Have you ever seen people who insist that they read the scripture without interpreting the text? Or they think they can just read the text and not to interpret it?
If you are one of them, I’m sorry: I have bad news for you.
You are deluding yourself. That’s because you can’t read the Bible without interpreting it. The difference between you and someone who specializes in biblical interpretation is not that she interprets the text and you don’t.
The only difference is the depth of the interpretation and the reader’s awareness of this fact.
We can’t read texts without interpreting them because in order to understand a text, we bring our experience, perspective, philosophy, and immediate context into whatever we take up and read. The unique part of us that we bring into the reading causes us to understand the text as us and not as some dude from somewhere in the Midwest who is not us. So we read, and as we read, we interpret at the most basic level to understand the scripture.
More often than not, it happens naturally and without our full awareness. We “just” read the text and assume that we read it but not necessarily interpreted it.
For example, when you (a believer) read verses about the miracles of Jesus, more often than not you assume that these are faithful stories of miracles that took place in reality. You read about real, extraordinary events. Nevertheless, an atheist would read the same texts as anything but a narration of real miracles. She may read the verses as metaphors or as explanations of an unscientific mind but not as real, extraordinary, and supernatural events.
Why? Because in your super-naturalist worldview, you believe — in principle — that God works in the world and miracles happen. God is. But an atheist in her naturalist worldview believes — in principle — that nature (and humanity) can be explained and understood without a reference to any outside power. God is not. Therefore, no god does any miracles, and there must be some other explanation for the miracles of Jesus.
Despite the fact that a believer and an atheist read the same stories or verses about miracles, they took it to mean very different things because as they read, they interpreted the scripture based on their own larger and deeper beliefs that they had brought into the reading.
Why does it matter knowing that you actually interpret the text when you read it? Well, that will help you develop skills for an in depth reading of the scripture.
So read the scripture while being attentive to what you yourself bring into the reading.
Now it’s your turn. If you liked the post, share it and comment. Let us know when and how you became aware that we can’t read the text without interpreting what’s before us. Also, check the links below for relevant posts.