What Does It Mean?

Posted on: July 16th, 2023

It is one thing to read a text. It is another to ask, “What does that text mean?” Just reading a text word for word does not in itself tell us what it means. Asking what it means will necessitate entering the realm of interpretation. It is inevitable (e.g., try teaching parables without interpreting them). Saying “we don’t interpret; we just read what it says” is naive at best and dishonest at worst. If one truly believes that interpretation is itself a problem, then we should expect only the reading of the text from that person with zero commentary. No one really operates that way. At least I’ve not seen it in my own life.

Interpretation is necessary, but not all interpretation is equal. There is always a need for keeping a passage in context and using terms correctly. Figurative language is everywhere (hyperbole), and even straightforward language has challenges (Why was it said? To whom was it said? How universal is it? Etc.). Making proper connections takes careful study, and knowing something about the way translations work is helpful.

Much of this is done through normal common sense (insert obligatory “common sense isn’t all that common” here). We are continually inferring from what we read and hear (please don’t deny the importance of inference; it’s a bad look). Even the way we read a text can change its meaning. People can understand Scripture, but we need to recognize what we are doing, see the challenges, and work hard at it.

One of the most egregious mistakes we can make is using or changing a text to fit our already-established agenda. This is easy to do because we are already coming to the text with various preconceived ideas and opinions. If we decide ahead of time that our chosen agenda must be true, then we will find a way to support that through how we interpret Scripture. This manipulates the text to serve our own ends rather than letting the text guide our minds to the truth to which we should submit. We are all susceptible to this problem.

Why am I writing this? 1) Because I was just thinking about it; 2) Because it helps me be more careful; 3) Because I see Scripture manipulated to serve worldly agendas; 4) Because this is my page and I want to promote sound Bible reading and exegesis. 🙂
Be careful how you read, what you take from it, and how you use the text. It is not our clay to shape however we want.