Is there a way to know with reasonable certainty what the Bible actually says and means? Yes! It is discovering original intent. This is the key to taking the guesswork out of interpreting the Bible.
If that is of interest to you, I want to share with you why the Bible should and must be interpreted according to its original intent and how that is to be searched out (in Part 2) in order to arrive at a conclusion of fact – correct Biblical interpretation.
Today, I want to discuss the meaning of, and barriers to, discovering original intent.
Why is Original Intent Important?
This subject matter is of critical importance for the following reasons:
- If the Bible is, in fact, “God breathed” in the original autographs and is a reliable and trustworthy record of God’s revelation, then correctly discerning what it says and means is of the highest pursuit and priority. Even in the modern English translations, I have proven to myself that there is substantial evidence to find out what the Bible says and means.
- There has been, up to the present day, no lack of conflicting opinions and theories in respect to biblical conclusions, resulting in thousands of denominational and non-denominational churches. This only creates confusion. Who is right?
- Generally, the Bible has been misunderstood and misconstrued, creating a false worldview and resulting in the manifestation of moral and cultural deterioration and lawlessness.
- Unless we recover what the Bible says and means according to its original intent, we cannot act with knowledge, understanding and wisdom to implement the remedies in order to transform our communities and nations.
- In the matter of personal integrity, every man who considers it his obligation and responsibility to search out the correct interpretation of the Bible can be equipped to do so.
Meaning of Original Intent
The Bible is a historical document. The history spans at least 6,000 years and is the record of that history in respect to what God has said and what He has done. Therefore, the Bible must be read and understood as an historical document.
As a record of history, the Bible is most accurately understood in its original historical context. What was the language used and how were words used and defined in that time period? How should the Bible be understood from the beginning and throughout its recorded history?
In other words, what was the original intent or the original interpretation or meaning of the Bible in the time in which it was recorded?
If, by the preponderance of biblical evidence of the language used and the meaning and usage of words in that particular historical context, one can with a high degree of certainty understand the original intent, the correct interpretation can be made.
Original intent asks, What did the speaker (such as Jesus Christ) or writer (such as the Apostle Paul) reasonably mean to communicate and what did their original audience reasonably understand the speaker or writer to say?
Original intent searches for a fixed and determined meaning from the raw data of the biblical text taken together in its whole context.
Original intent seeks to, with ruthless objectivity, gather the raw data primarily from the Bible itself and then from secondary references such as time-tested lexicons, dictionaries and other sources to help with word meanings and usage and other information about historical context.
Barriers to Original Intent
Confusion and disagreement about what the Bible says and means abounds creating disunity within the “Christian” religion. The Catholic church says they are right. Because they claim to be the original Christian church, therefore, only their doctrine is correct even if it can’t be verified by the Bible. The Protestants insist they are right even though they are fractured into hundreds of denominations and thousands of different non-denominational churches. Of course, there will always be disagreements on minor points of theology which requires ongoing study and discussion.
But the larger, more significant doctrines are also much debated, although some unity exists. But the point here is that varying and conflicting opinions about correct interpretations of the Bible exist for many reasons. For example, objectivity is lost because of preconditioning. We have been preconditioned to interpret the Bible with a prior prejudiced viewpoint. We start with certain assumptions. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing we do, but we are persuaded, for whatever reason, to see the Bible through distorted glasses.
There are a variety of reasons for this. One could be social pressure to conform to what is an acceptable conclusion. We might feel it’s too much to risk sacrificing relationships or family and friends. Our choice is to conform or be rejected.
Another reason for tainting our objectivity in correctly interpreting the Bible is theological or church tradition. A sacredly-held historical tradition or a popular preconceived theological system tends to erect an almost impenetrable barrier to an objective reading and study of the written Word of God.
Here are some other barriers:
- Political expediency: willing to sacrifice certain hard, but discernible truths in order to smooth the way for political gain (even if it may be good);
- Cultural pressure: willing to not pursue finding out what the Bible says in order to conform to modern fashionable ideas; and
- Economic concerns: fear and trust in God and His revealed Word may be set aside for personal and job security.
Some engage in fanciful speculation based on subjective feelings by seeking out an “inner light.” The Bible says and means what anyone thinks it means. For example, how often have you heard the question, What does this passage mean to you? The result? Pure conjecture and many inaccurate and conflicting opinions and conclusions.
Whatever the barrier is to finding the correct interpretation, each person must be consciously aware and honest about it. No one approaches a study of the Bible without some taint of preconditioning or other influences.
But a deliberate awareness of that will help keep it in check and keep the process of discovering what the Bible says and means as pure as possible. Remember, we want to find the original intent. But how do we start?
That will be addressed in Part 2. See you then!
Lawrence Blanchard, ND, MDiv
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