“No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” –1 Corinthians 2:11-12
When it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible, two extremes seem to be a common trend. This first extreme is approaching the Bible without care or concern for the true meaning of the text. The second extreme is an elitist view which holds that only the experts who understand the original languages of the Bible and have been to seminary can study understand the true meaning and application of scripture.
In the first extreme, the Bible is treated like an advice column. Scripture is utilized or taken out of context to support someone’s presupposed ideas, beliefs or desires. Someone who disregards scripture like this may flip through the Bible at random and point to a passage with their eyes closed to randomly select a word from the Lord. In this extreme, scripture verses are ripped out of context to illustrate a thought or idea, to arrive at a desired outcome, or to justify a preconceived notion. This is proof texting.
In the second extreme, the scriptures are looked at as untouchable or unknowable, unless you are part of the elite class who has been theologically educated, and only if you know Hebrew and Greek, and only if you have been to seminary, can you rightly interpret and apply the Bible. Those who hold this view believe that scripture reading should be left to the professionals. They believe the average layperson cannot accurately interpret and apply scripture unless they have a mediator from the elite group of experts. This group believes the Bible is not for the commoner.
These two extremes are very dangerous and prideful. Both center around the individual or group and not on God or His Word. There is a third or middle way to look at interpreting and applying the Bible. This third way is a humble acceptance that we have been given the Bible as a gift from God in our own language. And because of this gift, we should not take the responsibility of reading and applying the Bible lightly, nor should we arrogantly assume that the scriptures are only for the educated elite who know the original languages and have been to seminary.
It is very important to read and rightly interpret and apply the scriptures. We should always carefully read the scriptures as a whole and we should read them in their intended context. Reading and understanding our Bibles is hard work and we should be thoughtful in how we interpret and apply it.
While the Bible is for everyone, it is not some fortune cookie we can take lightly or flippantly read and disregard. We must treat the scriptures with the respect they deserve as God’s Word. We must also do the hard work in interpreting the Bible as we read it. We must rightly handle the scriptures.