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Open For Interpretation

The Bible (or any Holy Book, really) seems to be open to lots of various interpretations. Frequently when I point out a particular issue I have with the Bible to a Christian they will inform me that I am interpreting it incorrectly. If I take a liberal view of the Bible, the fundamentalists say I am interpreting it wrong and if I take a more fundamentalist view, then the progressive Christians make that claim. The way I see it, there are only two ways to interpret the Bible, a reasonable interpretations or an unreasonable interpretation.

What do I mean by “reasonable” and “unreasonable” in this context? I mean that if the average person were to read through the Bible, they would have good reason to support a particular interpretation. On the other hand, an unreasonable interpretation requires some form of mental gymnastics and manipulation of the text in order to reach the interpretation in question.

Let’s take Matthew 10:34 as an example: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” Frequently Christians tell me that this doesn’t actually mean that Jesus is advocating violence or hostility. They then continue to hold the position that Jesus was a “Prince of Peace.” The claim is that this is a metaphor, which it clearly is. It would be unreasonable to assume that Jesus was actually wielding a sword. But a reasonable interpretation is that the metaphor of a sword represents violence or at the very least hostility. The fact that the character of Jesus explicitly states that he is not coming to bring peace, makes the interpretation that he is the Prince of Peace an unreasonable interpretation.

You know people are making unreasonable interpretations of the Bible when there are books out there called, “What Jesus Meant.” The fact is that the Bible is a straight up book. Sure, the reader should know something about the times it was written in, the various target audiences, and the themes with each book. But there really is no need for Biblical scholars with decades of learning the mental gymnastics needed to make some bizarre interpretation. There is no need for volumes of books telling us the proper way to understand it. The Bible should be understood on its own (especially if it had a divine author).

So yes, the Bible is open to some interpretation, but there are reasonable interpretations and unreasonable interpretations. Most Christians have the latter.

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  • http://dogmaticatheist.wordpress.com A-Dizzle

    It’s interesting that to believers, the Bible never says what it means, it means what they say. Interpretations reflect the interpreters own personal feelings towards the particular topic.

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