We started looking at how to know if we’re interpreting Scripture rightly in part one. What hermeneutical method do we use since there are so many different interpretations among “Bible believing” Christians?
Christian Smith calls this the problem of “persuasive interpretive pluralism.” Here’s a quote of his from Derek Flood’s book…
The “biblicism” that pervades much of American evangelicalism is untenable and needs to be abandoned in favor of a better approach to Christian truth and authority. (Disarming Scripture, p. 240)
I agree with Smith and Flood on this. One thing we have conclusively proven by our traditional methods of biblical interpretation is our ability to divide ourselves, even turning against one another, all in the name of “defending the truth.” But I believe there is hope for us if we can discover how Jesus interpreted the Scripture and follow that method instead.
Why do I hold out such hope? Because Truth is a Person, not an academic discipline (John 14:6). And when we find Him, we will find each other in Him.
In my last post I gave just a few examples of how Jesus and His disciples used Scripture very differently than how we’ve been taught. They often changed the original context or even reversed the original meaning of the texts they quoted.
We tend to read the Bible academically, but as Flood points out, we never question whether what we are reading is actually moral or ethical. We sometimes end up with an understanding of Scripture that forces us to divorce our conscience from our interpretation. This “unquestioning obedience” is exactly what has led to condoning spousal and child abuse, slavery, retaliation, wars and all kinds of religious atrocities in the name of following Scripture—not to mention, not even flinching when we call God the Father slaughtering His own Child an act of “love” with our atonement theories. Our deeply entrenched paradigms blind us to the absurdity of it all…but that’s another subject.
The point here is, Jesus never seemed to interpret Scripture this way. He was constantly giving parables and illustrations that were meant to force His followers to lay down their rocks and look into their own hearts, moving them away from their retributive understanding of justice (“eye for an eye”) to embrace a restorative one (“forgive those who hurt you”). He interpreted the Law and Scripture in such a way that put the welfare and reconciliation of people ahead of their forensic legalism or ritual formalism. In fact, the only people He ever got angry with were the religious leaders who were doing the opposite!
Jesus was taking us on a trajectory from fear to love, and we’re still on that trajectory.
So, how do we know we’re interpreting Scripture like Jesus? Again, taking a cue from Derek Flood’s book, I believe there are two ways we can know we’re on the right track.
What fruit does it produce?
First, we need to stop and judge the fruit of what we think is being taught.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.(Matt.7:15-20)
In other words, does your interpretation of Scripture produce the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of the flesh?
Does your understanding condone violence, retaliation, abuse, manipulation, outbursts of wrath, hatred, division, being critical and factious or judgmental? This would prove your teaching to be false.
But if it produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23) then we know it’s from God.
Does it lead us to love?
The second aspect of rightly interpreting Scripture dovetails into the first—does it lead us to love? For if it does not bring us into the arms of Love, filling our hearts with compassion and charity for one another, it’s not only wrong but we have nothing at all. Paul made this point quite clear…
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor.13:1-3 NIV)
Do you really understand what is being said here? Without love, we have veered off course and ended up in a doctrinal ditch. Regardless of what you and I have been taught, it isn’t just one attribute of God among many…love is the only thing that matters. Everything else is, at best, a lot of hot air and useless information…at worst, very harmful and evil.
Without love you don’t have God, you have a religious spirit. And, as it’s been said, there’s nothing meaner or more divisive and judgmental than a religious spirit.
John also helps us here. He makes several stunning points in the following passage:
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 NIV)
Notice what he says. First, the only way we know if someone knows God is if they love. Conversely, if they’re not loving, they’re don’t know God. Second, God is love. So, everything we can know about Scripture must bring us into an encounter with Love.
He goes on to say in verse 16, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Then, finally in verse 20 he emphasizes the same point, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
The hermeneutic of love will drive out our orphan fear!
One last point on John’s admonition to us. Does our understanding of Scripture leave us in fear of punishment or judgment? Does it make us see ourselves separated from God? If it does, it is a false doctrine. It’s from the orphan-hearted, fear-based imagination of Adam, still eating from the wrong tree and hiding behind the “fig leaves” of religion. For when we have finally come to Love, there is no more fear of judgment or punishment, only the Father’s embrace.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV)
Notice that John is quite clear…NO fear in love.
Beloved, our understanding of Scripture must lead us to love—to love God more and to love others unconditionally. Otherwise, we will stay in our fear-based paradigm and ultimately use Scripture as a club against one another because of our insecurities. Our diligent study will only lead to biblical idolatry, “having a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom.10:2), using “the letter that kills” rather than the “Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor.3:6). Our understanding must tenderize our hearts and lead us to show the same grace for others that we would want for ourselves. And this love will never do our neighbor harm, which fulfills all righteousness (Rom.13:10).
This is the hermeneutic of love. And whatever is not like love is not like God. This is the principle that Jesus gave us that will always keep us on the path of truth. Amen.