Lessons on accurate Interpretation

We live in the age of a staggering information overload: Currently, there are a total of 1.86-billion websites on the internet, over two-billion YouTube Channels, 2.85-billion active Facebook users, and two-billion people sending information to the most popular communication platform Whatsapp. In addition, the number of mobile devices operating worldwide is expected to reach 17.72-billion by 2024. So the question is: is all this information TRUE and Wholesome?

Particularly recently, deciding whether one should be vaccinated or not. Did the Corona Virus COVID 19 leak from a lab in Wuhan or naturally hop from bats? Another battle people struggle with is whether they should stay in SA or not?  With the coming elections, how to vote for the right party? Is the earth flat? Did man ever land on the moon? Most importantly, we need to be alert of the Mainstream Social Justice movement’s opposition against fundamental Christian values. Getting involved in some of these debates can become emotionally heated, a first sign that people have already swayed from a non-bias, investigative path.

The BIBLE our SOURCE for accurate interpretation.

Interpretation has quite a broad scope of use: dancers interpret music and words through movement, we interpret dreams and visions, the interpretation of the law, bookkeepers interpret financial statements, to name a few.

It is impossible to restrict and contain people’s inert interpretation of life. Yet all interpretation requires a source-code, an instruction manual, laws, an ancient holy text, a distinct worldview, a specific upbringing culture and traditions. For example, bookkeepers have to have the source document to give an accurate account of the financial status of an enterprise.  Dancers need a particular song to interpret using a certain style of choreography.

Followers of Christ interpret LIFE, TIME or relevant World FACTS primarily from our knowledge of God first, as revealed through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the general assembly and church of the firstborn. (Heb 12:22-24)   

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for 3instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Despite the truth of God’s Word, it is unfortunate how man’s misinterpretation of the scriptures misconstrued and distorted it’s divine intent. The church’s shame is not Who we believe in but our misrepresentation of His will and desire.

JOIN THE MBTC Class on BIBLE Interpretation TERM 3.

The danger of wrong interpretation

Most wars are maintained by misinformation and propaganda, forming groups by outward identifiable differences, then alienating them from another by creating an evil ‘face’ that people are willing to kill. Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies stand in direct contrast, so powerful yet extremely difficult. Generally we see the enemy win the battle by creating a distance.  The alternative opposite path is to break through the walls of seperation, segregation and distance through face-to-face contact and meaningful dialogue. 

Phillip Zimbardo proved with the Stanford Prison Experiment how nine normal middle-class college boys could turn evil in just eight days. The process involves the following: Dehumanization, deindividuation, absolute obedience to authority, passivity in the face of threats, self-justification, and rationalization.

Dehumanization is like a cortical cataract that clouds one’s thinking and fosters the perception that other people are less than human. It makes some people believe that their perceived enemies deserve torment, torture, and annihilation.”[2] One of the war techniques is to paint faces so that the warriors become unrecognizable and intimidate their enemies, and thus more prone to act contrary to their conscience.

Lessons from other sources are helpful for accurate interpretation.

In addition, we can draw lessons from the above mentioned shortlist of interpretive practises to gain insight and deepen our understanding, for instance: wine tasting.

Primary things to remember:

  • Slow down
  • Pay attention 
  • Irradicate conflicting smells in the vicinity.
  • Build smell vocabulary practise labelling all fragrances 

We all need to slow down before jumping to conclusions. Learn to pay more attention and ask engaging questions. Focus and eliminate distractions. Improve our vocabulary of discerning categories and the true meaning of words through study and experience (Heb. 5:13-14).

Make a point of getting direct feedback.

Equally crucial for survival is direct feedback.  Like a racing driver feeling the understeer on the steering wheel going through a corner, we need accurate feedback to make the right decisions. Unfortunately, too many options complicate matters and lead to procrastination, frustration or forced decisions.  

It is alarmingly sad how many believers have heard the right word or instruction, but the interpretation was way off! I must confess my mistakes in my own life and ministry were not because I did not hear correctly; my interpretation was limited, and I jumped to misinformed conclusions.  Assumptions exist because of distance. No communication leads to more presumptions. We often leave God’s face/presence too soon and run into making our own decisions without further consultation with God!

Interpret Scripture as communication between God and man.

God’s Word is not a compilation of abstract literary words and sentences. The Bible is God’s way of communicating with us.  Like any good listener, it is harmful and disrespectful to cherry-pick parts that resonate with our point and then quote it as if this is God speaking.  Because we talk more than listen, with an increasingly shorter attention span of eight-seconds[3], we are disposed to misinterpret Scripture, God’s voice, and another.  Correct interpretation begins with becoming an exceptional listener.  

Natural science and widely read academic papers are just more than a hundred years old. For thousands of years, ancients used narratives or stories to navigate life’s complexities and find the best practices. The stories of Abraham, Moses, David and Daniel, their triumphs and their mistakes are like guiding lights in the darkness. The primary interpretive lesson to be learned is; look at a life lived! Jesus is in this aspect our ultimate example! The Word became flesh and showed us the best way to do life!

We basically stay in this mess because of too few meaningful relationships with the right people, at the right time. Theories and philosophies can become harmful because they are formulated in minds and classrooms without the appropriate, relevant relationships on the ground level.

Interpretation requires a thorough investigation.

Journalists rigorously research source verification and fact-checking before they publish a story.

Bible interpreters study the context, background, ancient narratives and audience, text category, language, culture, and intention of a portion of Scripture before making a current application of use and preaching about it.[4]

Academics review existing conflicting and complementary research literature and provide research methodology (experiments, surveys, questionnaires, interviews, case studies, observational trials) to determine feasible and practical outcomes. 

Interpreting God’s Voice entails: testing whether the word is in line with the Spirit of Christ; general acceptance among a mature multitude of counsellors; the conviction of sin righteousness and judgement; the producing inner peace. It is specific, practical, is a conviction, ensures a generational blessing, is at the detriment to self, and is always missional. 

We are more wrong than right – remain in HIM.

One who is perfect in knowledge is with you. Job 36:4 

What makes us think we can hear a person speak for five-minutes, and we already make a judgement whether this person is good or bad? Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Talking to strangers” explains in his typically digressive exploration of the wrong assumptions we make when dealing with strangers.[5] He lists as an example how the best CIA espionage operatives find it very difficult to tell when people are lying. 

When it comes to fake news, even more, alarming is that older adults engage with and share false political information on social media than any other age group. [6]

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, (James 1:5)

Test the fruit – the outcome and the motive. 

Be aware of thinking carnally. Here is a list of bad fruit and outcomes:

  • Cognitive dissonance 
  • Blaming, resentful, reactive 
  • Creating suspicion 
  • Guessing assumptions 
  • Worry, fear, anxiety 
  • Projecting guilt, favoritism, bias.  
  • Shame, guilt, condemnation – of other parties
  • Futile – no practical confrontation and outcome
  • Cause & Effect thinking – Job 
  • Carnal, miss-out on short term benefits 

Rigorously test the outcome:

  • If I need to execute this thought?
  • What will be the implications? 
  • Is the Lord going to be glorified? (1 Cor 10:31)
  • Is it going to break down or build? (1 Cor 14:26)
  • Is that going to change anything?
  • Is it do-able? James 1:22 (Doers of the Word) 
  • What’s the end?
  • What is the fruit?
  • What is the outcome 3 – 7 generations from now? 
  • Does it release faith or fear?
  • Is it Scriptural?
  • Is it compatible with the fruit of the Holy Spirit? 
  • Overthinking, analyzing the thought is perfected in the doing, not the thinking.  

The spirit of CHRIST litmus test 

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this, cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all. John 18:33-38 

All self-determination is founded in the works of the flesh.

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
My life is hidden in Him. (Col 3:2).
My purpose is in Him (Rom 8:29).
My life is in Him (Mat 16:24).

A life centred on ‘self’ leads to struggle.  Either we are doing too much or too little, trying, striving, and fighting to be better, yet dreadfully failing, over and over, again and again! We never seem to get it right, seeking comfort and peace, accomplishment and meaning in all the wrong places to end up empty again at the end.

When we are the most like Him, we become the ideal spouse, parent, employer, and employee. When we live through His wisdom, life began to have meaning and purpose. He is the solution to every problem. His life will save you!

Truth test: 

  • Truth must bring the individual to inner peace, rest, and an acceptable resolution. It must conclude and resolve the quest. 
  • The truth is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: Truth is the self-expression of God.
  • Truth is coherent.  For coherence theories in general, truth requires a proper fit of elements within an entire system.
  • Truth is consistently sustainable and rigid throughout time and history. It’s opposite to relativism, changeable, unpredictable fluidness. 
  • Truth can’t just be theory or philosophy. It needs to be tested practically in a particular life, place, time, and proven lifestyle. 
  • Truth must be both simple but also complex. Life is bitterly complicated, so truth should answer this complexity and give it good direction to simple, doable action.  
  • Truth is a paradox. Impartial, self-sufficient, indisputable, indefensible. The strongest magnet changes the weaker magnet’s polarity. 
  • Truth should be universal, similarity and comparisons in other sciences. 

You’re welcome to study the sermon/blog on the DANGER of being led by your emotions.

[1] The Amplified Bible, (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1987), 2 Ti 3:16–17.

[2] Philip G. Zimbardo. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

[3] Social media: the impact on spiritual formation among generation Z freshman college students.

[4] So opening the Bible can be likened to entering into a communicative event. Or, to put it metaphorically, Scripture begins a conversation that is interpersonal and potentially life changing, because it is God who initiates the dialogue.” Jeanine Brown,  2021. Scripture as communication. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics. Baker Book House.

[5] Gladwell, Malcolm, 2021. Talking to strangers. Back Bay Books. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Services LLC
Learn more: 

[6] Guess, A. M., Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2020). Exposure to untrustworthy websites in the 2016 US election. Nature Human Behaviour, 4(5), 472-480.