We All Misinterpret the Bible

Ironically, though not surprisingly, almost every negative response to my post on Why I Still Stand as an Evangelical for Gay Marriage, told me that gay sex is a sin. By the way, it’s ironic because my very first argument was that I support gay marriage even if gay sex is a sin.

But it’s not surprising because one of the most disturbing things I see in my tradition is the unwillingness to see the difference between the Bible itself and one’s interpretation of the Bible. Despite condescending remarks to the contrary, there are not those who just “read what’s plainly there” and those who “distort the Bible by interpretation.” We all interpret, that’s all we can do with text. None of us “just see it as it is.”

If you do not accept this frustrating fact then you will guard your own personal interpretation of the Bible with the same ferociousness and defensiveness that you would defend the Bible itself. It is the unquestioned obedience to the obvious that has led to some of the most horrific human abuses in our history. The reality is that we all misinterpret Scripture in many ways. And, of course, we also interpret it correctly in many ways. And that’s the journey of the Christian faith, to constantly be learning and revising, finding out where we may have gotten it right and where we have gotten it wrong.

But to begin the journey we must give up our fear and our strong need for certainty. There are many paths of life that can be lived out with certainty and with fear, but the Christian faith doesn’t seem to be one of them. We are told that perfect love casts our fear and that faith is risky, not knowing what lies ahead, but only knowing the One who goes before us.

And as someone who is trying (and believe me, trying is the best word for it) to live a life of faith, I do not put my trust in my own interpretation of Scripture. I will defend my views and I will always be in healthly dialogue and debate about the Scriptures. They are, to me, God’s Word, that which God wanted the people of God to possess in this life to understand and follow after Jesus. But I do not put my faith in my own ability to understand that Word correctly. The Bible is simply too important to do so. I put my faith in Christ alone, trusting in the Spirit of God to guide the Church through the Scriptures and through the Community of Faith into all truth.

If we are going to have unity in the Church we have to be secure enough in our own relationship with Christ that other readings of the Bible do not cause us to retreat into accusations that others “misread the Bible to justify sin” (though some might, even you) or that others “have bought into the compromising of this world.” Perhaps God has put new ways of seeing the Bible in our path to challenge what we thought we always knew about the Word of God. Or maybe those of us who do read it differently really are an agent of Satan. But that’s for all of us to discern together in our wrestling with each other and the text, as I trust that you truly have a heart that wants to follow Christ. And hopefully, as you do the same.

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4 responses to “We All Misinterpret the Bible

  1. Your emphasis on growing and maturing in faith is particularly poignant in reference to sexual issues and attitudes. If homosexuals marry, at the least there is an intention of acceptance and commitment to one another. I believe that this is a context within which God can be included and His salvation received. (There are passages in the Bible in which God calls homosexuality and promiscuous heterosexual behavior an abomination. Christ says we commit adultery if we look at another with lustful thoughts. Both imply that unfaithful behavior, particularly sexual with its powerful bonding, is what God deplores.)

  2. Jared, I really appreciate your post. It takes humility to recognize we don’t have all the answers and that our current understanding might be wrong.

    I think the reason evangelical Christians are widely despised is because it’s easy to forget this. It’s easy to forget that our own interpretations are not the same thing as the Word itself.

    I honestly have difficulty crediting the motives of Christians who insist on withholding civil rights from gay people. There are thousands of gay couples in this country who have made loving committments of life-long monogamy and support. They have taken on the burdens, obligations, and joys of heterosexual marriages recognized by our civil governments. The issue is whether they should have the same rights and legal benefits.

    I recognize that there may be valid reasons on both sides of this issue. But so-called Christians who self-righteously proclaim that the Bible is “clear” about the issue simply are not being honest. I have yet to see a passage in scripture discussing whether gay couples in committed life-long relationships should be denied the legal benefits of civil marriage. The parameters of “Biblical marriage” within the Church isn’t the issue. I strongly suspect that people who insist the Bible clearly prohibits civil governments from extending recognition to gay couples are really using this argument as a pretext for hatred and bigotry. As a Christian that makes me very sad.

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