by Andy Im / Michigan Conference
It's been pretty bad of late. There's been growing concern over the inaccurate interpretation of Scripture by various Adventist ministers, speakers, and bloggers. This isn’t to say these blunders are done with the intent to mislead or that they will lead listeners to damnation.
Nevertheless, something needs to be said because many sincere Adventists are modeling their interpretive techniques after various pundits, and this isn’t a good thing. Let’s bear in mind that incorrect interpretation, in part, led the Jews to reject Jesus, and at the end of time many sincere Christians may be led astray because of their failure to interpret prophecy accurately.
Moreover, these hermeneutical blunders aren’t just taking place with “liberals,” but I would argue it’s also rampant with conservatives.
As you’ll see, objectionable interpretations are often made by the best of us.
“Feeling it” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Just because you’re in the “zone” when studying Scripture doesn’t necessarily mean what’s being revealed is truth. I had one of my best, most intense Bible studies when I inadvertently drank a caffeinated beverage. The Bible study lasted until 3 am, which was about the time I became suspicious of my “inspiration." I recognized that the source of my vibrancy wasn’t from God! Likewise, just because you’re having strong—dare I say, holy—feelings associated with your Bible study doesn’t mean your interpretation is originating from God. It could be the figment of your imagination. Ellen White alludes to this principle in this way. “Impressions alone are not a safe guide. . . The enemy often persuades men to believe that it is God who is guiding them, when in reality they are following only human impulse” (AA 287).
Common mistakes using Strong’s Concordance. Many Bible students look up various words (i.e., sanctification, love, etc.) using their concordance and subconsciously place an equal sign between every instance that word is used in the Bible. Then they assume some obscure usage of the color “red” in the book of Genesis is somehow connected to the color “red” in the book of Revelation. This is a fatal error. Furthermore, just because it’s the same English word in the Strong’s Concordance doesn’t mean it’s the same Greek or Hebrew word used in the original. So, to make an interpretive connection when it’s not even the same original word is a mistake! Finally, the KJV is not more original, or more accurate than the original manuscripts. It’s a translation. So don’t arbitrarily connect words in the KJV that aren’t the same words in the original languages.
- Just because it’s truth, doesn’t make your interpretation true. The biblical truth of our health message or even the Sabbath truth isn't found in every verse of Scripture. I’ve seen people weave the health message into verses that have nothing to do with health! Let the Scriptures speak for themselves (exegesis). Don’t impose a meaning on Scripture that isn’t there (eisegesis). Allow the passages that deal explicitly with the health message speak to the issue of one's well-being. Let’s not get mystical and allegorical in how we interpret Scripture. Don’t go looking for truths you’ve discovered in the Spirit of Prophecy and make out that every verse of the Bible is stating that truth! That’s just irresponsible.
- How you feel about a biblical event or symbol isn’t how the ancients would’ve felt it, necessarily. Don’t read into Scripture how you as an American living in the 21st century would understand a given situation or symbol of the Bible. The very first step in interpreting Scripture accurately, is to establish what a given book would have meant to its original audience. Keep in mind that Scripture is first and foremost composed of historical books that took place in real time with real people a very long time ago. If you do this, you’ll avoid making huge imaginary leaps in interpretation. For example, doing this will dissuade you from thinking that references to “grasshoppers” in the minor prophets are helicopters in Iraq or Afghanistan; and that the “end times” spoken of in Hosea, Amos, and Zephaniah find their primary meaning in our “end time.” Generally, in those books God is speaking to the near and approaching demise of Israel and Judah at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians, not the demise of the United States at the hands of the Muslims or the papacy! I’m not saying there isn’t relevance to our day as spiritual Israel, but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves!
- Don’t symbolize or allegorize everything. I’ve heard allegations that the 2nd and 4th commandments traditionally undermined by the papacy are somehow connected to rock music’s emphasis on the 2nd and 4th rhythms. That this is no mere coincidence, but actually something that can be extracted from Scripture. I really don’t think so. Let’s make sure that the plain, obvious meaning of Scripture is what we stick to. Don’t allow your imagination to do your thinking. If no one else can arrive at the same conclusions independently, then there’s good reason to suspect that your interpretation is off. Seriously.
Summing It Up
The misplaced interpretation of Scripture isn’t necessarily sin. Nor does it imply we’re lost. Nevertheless, it behooves us to correctly interpret Scripture and not read into the text meanings that don’t exist!
Within the Seventh-day Adventist church there’s been an explosion of nonsensical interpretations that are leading many astray. Many are searching out Scripture to prove their own pet theories, and not allowing the Bible to speak for itself. This is one of the reasons for the current misunderstandings on topics such as the Godhead, end-time prophecies, the feasts, etc. I haven’t addressed all of the current, hermeneutical issues within the church, but I’ve pointed out some of the key ones. Hopefully we can continue to grow in this area.
May we be diligent to understand the true meaning of Scripture as we're guided by sound hermeneutical principles and the Holy Spirit.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).