I have suffered from vertigo, which is motion-sickness, my entire life. But I can usually spot what triggers it, such as turbulence on a plane or maneuvering too quickly in a dimly lit Minecraft world. Last week, I ended up in the ER, because I couldn’t determine the trigger. In other words, I misinterpreted my vertigo as something else.
So, let it be said, “There are wrong interpretations.” But this means there are also correct interpretations. And this applies to everything in life, such as vertigo, not just biblical interpretation.
Let’s stay with the medical diagnoses analogy. It’s easier to diagnose some symptoms more than others, but do we give up on the medical field because doctors may debate the diagnoses? What are doctors practicing but the interpretation of the body? They study the body and disease and through that knowledge a consensus concerning interpretations is reached. There is a shared body of knowledge that can be examined in the medical field, so doctors can evaluate interpretations.
We don’t know everything we need to know about the human body, but this doesn’t mean we throw out everything we do know about the human body just because our knowledge isn’t exhaustive. That would be ridiculous. And yet, for some reason, we treat spiritual truth this way.
We need to apply our objections to the Christian faith to the rest of life sometimes, because we will find they just don’t hold up.
“That’s just your interpretation,” becomes a card to throw down to end a spiritual conversation. Bam! “No need to listen to you.” Apply this objection to the rest of life. Because if we can’t interpret the Bible properly, then we can’t interpret any volume of written knowledge properly, by that unreasonable objection.
“George Washington was the first president of the United States.”
“That’s just your interpretation. How can I trust what you say? You’re just quoting some historian. How do I know his information is reliable?”
It becomes a ridiculous standard. Because what it really boils down to is like saying, “We can’t trust anyone’s interpretation of anything.” No one lives life that way.
What do we do when we see a doctor about something serious? We often ask for a second opinion. And when we’re given a consensus by the doctors, do we object with, “That’s just your interpretation?”
Once I realized it was vertigo, the doctor and I had a small debate about the trigger. He proposed there might be what he called a small “stone” in my ear that became lodged. The cure for this cause of motion-sickness is to take your body through several rapid movements that will initially make you dizzier before you feel better. As mentioned, having a lifetime of experience with motion-sickness, I told him I didn’t think it was a stone. You see, we had a disagreement over interpretation. So, did we just throw our hands up and say, “There’s no way we can know who’s right.” Of course not.
Doctors have tools that help them diagnose a problem, such as CAT scans and blood work, in addition to the cumulative history of medical knowledge, etc. These help them examine the body and make an interpretation of what the body is saying.
After a CAT scan, the doctor determined that I did not have a stone in my ear. It turns out, my vertigo was triggered by low blood sugar that particular day.
The point is, in much the same way, biblical scholars and pastors have tools such as the original languages, extra biblical sources that shed light on word usage and cultural particularities during the period, the cumulative history of biblical interpretation, in addition to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, etc. that help them diagnose a biblical passage.
Let’s take this analogy a little further.
If the medical community has been wrong about something in the past do we throw out the entirety of medical knowledge? That’s unreasonable, but that’s exactly how people often treat debates about biblical interpretation. “What about slavery? What about believing the earth was flat?” (I’ll answer those objections in another post.)
What if we had that same attitude toward medicine? “What about bloodletting? And spontaneous generation? Lobotomy anyone? Boy, you guys sure got that wrong. I can’t trust what doctors say.”
In the medical field we allow for the fallibility factor. Doctors are people and people make mistakes. But somehow we expect pastors and theologians to interpret infallible Scripture infallibly. In other words, we use a standard that doesn’t allow for humanness. If we claim that the Bible is infallible, it doesn’t mean those who interpret it are infallible. But that is no reason to think that we can’t come to a proper understanding of a passage.
We have everything we need in the revelation of the Scriptures to find the God of the universe and live a life pleasing to Him.
Now, the main difference between doctors and preachers is that a bad doctor can only kill you.
A bad preacher can damn your soul.
But that’s just my interpretation.