Self-Fulfilling Biblical Interpretation

You can find almost anything in the Bible if you look hard enough for it. And you can create almost anything you want out of the stories of the Bible. Two instances stand out in my mind. First, somebody had posed a question to a seminary professor of philosophy on whether or not Jesus could be considered a philosopher. Thus, the professor went to the gospel stories in order to give this person a good answer. Lo and behold, as the professor read the gospels, he found himself enamored by the philosophy of Jesus and how he articulated it in the face of opposition. The professor went back to the student and told him that Jesus was not only a philosopher, but the greatest philosopher in human history. The second story comes from a “Christian” counseling textbook. Apparently, this book has turned to the gospels for case studies in counseling, which of course are applied today because if we want to counsel, we might as well counsel like the greatest counselor who ever lived on the face of the earth. One specific example from the book was in regards to Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, saying that this was an excellent example of counseling somebody with a messed-up life.

Has the Bible developed into a handbook for every profession? It sounds like Jesus is becoming painted in whatever light we wish. Oh, I wonder if Jesus is a philosopher? Well, of course when we begin scouring the Bible like a Where’s Waldo book, we are going to find what we set out to find. That is unless you want to see Jesus as a car salesman or an engineer. The process goes like this . . . we come up with a hypothesis, then go back to Scripture to see if we can verify it. Because the Bible is large and expansive, we usually only look to one or two sections. And because we have to have a set of criteria to test our hypothesis against, we get to set up our own boundaries when making a decision on interpretation. So on verses or passages where it may or may not be referring to Jesus as a philosopher, we may stretch our boundaries a bit in order to fit it into our criteria. This may not even be a conscious decision. We just do it. The whole problem with this type of interpretation is that we decide not only the hypothesis but also the criteria, and thus, only the parts of the Bible that verify our hypothesis and fit within our criteria are what we cling to. Thus, we naturally pass over what the Bible says in order to find what we want the Bible to say. We can draw up a number of hypotheses and try to garner support for them from the Bible, but it the process, we may miss what the Bible is actually trying to communicate.

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One Response to Self-Fulfilling Biblical Interpretation

  1. Eli says:

    Blaine..I thoroughly enjoyed this post, mostly because of conversations I’ve had lately (specifically with John Piper praisers, read: my opposites) and it’s been difficult to engage the Bible with them to reach common ground and well, it’s made me wonder about how I feel about the Bible in general…What was God thinking when he had a bunch of men put this stuff “on paper”? Tell me what to think about the Bible, Blaine.
    Also, if you haven’t read Peter Rollin’s post from today, you should. I enjoyed it.

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