People love to argue about the Bible. It is often misused and misunderstood. A person with a little intelligence and knowledge of the Scripture can indeed find prooftexts for whatever they are selling. The real question is, “How do I know my interpretation is correct?” Hopefully, we don’t seek the truth just to brag about being right. We ask that question because we seriously want to be faithful followers of Jesus and we understand the Bible guides us in that endeavor.
The guiding hermeneutic for me is, “Does this understanding of the Scripture make me think, act and live more like Jesus?” Let’s apply this.
Take Romans 13:1-5 for example. It tells us to obey the government. No qualifiers. If the government says do it, then you obey it. Christians followed this verse in obeying Hitler when they were told to send children to gas chambers. Christians sited this verse while mistreating Native Americans. These verses have been used to defend slavery and keep Jim Crow on the books. Most recently, these verses have been evoked to justify putting children in cages. There are Christians who do these things and quote this verse and say they are following the Bible. But are they right?
Let’s apply the Jesus test. Can I picture Jesus obeying this Scripture and taking families away to gas chambers to be killed? Can I picture Jesus obeying this interpretation of this Scripture to steal from and mistreat Native Americans? Can I picture Jesus supporting slavery? (He actually said he came to set captives free. Luke 4) Can I picture Jesus taking children away from parents seeking asylum and putting them in cages? The answer is a big NO for me on each one. So, this interpretation is not valid because following it does not make me think, act or live more like Jesus.
There are, of course, many other reasons to dismiss this kind of interpretation based on its context. Not to mention there are unjust laws. Christians should not follow unjust laws. Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state. Don’t forget that. Correctly understood the Bible is a warning against religion and government getting too cozy. The Bible would certainly never promote adherence to a government law over faithfulness to follow Jesus. This was the first century battle. Who is Lord? Caesar or Jesus?
People who claim they are not interpreting the Bible but merely doing what it says are kidding themselves. Everyone ignores verses they don’t like. If they say they don’t, they are either ignorant of the whole of Scripture or they are lying.
Deuteronomy 21: 18-21 says that if a son is rebellious and does not listen to discipline then you are to stone him. I do not think Jesus would stone a young man for being rebellious. I believe in being respectful, but I will overlook following this verse because it does not make me think, act or live more like Jesus. The Bible says that a Moabite is not welcome in the assembly of God’s people (Deuteronomy 23:3). I believe Jesus wants worship open to all. He taught and demonstrated that over and over. In the church I serve we will open the doors to everyone, even Moabites! I will look over this verse of exclusion because it does not help me think, act or live like Jesus. Everyone has a guiding principle for which verses of Scripture they take more seriously than others. I think the guiding principle for many is their own tribal narrative. There is a word for when our own tribal narrative replaces Jesus as the guiding principle for understanding Scripture. The word is Idolatry.
The Bible points us to God, like a woman standing in the back yard pointing to the sky. When you see her, you can look up to the wonder she is pointing to, or you can get fixated on her hand and finger. Some people never look up and see the God of wonder to which the Bible points. They are fixated on the Bible itself.
I believe if we interpret the Scriptures correctly they will lead us to be loving, welcoming, forgiving, inclusive, putting others first, kind and gracious among other things. In other words, it will make us think, act and live more like Jesus. The key to correctly interpreting the Scripture is Jesus. It’s Jesus. If your interpretation is making you more like him, then you get it. If the way you interpret the Bible makes you think, act or live less like Jesus you are doing something wrong.