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Southern Fried Interpretation

During my first years in Melbourne I would meet with a group of pastors every Thursday.  It was a time for sharing needs, encouraging one another, and praising the Lord for His blessings.  Over time discussions or good-natured arguments about controversial issues with one of my friends became a Thursday morning tradition as well.  The conversations always involved thirty to forty-five minutes of going back and forth sharing proofs for our different opinions before realizing we actually believed the same thing.  It didn’t take long to realize that this time and energy could be used in a better way than talking in circles for about an hour.  But those caffeine fueled conversations taught me a lot about how Scripture impacts our lives.

Most of the time our loving debate was centered on one or two passage of Scripture that should make it easy to find common ground.  But the reason why we spent all that time discussing minor points (other than its fun) was our minds interpreted the passages differently.

A lot of people think of a Scholar studying the Bible with piles of books around him when they hear someone talk about Biblical interpretation.   But the truth is each of us interpret Scripture every time we read it, many times without even realizing it.  Basically interpretation is getting to the plain meaning of the text.[1]  So it would be answering a question like, “what does this mean?”, or “what is God trying to say?”  When having devotions, listening to a sermon,  talking with Christian friends about the Lord, and reading Christian literature our minds will constantly answer those questions.

Sadly lots of those interpretations come from a poor foundation such as our past experiences, culture, view of truth, understandings of ideas, and background.  This is how I could come up with a completely different interpretation than my pastor friend, viewing it as an American from the deep-south while he had been pasturing in Melbourne for more than ten years.

For instance take the command of Christ to reach the lost and baptize them into the local Church[2].  This verse led me to envision a Church of two-hundred people or more in Melbourne since ones of this size are quite common in the southern US.  My friend interpreted it with the Aussie culture where most Churches are below fifty people while serving the Lord faithfully and any with one-hundred members would be considered extremely large.  This of course doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to build the Church and bring in new members but culture affected our interpretation.

There isn’t a serious problem with different interpretations if they come from a proper source.  When culture (how big a Church should be) affected the way I interpreted the Great Commission it reads into Scripture or adds my own meaning.  When my background, opinion, or experience answers the question “what does this verse mean?” it creates a serious problem since God promises to judge those who add to his Word.

Most of us just allow our minds to automatically interpret what Bible passages mean without actually stopping to ask where that interpretation came from.  While this doesn’t always bring disastrous results it will blind us to the Truth God is trying to share through the Holy Spirit.  And in many cases adding to Scripture does affect our relationship with the Lord, and His Word by focusing on our own wisdom.  How do these forms of interpretation work?  Check back soon to find out.

Because of Who He is,

John Wilburn


[1] How to read the Bible for all its worth, Gordon Fee, chapter one

[2] Matthew 28:18-20

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John Wilburn

Missionary Living, Explaining, and Proclaiming the Gospel in the Suburbs of Melbourne Australia

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