflect the truth of the Bible.

When you do this, you deny the truth of God just as surely as someone who openly insists that the Bible is false. The fact that the Bible is true means not only that we must never directly deny its reliability but also that we must never base our beliefs on taste rather than truth, on how we feel rather than on what God says. God’s truth puts us in touch with who he is, not just with who we imagine him to be.[3]

 As we come to the closure of this chapter, I would like to remind you dear reader that, how one interprets the Bible contributes greatly to his spiritual life. There are only two options: correct interpretation makes one wise, wrong interpretation makes one foolish; which will you choose? I remember growing up, people saying that the Bible is just a matter of interpretation. Recently, in our times, there are those men and women who have forged their spiritual weapons to wage war against bible interpretation. They have come up with novel ideas on how the bible should be interpreted. However, I salute the efforts of the men and women who gathered at the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy which took place in Chicago on October 26-28, 1978 for the purpose of affirming afresh the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, making clear the understanding of it and warning against its denial. A second meeting in Chicago on November 10-13, 1982 has helped to affirm the importance of a proper interpretation of the Scriptures among evangelicals. How I long in our day, for fresh summit for the African church to help us and guide preachers back to the paths of righteousness for the sake of the Word and His Name.

____________________

[1] Mac Lynn. Biblical Hermeneutics. (West Monroe:  Nations University, 2014), 7.

[2] http://www.glorybooks.org/5-reasons-why-there-are-so-many-interpretations-of-the-bible accessed 1-12-2017

[3] David Feddes. “God’s Book” an article adapted from my class notes on Hermeneutics and Exegesis at Christian Leaders Institute.

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2 thoughts on “The Battle for Interpretation

  1. I like these words:
    ” I have to be honest at this point that, the major contributor to spiritual ignorance is wrong methods of bible interpretation. How people interpret the Bible is a great cause of concern.”

    Like

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