As one who firmly adheres to the practice of speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent and of calling Bible things by Bible names and doing Bible things in Bible ways, it is not unusual for me to answer a Bible question by simply quoting or reading a scripture. For instance, if one were to ask if I believed that one had to be born again to go to heaven, I might quote or read where Jesus said, “…Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). It has always amazed me to hear someone then respond, “Well, that’s just your interpretation of it”. That wasn’t an interpretation that was a quote. It seems that to some, every word in the Bible has to be interpreted, but such is not the case.
The Bible contains facts, commands and promises. The facts are to be believed, the commands are to be obeyed and the promises are to be received or experienced. When Jesus said, “…if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24), there is no need for interpretation. One might have to go back in the text a little to determine who the “he” is in the sentence, but that is not interpretation, it is simply proper understanding of the English language. On the first Pentecost following the ascension of our Lord, when the apostles had been baptized in the Holy Spirit as promised, they preached the gospel for the first time (Acts 2:1-36). Upon hearing this message, many were “pricked in the heart” and asked what they needed to do (Acts 2:37). They were told to “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Notice that facts had been presented to these people by way of the preaching of the apostles. Upon believing the facts, they were given commands that were to be obeyed; repent and be baptized. They were then given promises; remission of sins and gift of the Holy Ghost. All was easily understandable and there was no need for interpretation.
It seems that to some, the word of God cannot be understood. Many have been heard to say that one cannot understand the Bible without some direct assistance on the part of the Holy Spirit. This seems odd, since it was the Holy Spirit that gave us the scriptures in the first place (II Pet. 1:21; II Tim. 3:16-17; I Cor. 2:10). Did the Holy Spirit fail in His attempt to “reveal” God’s will to man? Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Paul said that the Ephesians could understand that which he wrote to them of the revelation given to him by God (Eph. 3:3-4).
However, though most of the Bible is written in language that needs no interpretation, there is figurative language in the Bible and such does have to be interpreted. First, note that there are often words and phrases that are used figuratively. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), he was not saying that Jesus was a literal four legged, wool covered and grass eating lamb. The whole phrase is figurative, comparing Jesus to the sacrificial lamb of the Old Testament sacrifices. In most cases such figures of speech are easily recognized and easily understood. When Jesus referred to Herod as “that fox” (Luke 13:32), it is easy to recognize that Herod was not a literal fox and that likely the use of the word fox was in reference to the slyness of Herod. Even the parables of Jesus were figurative language and thus in need of interpretation. On a few occasions, Jesus interpreted them for us. The parable of the soils found in the eighth chapter of Luke is a good example. The parable is given in verses five through eight. Jesus then interprets it in verses eleven through fifteen. At this point is a good time to take note of an important rule of hermeneutics (the science of interpretation). One can never be absolutely sure of the interpretation unless the one who spoke or wrote the words have given the interpretation for us. A second rule is, any interpretation that is not in harmony with scripture that is not figurative, must of necessity be a wrong interpretation.
One last type of scripture to be noticed in this realm is that of language such as the book of Revelation. Nearly the entire book of Revelation is written in symbolic language. This kind of language is the most difficult to interpret for there are so many variables concerning what each point could be. Numbers, colors and places, each had a symbolic meaning. Indeed, this type of language has to be interpreted. Some have mistakenly tried to read and understand it as literal, but all in vain.
The Bible is a marvelous work, as one would expect coming from the Creator of all that is in the heavens and on earth. One can certainly find enough depth to keep the most diligent student of the Bible busy digging for the nuggets of gold. Yet, most of it is easily understood if one will just carefully read it, consider the context of every statement and be honest with oneself, not reading with one’s mind already made up concerning what they will find. Don’t waste your time or soul trying to interpret what just needs to be believed and obeyed.
(Editor’s note: Send any questions or comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org)