A very warm welcome to my first article on Karpophoreo.com!
I decided to launch things by writing about what is the foundation of everything on this website – interpretation. Why interpretation you might ask? Well, interpretation is the process by which we discern meaning. Out of this comes the fruit we all bear in life – whether good or bad. Consequently interpretation is central to all our lives.
It is one of those mysteries of life, and I include myself in this, how we sometimes choose to interpret the Bible. I use the term ‘choose’ quite loosely as, more often than not, we are not really aware that we have even made a choice. At such times it is simply the case that we operate from an unthought-out default position when approaching the text. We assume the manner we naturally read and understand a passage is identical to that of the original audience and author. More often than not, our assumption is simply not true.
How we approach interpretation is influenced by who we are, and what we individually know. Importantly, it is also shaped by what we do NOT know, and by who we are NOT.
Separation and distance
Does it occur to us that thousands of years of time separate us from the situation of the original audience? This separation is very important. Equally important is the distance in geography, culture, society, language, and a whole host of other factors. These separations and distances can lead us astray.
Frequently, we will hear, “but I just go by the plain reading/meaning of the text” when we are talking with someone who does not really grasp these issues. This is someone who is not aware of the presuppositions they are bringing to the text, and how they can unconsciously colour their reading and understanding.
We just assume that the words we use and read carry the same meaning two thousand years ago as they do today. Often they don’t. We assume the people who lived two thousand years ago thought about society, religion and life the same way we do today. It is often eye-opening when we discover the surprising differences. The result is that so many times we look at a text and we simply do not see what the text is really saying. The culprit could be the lens of a favourite theology we choose to look through. Or perhaps we have unknowingly adopted one or more of a whole host of logical fallacies. The result is a blinding to the original intended meaning.
Personally I find these type of questions fascinating. It thrills me when I learn something new that will help me to be a better interpreter. I also love to discuss and compare questions of interpretation with others of a similar mind. Having our interpretations and theologies challenged should not be something to be feared and avoided. It need not degenerate into a competition of ‘my prooftext trumps your prooftext’. Hopefully we can rise above that here at Karpophoreo.com.
Other areas that need interpretation
For Christians, biblical interpretation is not the only field of interpretation we should be interested in. The situations we face in life, and the world of relationships are also highly dependent on interpretation. How do we interpret different behaviours? Again, we can unconsciously assume our interpretation is accurate when the opposite might be the case. The way we respond, based on our chosen interpretation, can lead to good fruit or bad. The Bible has a lot to say concerning this area of interpretation that can help us greatly.
So many of us approach these things, our lives, unconsciously. We react purely by instinct and then cannot understand why things are the way they are. The trouble is, often reality has very little to do with what we assume it is – there is a disconnect. In the worst scenarios this can be the result of intentional deception and manipulation. This can be deliberately aimed at us with the intention of disrupting our interpretation of a situation.
This is how evil has always operated in this world, in all areas of life – doctrine, relationships and ethical behaviour.
‘Preparing the soil’ for good interpretation must include being aware of the need for good interpretation in all these areas. Only when we are conscious of this will we see the need to sharpen our interpretational skills. Hopefully we will then bear good fruit. As a result, in a very foundational sense we could say that life is interpretation.