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“"That's Just Your Interpretation"”

Sometimes when discussing a disagreement about what a Scripture teaches, we may hear the response, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” This may be said in an attempt to backpedal a previous statement, devalue another’s point or even end the discussion. Though this is a difficult barrier to overcome in a Bible study, disciples must try to build a bridge of understanding as we work toward unity (Jn. 17; 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:1-6). Here are a few principles to keep in mind if you are ever met with the common response, “That’s just your interpretation.”

First, try asking, “What’s your interpretation of the passage?” This is what the Lord Himself did (Lk. 10:26). To interpret something is to explain its meaning. It’s only fair to honestly hear out another’s explanation. It could be that their interpretation was correct all along! Listening to someone else’s understanding of a passage demonstrates the virtues of integrity, fairness, humility and open-mindedness, all vital qualities of the honest truth-seeker (Prov. 18:12-13). A great example of this wisdom playing out in real life is found in Acts 18:24-28 when Priscilla and Aquilla gently and privately taught an honest preacher “the way of God more accurately.”

Then you might ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” For an interpretation to be valid or at least believable, one must provide some evidence for its validity. In math class, the teacher called this ‘showing your work’. This is an important tool for Biblical exegesis and Christian apologetics (Acts 17:11; 1 Pet. 3:15). By providing evidence for your beliefs you are being reasonable (Phil. 2:5) and persuasive, practices common to Paul’s method of evangelism (Acts 18:4). For faith to take shape through studying God’s word one must be convicted of its truth (Heb. 11:1).

Finally, it is critical to note that “There is a correct interpretation,” otherwise every interpretation would be equally valid. The common belief that one view is just as good as another is called pluralism. Another extreme is to be so skeptical of every interpretation so as to believe that truth is unattainable. This belief is born out of postmodernism. But Jesus said all will be held accountable to the words that He spoke (Jn. 12:48). If His words cannot be understood then there is no hope for any of us!

The denial of the existence of absolute truth is becoming more commonplace but is no less philosophically inconsistent. The claim “there is no truth” is a self-defeating argument because the statement “there is no truth” is an absolute truth claim. If it is true that there is no truth then the statement “there is no truth” cannot be true! Thank God His word can be read and understood (Eph. 3:4; 4:12-13; 5:17). Working towards a correct interpretation of Scripture is an important part of developing our faith but is also an indispensable tool for explaining the gospel to unbelievers and working toward unity among disagreeing brethren.

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