Read or interpret?

It was a simple text my wife sent me, very straight forward. I’ve changed the name of the person we were texting about.

“Adam called his dad is in hospital and is requesting to see you.”

Simple and straight forward. Except that it took me 7 texts and a phone call before I realized that Adam’s dad, not Adam, wanted to see me. I read a straight forward text and interpreted it incorrectly. Not the end of the world; we all had a good laugh about it.

I’m one who takes the bible seriously, as a guide for my life. I believe it is God’s communication with us through human authors (and in a unique, authoritative way that no other written document is). But I’ve been scratching my head a bit lately over statements I’ve heard from some who want the bible to be read in a simple and straight forward way, without “twisting it” through interpretation.

Reading IS interpretation. You can’t avoid interpretation and simply have the literal meaning. Letters symbolize sounds, which grouped together symbolize words, which in a particular language and context convey (or create?) shared meaning. Reading is interpretation, and we should choose to interpret as well as we possibly can.

Skeptical? Here’s the case in point that triggered this thought. I quoted Matthew 5:45 and then started thinking about it:

He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

I live in the Pacific Northwest where we have rain in abundance. I live in America, where the phrase “rain on your parade” is common. My plain reading of that verse has Jesus saying it backwards. Rain isn’t a good thing. The point Jesus is trying to make is that God doesn’t give circumstances to people that are based on behavior. I mentally corrected Jesus’ mistake. I mean, you should start with the expected thing, and then move to the unexpected. We expect that God sends bad things to bad people; what’s surprising is that bad stuff sometimes happens to the good ones, too. Shouldn’t it be, “sends rain on the UNrighteous and the righteous?”

Then I smiled at my simple, plain mistake. Jesus had it just right, because in arid Palestine, rain is not a bad thing…it’s incredibly good provision from God. And Jesus wanted us to know that God gives good things to both good and bad people.

I’ve got to interpret. I can’t just read. And to interpret the bible well, I’d do well to do my homework.

2 thoughts on “Read or interpret?

  1. And still, this “homespun” view that “it’s just that simple” prevails. Really? A book that has been assembled from books written over a range of centuries by cultures that are radically different than our own and we can just apply our 21st century, west coast, United States (the Rome of our time) lens to this writing and “simply” understand it? Only through the Holy Spirit, and even then I think the Holy Spirit would, as you say, tell us to “do our homework”. Rob Bell does a great job of describing this viewpoint in his book “Velvet Elvis”. (I know I just shot my credibility by mentioning his name at this juncture, but whatever, he should get some credit on this point.)
    For the record, I promise not to go read all your posts and comment on them. I’ve just done 2 this morning because I only now discovered your blog and am still in the throws of the early part of our intellectual romance. I’ll calm down. (the romance bit was tongue in cheek, and hopefully understood that way.)
    Still the warmest of regards at you,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s