All of life has those things which look solid from afar, but when approached are nothing more than mist and air. There are always some apples which appear good, and turn out rotten the moment you slice into them; there are also apples that appear good and are good, even though the two may look identical at first. Biblical interpretation has a quality to it that works something like this.
From the Clear to the Unclear
A good method to remember in traditional biblical interpretation, or hermeneutics, is that we should seek to let the clear passages of Scripture help explain the unclear passages to us. I have heard the clear passages likened to the cream on the top of the milk; it’s hard to miss the good, clear, biblical directives. When making interpretive decisions on the difficult passages, we ought to compare our interpretation with the clear passages. We ought not make angels preach a false gospel, so to speak.
The Mist and Air
The good method is applying the clear texts to the unclear, and interpreting them by it, but now we have to take note of the bad method. This one can sneak up on you, and all of us are often guilty of mistreating Scripture in this way. The bad method is when you apply your personal theological system to the text, and interpret the Bible on those grounds, even if the interpretation given by your system is in direct conflict with another clear teaching of Scripture. I came across a recent example of this in Renald Showers’ book, There Really is a Difference. Showers writes, “The tearing of the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem when Christ died indicated that the Law was terminated at that time.” The clear problem with this interpretation is that it 1) does not say this in Matthew 27, and 2) Jesus just finished saying in Matthew 5:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
Jesus says very clearly that He did not come to abolish the Law. He says it twice. How then can Showers say that, upon the death of Christ the Law was “terminated”? By applying a bad method of hermeneutics. We need, often times, to leave our preconceived systems at the Table of Contents.