In every generation since the Bible was written, there has been a temptation to interpret Scripture in the context of the present world in which readers are living. But is this even a valid way the Bible should be interpreted?
The Bible is a collection of 66 books that were written over two thousand years ago. There are many schools of thought when it comes to how we should interpret these works.
Some people think we need to put them in the context of our modern world, while others argue that it’s the essence of the message we should focus on. Those opposed to Christianity think of Scripture as myths that were created to enforce morality and rules upon society. Within religious circles, there are some that continually adjust the canons of their denomination to fit modern society, deeming some biblical “rules” as outdated or no longer applicable, despite what Scripture says.
In this article, we are going to explore different ways of interpreting the Bible. We are going to ask whether it makes sense to interpret the Bible in the context of our modern world view–meaning, whether the Bible and religion should be adapted to fit the way the world works now–or whether its interpretation should consider the context in which it was written.
There are a few different ways of interpreting the Bible.
According to one Bible teacher, Dr. Mark Strauss, who teaches a course on Bible translations, “there are two basic approaches, or philosophies, to translation.”
Formal equivalence translation of the Bible
The first form of translation is called formal equivalence, which is a word-for-word or literal translation.
However, keep in mind that Dr. Strauss is not referring to literal translations of our modern Bibles such as the New International Version or the English Standard Version, or even going back to the older King James Version. Dr. Strauss is referring to the original texts as they were written by the Bible’s authors.
“With formal equivalence, the goal is to follow the form of the original text—the Greek or Hebrew text—as closely as possible,” Strauss says.
Functional equivalence translation
The second form of translating the Bible is called functional equivalence, also previously known as dynamic equivalence or idiomatic translation. The approach of functional equivalence is to focus on capturing the essential meaning of the text, rather than interpreting the text too literally.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
– Romans 15:4
Renowned author, Bible and Old Testament scholar Dr. Michael Heiser strongly advocates that that Scripture should be examined in the context of the biblical writers. Heiser argues that we too often put emphasis on the insights of our Christian forefathers, (we presume Heiser is referring to the Christian leaders who formed our current Christian religion denominations and their interpretations of Scripture), rather than on the worldview of the authors of the Bible itself.
“Let the Bible be what it is”
Dr. Heiser asserts that the best rule-of-thumb for biblical interpretation is to “let the Bible be what it is.”
“The right contexts for interpreting the Bible are those in which the Bible was written,” Heiser insists. “You can’t let the Bible be what it is if you’re filtering it through a set of experiences and ideas (a ‘cognitive framework’) that would have been incomprehensible to the biblical writers.”
“The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”
– Psalm 119:160
One thing we see for certain in many denominations is a change in the rules of particular churches, often referred to as Canon, Canon Law, Code of Canon law.
One of the most famous of these is known as Vatican II, which occurred between 1962 in 1965, when major cultural changes led the Catholic Church to make doctrinal changes. Many traditional Catholics objected to these changes.
Granted, while many of the adaptations are of a religious and not necessarily of a scriptural nature, nonetheless, it does involve how Scripture is interpreted and, therefore, how it is adapted to fit modern society. Traditionalists object by taking the position that God’s word does not change and no adaptation is necessary.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
– Hebrews 13:8
however, advocates for changes within the church today argue that it is losing members because it is not adapting to society, NPR reports.