Can you think of an example of something you heard offered as an interpretation of something in the Bible that made you suspicious even if you don’t know for sure why? You know at times, we can be suspicious of things and we can’t necessarily describe why. It’s like knowing what somebody looks like but not being able to describe that person in your mind. Has it ever happened to you that you just heard somebody offer an interpretation of a word, or a passage in the Bible, and you knew it was wrong, but you couldn’t necessarily immediately refute it? Do you know the old saying “God helps those who help themselves”? Honestly, that sounds like a lead statement in a chapter in the book of Proverbs, but in fact it isn’t there. Another good example of an interpretation that sounds fishy is the story of Jonah. As a historical aside, there was a whaler sometime ago, who was in fact inside a whale and then was rescued and survived. Okay, the Bible doesn’t say it was a whale (cf. Jonah 1:17). So ‘Jonah and the Whale’ is an easy thing to sort of flip into, but if you think about it long enough, you might get suspicious and say, “wait a minute, i don’t remember the word whale in that particular account. And finally you realize it isn’t quite right, so you just have to be very careful that we know what the Bible is saying that we read it carefully
So there really are rules for interpreting. These rules are not mysterious. These are rules people have been using always all along, for all you know. And all i’m trying to do is to describe them simply enough for you to realize that these rules are very, very useful for you; to keep you on track when you’re reading one type of literature or another. This is pretty much like what would be contained in an instruction manual for assembling something. And would it be wonderful if it had the clearest possible step-by-step instructions on how to do it, and what are the problems putting this together? Of course, and especially if it was written in your natural language, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll be able to assemble that thing whatever it is. But let me tell you frankly, no matter how clear and understandable these rules are, there will always be differences in coming up to the ‘plain meaning’ of Scriptures. What i hope to achieve is for you to be aware of the specific problems in each genre, to know why different options exist, and to be able to form judgment out of your convictions, and live in light of what the Spirit reveals to you.
Another important reason why we need to interpret has something to do with the ‘nature’ of Scriptures, and it is always a challenge to the interpreter to be able to know difference between the eternal relevance of the Bible from its ‘historical particularity. Let me explain. The Bible as God’s Word is eternally relevant in the sense that it contains truths for everybody for every age. This is not a book that’s limited to one time. Therefore people of every age of all cultures can draw truths from it and apply them in their lives in so many wonderful ways. But God in His wisdom caused the Bible to be written in particular times in the past, in ancient languages, and in some specific historical situation. Think of the Gospels; the Gospels tell us about who Christ is – the eternal Son of God Incarnate who died for and in our behalf. But Scriptures also tell us that He went into this place, and came out of that place, and that He lived in this particular time, and went to that village, and grew up there, and died there, and so on. These are historical and particular facts, but how can these things have their eternal relevance? And you’ve got to be careful because what you don’t want to do is simply say, “Oh i can figure that out, the fact that Jesus went to Capernaum on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee; that says to me that Jesus loves people in the pacific Northwest, and that’s the message”. Or you could say, “look at all the time that Jesus spends dealing with tax collectors, they must have have a special role in the kingdom of heaven. I think maybe if i get a degree in accounting and become a tax collector, i’ll be a little closer to God”. That’s ‘historicising’ and ‘particularizing’, and drawing conclusions from what was a fact but it’s not intended to have some consequence of principle drawn from it. But other things that were facts are intended to have a consequence of principle drawn from it. Jesus died on a cross. It was a particular cross on a particular day, and He hang there and was tortured to death. But it’s significance was enormous for all of us. It’s not just an event, and that its location irrelevant or whatever, in time and space. Now, it helps you to know that God sent His Son to die once for all for the forgiveness of man’s sins. So the cross story is a big deal, it has eternal relevance. The fact that Capernaum was in the Northwest Quadrant of the Sea of Galilee is never made a fuss of. It’s just a historical fact that is part of the incidental data because it happened. So it’s those kinds of things that we need to be able to differentiate and keep in balance.
(External source – How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart)