Much is made of interpretation. When this author was a pastoral intern and he often heard the words, ‘that is according to your interpretation’ when he spoke on biblical passages and topics. People also say that everyone interprets when they hear something from another person. If that were true then all people are doing is not listening to the other person and applying their own ideas to the words of the speaker and refusing to hear the actual intent of the person speaking.
The Bible speaks on both truth and interpretation and it does not teach what many may think it teaches. When we did a word search in the Bible for the word ‘truth’ we got back 137 responses. When we did the same for the word ‘interpretation’ we received only 11. Those 11 did not instruct anyone to use interpretation when listening to the Bible or other people.
What we are going to do here is quote as many verses as we can to show that God’s people are not to use interpretation to redefine what scripture is saying or to use it to avoid hearing the truth as so many people do now-a-days.
The first topic we will look at will be the word ‘interpretation’.
To tell the correct explanation:
Ge 40:16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread.
Ge 40:22 but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation
Ge 41:12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream
We grouped these 3 verses together for they all speak on the same idea for the word ‘interpretation’. And we will look at only key words in those verses.
Here we see that the chief baker liked what Joseph said , even though the interpretation was for another man and so he hoped to receive a similar explanation for his dream. This is the word we need to use here for the word ‘interpretation’. What Joseph was doing was explaining exactly what the dreams meant or were saying to each man.
He did not make things up as he went so the men would like him and that is evidenced by the exact results he foretold. Joseph was not placing his own ideas upon the dreams but merely used his gift of explanation to relieve the puzzlement of his fellow prisoners.
In this verse is the recorded evidence that Joseph did not sin his own tale or place his own ideas upon God’s message to those men. The words ‘just as’ means there was no deviation from what Joseph explained. Everything went as Joseph ‘interpreted’.
Giving each man THE interpretation:
Now we capitalized the word ‘the’ to make sure everyone gets how the word ‘the’ is being used here. If the word ‘a’ was used, then we would know that Joseph made up whatever he wanted and told the men something he wanted the dreams to mean and did not tell them the truth. The word ‘a’ is used to generalize and not be specific but the word ‘the’ is not general and tells us that Joseph is being very specific about the meaning of the dreams. He is not making anything up but explaining the exact meaning of what the men dreamed.
We can see that the word ‘interpretation’ in this set of scriptures does not mean to spin other people’s words to what you want them to mean but to tell the exact truth of what they experienced and were puzzled by.
Correct interpretation leads to worship and the right purpose:
Jdg 7:15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands
As you can see, when Gideon received the interpretation he realized that he was told the truth and when that realization hit him, he went on to worship God for God has given good news and confirmed Gideon’s appointment to leading the Israelites against their oppressors.
Gideon did not doubt for he knew he had heard the truth and that victory was assured, which brings us to the last line. The truth helps motivate people to action. Any interpretation does not do this for someone will doubt the veracity of the interpreted words but with the truth, everyone will know it and they can draw strength from the interpreted words for those words spoke correctly and did not give someone’s subjective human ideas on what was meant by the dream.
Knowing & understanding the truth:
Da 2:30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed k to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind
Da 2:45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock-cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands, a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy
Da 4:24 This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king:
Da 7:16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the true meaning of all this. So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things
The correct use of interpretation does not bring confusion but ends it. Everyone who hears the right interpretation knows and understands what is going to happen, there is no doubt about what will take place in the near future.
Everyone understands and everyone must make a choice on how they will respond to the information given to them.
Interpretation is a gift
1Co 12:10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues
1Co 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church
The ability to correctly interpret comes from the Holy Spirit and is not a human ability. Its source is divine not earthly thus the use of interpretation is not to change what other people intend but to, as we have seen, bring the truth and understanding to all people involved.
The second verse there is not saying that a church member has their own ideas about what has been said but that an interpretation of what has been going on has been given to a church member so that the whole congregation can know exactly what God is saying to them.
The source of the interpretation is divine not someone’s subjective opinion on what has been going on. In other words, they are not providing commentary on the procession of events but explaining to all what has taken place.
Not human, not private but divine and open:
2Pe 1:20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.
2Pe 1:21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit
This is how we can determine if a leader is a false teacher or if cult leaders are speaking from God or not. Their words must be judged according to this criteria and if the words of religious leaders do not lead people to God, do not lead people to the truth, do not lead them to correct knowledge and understanding then their words are not of God.
We have other tests as well to help us determine if they are of God or not but this is a good starting point for most believers. The believer must double-check scripture and with God to see if what is being said is of divine origin or coming from evil
A church leader is not to give his own ideas about what scripture is saying but to seek the truth and be led by the Holy Spirit in their explanation of God’s word. A good example to identify the difference is if the speaker says ‘I think…’ or ‘I believe…’ or something similar. If they have the words of God they would be speaking with real authority and with real knowledge of the passage.
They will not be interpreting as the word ‘interpretation’ is used in our modern age but they will be delivering the truth and everyone will know it is the truth. They will not be giving their own spin of God’s word or being general in nature but stating exactly and specifically what God’s word means and bring everyone to the right understanding and the right message.
The word ‘interpretation’ according to the Bible means to seek, find and relate the truth. Interpreting does not fall under the category of what some people in the academic world have taught which goes like this: ‘what a verse means to you may be something different from what it means to someone else.’
No, real interpretation bring s people to the actual truth and that truth is the same for all people. God does not change his word to fit the lives of different people. His words apply to all people the same no matter what era or level of society/civilization they live in.
Real interpretation speaks the real truth.