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Q. How Do You Know Your Interpretation is Right?


Great question! When there are more interpretations than one, someone has to be wrong. That someone could be me, just as it could be one who holds a different view. A respected teacher (and seminary professor) in my younger days used to say something like this:

What the Bible says is always true.
What I think it says is not always true.
What I say it says is not absolute truth.

I would add one further statement:

In the final analysis, it is your job to study the Scriptures, to consider the options, and to decide what interpretation you will embrace (and for this you will be held accountable).

In my earlier days of ministry, people would come to me for help in making a decision (such as whether or not they could marry a certain person). If my counsel was what they wanted to hear, they would happily accept it. On the other hand, if it was not, they would go on down the road until they found someone who would affirm their preferences. I always sought to give the questioner all the pertinent texts, and to challenge that person to come to their own conclusion. I would say something like this to such folks: “When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you what I thought was right; He is going to ask you what you thought was right, and whether you followed your conviction on this matter.”

My view of my task as a student and teacher of God’s word is to encourage and assist others to become better students of His Word. When I offer an interpretation knowing that thoughtful, godly men differ with me, I do so looking to the Holy Spirit to convey the true meaning of His Word. Sometimes I will fail to grasp the meaning of a problem text (who hasn’t had this experience?). I try to be only as confident of my teaching as I believe the meaning is clear and undisputed in the Bible. When I fail to get it right, I will be held accountable (Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1). Even so, this may be the very thing that motivates (or provokes) you to look at the text more carefully yourself, and to come to your own conclusions. If my interpretation (even though flawed) prompts you to become a better, more diligent, more careful, student of God’s Word, then I have not failed. Some bad sermons I have heard have done more to prompt me to study that text more carefully than a good sermon might have done.


Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods, Hermeneutics

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