Can't You Make the Bible Say Whatever You Want It to Say?
Can't you make the Bible say whatever you want it to say? Well, it's not quite that easy. What would you do in this particular situation? Let's say you have $1,000 in the bank. One day you go to the bank to withdraw all the money you have. The teller doesn't give you all your money. Instead, he changes the account balance to say what he wants it to say. The teller replies: “Your savings account book states you have one thousand dollars. However, I decided that amount really means ten dollars. You only have the amount that I determine. The bank will give you ten dollars.” Wouldn't you demand to talk to the manager? You should be getting all of the money in that account. This story shows there are common rules of interpretation which everyone must follow. These same principles apply to any written language. People can't change the meaning of words just to make them mean whatever they wish. Words keep the same definitions their author gave to them. They cannot be assigned new meanings by someone else. Imagine if we could change the meaning of things whenever we desired. Wouldn't it be nice to make our favorite ball team be the winner, even if the score showed they lost? We might even be able to convince that nice police officer about the sign we just passed. “Sir, I know the speed limit sign says 45, but it really means 60!” We also recognize that figures of speech brighten up our language. The Bible makes good use of them, too. Figures of speech turn ordinary facts into something more interesting. Suppose someone says to you: “My friend acts like Mickey Mouse at work.” The obvious meaning is the friend was goofing off and was not as busy like he should have been. This statement about Mickey Mouse does not mean the co-worker has a long nose and tail, and wears mouse ears. Common sense tells you that. Captivating phrases like this makes a statement more exciting. The standard rule of interpretation has been summarized: “If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense or else it results in nonsense.” The Bible interpreter should understand what the author has written, not what the reader wants it to say. So, we really can't make the Bible say whatever we want. It is necessary to take the normal, ordinary, common sense meaning. Figures of speech show truth as well, but in a more picturesque way. We can identify the truth they portray also. The common sense meaning applies to bank accounts, the sports page, and speed limits. Since it is such an important book, shouldn't we be all the more careful to let the Bible speak for itself? With that in mind, we might want to avoid saying: “That's what it means to me.” Instead, let's go the extra mile with the Holy Book and understand: “That's what it means to the Author.”
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55:11
James Utter 11/2012
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