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Interpret Your Way, His Way, or Anyway?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Everybody interprets the Bible differently. One person can read it and say it means one thing, and another person can read the same passage and have an entirely different interpretation. We all look at the Bible through colored glasses. A Catholic looks at the Bible with Catholic eyes. A Pentecostal or Baptist reads the Bible from his point of view. The same thing is true with churches of Christ or any other background. It depends on how you have been conditioned to look at the Scriptures.”

Is this how Jesus talked? Let us see.

The Lord told the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:13). These words are from Hosea 6:6. They were hundreds of years old and had been read by many generations of Jews. The Pharisees were a more recent group of Jews in this history. They had their own way of looking at the Old Testament. They believed that the Scriptures should be interpreted in light of their oral traditions. That is what they taught their disciples. They were very strong in this approach to interpretation. But that was no excuse for their misunderstandings. It was no justification for them to teach false doctrines. Jesus rebuked them and told them just to read this Scripture. Does that sound like they couldn't take off their Pharisaic glasses?

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They had their own interpretation of the Old Testament. They had arguments against the idea of life after death. Yet when they made their case to Jesus, He said, “Have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:31). Jesus quoted the Bible to them and expected them to understand it. Their Sadduceean glasses were not permanently attached. They could have removed them.

After his resurrection, Jesus had a conversation with two of his disciples as they walked toward Emmaus. They were discouraged and doubtful that he had been raised from the dead. Jesus rebuked them for being slow to believe what the Old Testament prophets had written about Him. Then “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He expected both of them to understand these passages in the same way. Why would he do this if each person interprets the Bible differently and cannot avoid doing so?

Some who say this about reading the Bible use it as an excuse. They have never really studied the Bible and tried to understand it. They just give it a passing glance and throw up their hands and say, “Who knows what it means?”

Others spend so much time reading religious books and watching videos that they spend little if any time with the Bible itself. Some of them are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Tim. 3:7) while others become confused and discouraged and give up.

It is true that how we are raised and what we are taught influence how we see the world. We all have preconceived ideas. But that doesn't mean we are unable to overcome these influences and set aside old opinions. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth” (John 8:32). In fact, God wants “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). If the Lord says we can know the truth, then we can understand what He says.


West End church of Christ bulletin article for July 23, 2023


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