Christian Apologetics Free Course 11, Lesson 03
Analyzing Errors of Interpretation 03
Errors Related To Collection And Integration
The Bible is a massive book, and it discusses numerous subjects. However, the discussions on a given subject are not all in one place. Often the information is scattered all through the Bible. Further, these discussions of the same subject are often presented in different contexts, cultures, and even in different idioms.
Thus the Bible cannot be treated like a textbook or encyclopedia which is divided into various subjects. Since information related to the same subject is scattered so widely, an interpreter has to collect all this information, sift them, then arrange them, and then deduce the correct information. This is a difficult task, and many interpreters are not willing to take pains sufficient for doing a proper job. The result is often an incomplete picture or a skewed interpretation. Some errors related to collection and interpretation of information are as follows:
Ignoring Some And Emphasizing Other Portions: Almost all interpreters have their own biases and pet philosophies, and these affect the way they interpret a given passage. In addition, these biases and pet theories force some people to totally disregard those passages that go against their biases. On the other hand, they gladly pick up and harp upon those verses that seem to support their biases. This distorts the process of collection and interpretation, and the net result is error. Another trick used by proponents of pet philosophies is to take all verses into consideration, but to interpret statements unfavorable to them in such a way as to conform to their pet theories.
A good example would be the teaching on Limited Atonement. According to this philosophy, Christ died only for the church. When numerous statements related to Christ’s death for the whole world are brought to their attention, they insist that these verses should be interpreted according to their philosophy. The same is the method used for arguing that some people are chosen by God for salvation, and others are chosen by God for damnation into hell fire.
Error is introduced when a person insists that statements in the Bible should be interpreted in the light of certain extra-biblical philosophies. The correct procedure would be to compare Scripture with Scripture and come to right deductions. All philosophies should then be evaluated in the light of these biblical deductions, and not the other way round.
The Progressive Nature Of Revelation: Though we now have the complete Bible in our hands, this was not always the situation. Biblical revelation started being written down in parts in the Old Testament era. The New Testament makes it very clear that such revelation was progressive in nature, and it came to completion only with the incarnation of Jesus and the arrival of the Church age. Consequently, many doctrines which have found full expression in the New Testament were either veiled, or were known only partially in the Old Testament. This progressive nature of revelation requires that a given doctrinal passage be interpreted only in the light of revelation available up to that time. When this is not done, errors are bound to arise.
The Progressive Nature Of Human Perception: Revelation from God was progressive, and the fullness came only in the New Testament. Thus many of the Bible doctrines were not clearly or fully known in the Old Testament. Though the progressive revelation has now reached its final form, our understanding of doctrine continues to be progressive. A look at the history of Christian doctrine will immediately reveal that the first four to five centuries were periods when a large number of heretical teachers rose up and many of them confused the Christians because the understanding of doctrine was at a primitive level.
However, starting from this period, and continuing through the Protestant Reformation, our understanding of doctrine has progressively been increasing. However, our perception and understanding will never be complete in this life. Consequently, there will always be some errors of interpretation. These errors are compounded in the case of people who try to interpret doctrinal passages without first studying the understanding that has been gained during all these years. This is why this the history of Christian doctrine, (Historical Theology), is taught as an essential subject in many evangelical theological seminaries.
The Sufficient/Total Distinction: God’s revelation is “sufficient” for doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness. However, it is neither exhaustive nor total, because exhaustive/total information would require a Bible running into thousands of volumes (John 21:25). Even if information were given so exhaustively, humans would still be able to raise doubts on subjects that are not addressed there. Instead of providing TOTAL information, the thrust of the Bible is to provide SUFFICIENT information to humans. When people try to use the Bible to gain total information, they often go into speculation and the making of hypotheses. This will obviously lead them into all kinds of errors. Thus questions related to the salvation of infants, details about guardian angels and about many such subjects have to be kept within available information. Else, the result will be error.
Emotionalism And Denominational Loyalties: Emotionalism and denominational loyalties often introduce serious biases into Bible interpretation. What is worse, this often forces people to collect only that information from the Bible that suits their prejudices. The rest of the statements are often ignored. For example, for many Brethren people ornaments is an emotional issue. For many Pentecostals the subject of tongues, and for Episcopalian people the hierarchical church system are sensitive issues. Thus there is every possibility that they will fail to collect and integrate the whole subject, because this might hurt some of their pet interpretations.
Consequently, for an example, many Brethren people take up only a maximum of a dozen verses and pretend to speak authoritatively on this subject. Most of them do not even know that there are close to 500 references in the Bible related to ornaments, gold, silver, precious stones, and decoration. In this way emotionalism and denominational loyalties often hinder people from collecting and integrating information. One should not be surprised if this gives rise to problems of interpretation.
Principles of Bible interpretation are not radically different from principles of interpreting normal prose and poetry. (The only exception is prophecy, but that is not our concern here). In spite of this many people manage to misinterpret the Bible. This is due to their prejudices, problems related to perception, and their inability to integrate Biblical data. Though the above three problems manifest themselves in numerous ways, an understanding of the three basic causes would go a long way in facing problems created by faulty Bible interpretation.