In my short time blogging, I have come come across the problem of biblical interpretation many times. As much as we would like it to be, it is not a science. Like interpreting any kind of literature, biblical interpretation is an art. It’s not like we can run some formula through a computer and come up with a foolproof interpretation.Like all interpretation, biblical interpretation happens in several “stages”:
1) Determine the type of literature – There is a wide variety of genres in the Bible ranging including but not limited to Gospel, apocalypse, poetry, and parable.
2) Determine the context of the passage. We tend to look at the past through the lens of the present. But the context of a passage does matter and needs to be recognized. This means taking ourselves out of the text and not reading in modern morals, ethics, opinions, or whatever into the text.
3) Don’t pick what you like or what supports your argument. Look at what comes before and after.
4) Take the work as a whole. Take the “good” and the “bad” together.
5) Most importantly, see what others have written about the passage being interpreted. Biblical interpretation does not happen in a vacuum. According to the Lutheran (and other) traditions, biblical interpretation happens in the community. Because of that, we look to commentaries and the writings of the church fathers to aid in the interpretation process. There is a vast tradition of biblical interpretation, use it.
For a much larger discussion on interpretation, check out C Michael Patton’s post, “It Does Not Matter What the Bible Means to You“.