Tag Archives: interpretation

How to Answer “That’s Just Your Interpretation”

There are no facts–just interpretations.” Friedrich Nietzsche Part of a series on truth.

A bit of eccentric logic.

Especially since Nietzsche is presenting it as a fact…

The very thing he himself admits doesn’t exist.

What are we to do with that?

More importantly, what are we to do when people say, “Well, that’s just your interpretation?” when we present them with moral or biblical truths?

Let me show you an easy way to answer that challenge.

Two Problems with “Interpretation”

In the most basic sense, to deny objectivity is to assume something is objectively true.

In other words, the statement “That’s just your interpretation” .

But let’s just accept the argument that morals or biblical truths are a matter of personal preference.

If that’s the case, then only two things can come out of such a stance:

1. Why believe ANYTHING if it’s just perspective?  [We can never prove anything since “interpretation” becomes a circular argument.]

2. Or nothing makes sense if a person asserts everything is a matter of perspective–except theirs. [Leads to contradiction.]

As you can see, you’re not left with much of anything to cling to. And if you hold that position your world and worldview will eventually cave in on itself as absolutes make themselves unbelievably real to you.

Because in the end, whether we are talking about politics, history, theology, relationships, biology or literature–absolutes do exist.

Some Beliefs DO Come Closer to Truth

Now, we may never quite get things right.

And no doubt it’s difficult to get down to the nitty gritty–especially when we’re talking about morals or emotions or theology.

But that doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. Or objective truth doesn’t exist. In fact, as we’ll see in a minute, some sources come closer to the truth than others.

Take the Wall Street Journal for instance.

For the most part everyone will agree that you can trust it. The National Enquirer, on the other hand, is something most people disregard as hyperbole, exaggeration and bald-faced lies.

No normal person would quote the National Enquirer to prove their point. Quite a different story with the Wall Street Journal.

And the same is true for religious truths.

“Interpretation” Is Usually a Smokescreen

Now, it’s NOT intolerant or bigoted to suggest otherwise. It’s fair game to say, okay, here’s where you are wrong–and here’s why.

In truth, appealing to “interpretation” is often a smokescreen for pursuing one’s own agenda.

Or autonomy.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to see through this smokescreen.  suggests you ask these questions:

1. Do you mean that you just don’t like my interpretation…or that you have good reasons for disagreeing with it?

2. Can a perspective ever be correct?

3. And are some things not a matter of perspective [like chess or abortion]?

Listen: The very fact that we can recognize that some perspectives are better than others indicates that not everything is a matter of interpretation.

After all, if everything is just a matter of interpretation, how can we tell the difference between plausible and silly ideas?

Truth is, we can’t. Give me your thoughts. Brutal and all.

The Curious Secret to Understanding the Bible

Introducing three simple principles that will help you unpack the meaning of Bible.

We all want to do it–make sense of the Bible that is. Yet, most advice we get runs along the lines of “ask God to help you.”

That’s good advice, but there’s more to it than that.

Far too much of what we read in the Bible is odd, hard or abstract. We read about the Light, the Son of Man, the Kingdom of God–all useful concepts. But what do they mean?

As a result, it’s hard to wrap your mind around what the Bible’s actually trying to say to you.

I’d like to change that. I’d like to introduce you to three simple principles that will help you unpack the Bible.

These three principles arise because of the curious secret that the Bible is a plain, historical, consistent communication of God to men.

Behind the sixty-six books written by multiple authors over thousands of years is an organic unity unique to Christianity.

And because of this unity we can approach Scripture with these three principles and make sense of what once seemed so strange and obscure.

Principle 1: Look for the Simple, Native Sense

First, we must unpack the native–or natural–sense of what we are reading. This is called the principle of simplicity.

Here’s how it works.

Every word in the Bible is to be taken in its plain, ordinary meaning. We want the natural and obvious meaning to the people speaking and hearing those words.

That means what is simple and straightforward is always to be preferred to subtleties and complexities. It’s like the  of Bible interpretation.

But this is not the same as looking for the literal meaning. Sometimes the natural is figurative rather than literal. Take  to Jesus’ claim that a man must be born again:

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

It’s obvious Jesus was using a figure of speech here. But Nicodemus took it literal. The same goes for Jesus’ favorite form of instruction, the .

When reading a parable, it’s not legitimate to press the details. The point behind a parable is to illustrate one main lesson. A good example of a parable is the  found in Luke.

In this parable, don’t make the inn stand for the church and the two denarii stand for the two sacraments. If you do, then you’re guilty of making the text mean something the speaker never intended it to mean.

However, with an  you can draw many points from the the similarities. The vine and branches in  are a good example of an allegory. In allegories, the details always deserve deeper study.

So, how do you figure out if a passage is to be taken literally or figuratively? Simple: use your common sense. Ask yourself what the native intention of the author or speaker was. What the simple purpose of that passage was.

If you do that, you’ll uncover the meaning behind every passage.

Principle 2: Look for the the Original, Historical Sense

The unique thing about Christianity is that God chose to reveal himself in a precise historical context. That means as we read Scripture, we need to ask ourselves what is the historical context.

We also need to keep asking ourselves: What did the author intend to convey by this? What is he actually asserting? What will his original hearers have understood him to have meant?

In other words, biblical writers should be allowed to speak for themselves.

So, as you read, you need to determine the situation, style, language and culture in which the writer wrote.

Situation. Who wrote it and to whom? What were the circumstances? For what reason?

Style. What is the literary genre of each book? Historical? Epistle? Gospel? Poetry? Wisdom literature?

Language. What is the original language of the book? What do the words mean in that language? How can my own language change the meaning of what I’m reading?

Culture. What social customs changed or stayed the same? More importantly, what is the point behind emphasis on certain social customs? In the case of Paul and , the point was marriage headship and the authority of the husband.

Principle 3: Look for the General, Harmonious Sense

Even though the Bible is a library of books written by dozens of authors, it is in fact the word of God expressing the mind of God. Thus, it possess an organic unity.

And if there is an organic unity, then all Scripture should jive with other Scripture. This is the principle of harmony.

The principle of harmony simply says to view Scripture as a whole. To let Scripture interpret Scripture. Here are two tips to help you do that:

1. Understand each passage in its immediate context–the paragraph, chapter and book in which it is embedded.

2. Understand each passage in its distant context–the total biblical revelation.

The immediate context gives each verse it’s specific meaning. It answers the question: How does this verse dovetail into the book’s particular message?

The distant context gives each verse its general meaning. It answers the question: How does the verse dovetail into God’s full, historical plan of salvation?


One thing to note before I finish: .

If you want to know what a particular verse means, at least read the paragraph before and after it. Better if you read the entire chapter. Best if you read the whole book.

To wrench a text from its context is an inexcusable blunder. You can avoid this mistake if you learn to see the Bible as a whole. And to read each text in the light of all.