“"That's Just Your Interpretation"”
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Sometimes when discussing a disagreement about what a Scripture says or what it teaches, we may hear the response, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” This response may be 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 best we can for our Lord is deeply concerned with the unity of His people (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.”
Try asking, “What’s your interpretation of this 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!
Hearing out another’s interpretation demonstrates the virtues of integrity, fairness, humility and open-mindedness, 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 Bible study as well (Acts 17:11). This practice of defending your view is called apologetics and must be in every Christian’s toolbox (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 “There is a correct interpretation.” Every text must have a correct interpretation otherwise every interpretation would be equally valid. This common belief is called pluralism. Another extreme is to be so skeptical of every interpretation to believe that truth is unattainable. This false belief is born from postmodernism.
Jesus said all will be held accountable for 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 no less philosophically inconsistent.
The claim “there is no truth” is a self-defeating argument for the statement 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 this is not the case! Thank God His word can be read and understood (Eph. 3:4; 4:12-13; 5:17) and if humbly received, can set us free (Jn. 8:32).
Working towards a correct interpretation of Scripture is an important part of our developing faith and maturity but it also is an indispensable tool for evangelism and working towards unity among disagreeing brethren.