Vol.XIV No.VI Pg.4
August 1977

Bible Interpretation

Robert F. Turner

The beginner at Bible reading expects to find doctrines and commands neatly indexed and detailed; and he is joined by others, who should know better, expecting concise Bible rules for distinguishing "approved examples" ETC. Both groups are disappointed for they fail to grasp the nature of Bible literature. It must be interpreted exactly as any other period Literature — except that its statements are inspired, hence both accurate and complete to accomplish their intended end. Many points of this article may be read in greater detail by referring to previous Plain Talk articles; indicated as Volume 9, Number 12, page 7; abbreviated "9-12-7."

Confused by the absence of what they expect, some think "human interpretation" is the culprit-- as though command or direct statement could be understood without interpretation. To say we should not accept anything that comes by human reason is to ignore God's process for revealing His will-- via the Holy Spirit, to chosen witnesses, who wrote, so that we may read and understand (Eph. 3:l-5; see V.13, N.10, p.7). The alternative is to accept the concept that only those receiving some direct Spirit operation can understand the Scriptures.

Of course some brethren decry "human interpretation" as they do "inference" — without giving much attention to the dictionary. We "interpret" if we understand the meaning of a command or a declarative statement. And inference is the process by which one reasons to a conclusion. It is not the same as "implied," "hinted at," or derived by specious logic.

Is a "necessary inference" binding upon the conscience? Yes! When careful study of God's word impresses you with an inescapable conclusion, you must receive it or be untrue to yourself and to God. (See 12-6-2.)

It is ridiculous to argue that examples teach nothing (Phil. 4: 9; 1 Cor. 11:l); and whatever they teach, God binds upon those who would follow NT teaching. Divisions occur because incidentals are sometimes regarded as examples of necessary conduct; but we are persuaded that more often than not, the real problem is a sectarian spirit that builds about camps of various views. We make it appear that the Bible is almost impossible to understand; leading some to reject approved examples and necessary inferences; when the real problem is our attitude toward one another. We must not lose faith in the word of God to produce unity among saints who will be exercised thereby (Jn. 17:17-21).

The customs and surroundings of the day in which the N.T. was written are present in the text, as in any communication. How else could thought be conveyed? (11-5-7) Knowing such matters is part of the job of translation and interpretation. Believing the Bible record sets a pattern for today, we are indeed faced with the task of separating 1st. century idioms from the basic truth intended, and incidental circumstances from the examples to be universally followed. But it is not an impossible task. It will be made easier by recognizing the nature of Bible literature (12-12-2), and having a willingness to study the word of God together.