As fallible human beings we often make mistakes when we read the infallible Word of God. D. A. Carson in his book Exegetical Fallacies and Michael Patton on his blog Parchment and Pen have given some helpful warnings against fallacies of biblical interpretation. Here is a distillation of some traps people fall into when reading the Bible.
- “I am objective and unbiased when I read the Bible.” Everybody has a viewpoint through which they process information. We are influenced by our life experiences and we interpret the Bible through that lens. Unless you recognize that you are biased you will be unable to interpret honestly.
- “Abraham did it so it must be right.” Often the Bible describes sinful people without glossing over their imperfections. Just because someone is blessed for their faithfulness doesn’t mean we should follow their example in every area. Although certain actions may not be directly condemned we should not assume that those actions are right.
- “You should become a Mormon because 1 Corinthians 15:29 commands baptism for the dead.” Most of the teachings of the Bible are very clear and fit together well. Some passages are difficult to understand. Don’t interpret clear passages in the light of unclear passages. Try to get the “big picture” of what the Bible teaches.
- “In the Greek, the root word has the idea . . . “Many pastors will look up the etymology of a root word and read the meaning into the passage they are studying, leaving no room for language change or context.
- “The Amplified Bible adds so much more depth of meaning to this passage.” Most words have more than one meaning. However, there is usually only one primary meaning in any given context. If I were to say, “I love salad,” you wouldn’t expect me to start kissing my lettuce. In the same way, the Greek word agape has often been misused. It can have a special meaning referring to a selfless, sacrificial love, but it has other meanings as well. You can’t apply the “special” meaning in every passage.
- “Burn the commentaries! I believe in the priesthood of the believer, so I don’t need to listen to anyone else’s interpretation of the Bible.” While every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who teaches us the Truth, we can still learn from others who have greater understanding and wisdom. Actually, most of these traps can be avoided by realizing that you don’t know it all. Ultimately, humility is the best safeguard against wrong interpretation of the Bible.