No Interpretation Needed?

Are you skeptical about biblical interpretation?  Does it seem that someone can just “make it say anything?”  Are you one of those who would prefer to just “read it for what it says”?


You’re not alone.  Many are intimidated by the vast amount of study some seem to think reading the Bible requires.  Can’t I just take the “plain sense” of a text and arrive at what God is trying to say to me?


See? It clearly says right here...

When someone encounters an interpretation of the Bible she doesn’t like, she may respond with, “Well that’s just your interpretation.  My Bible says this instead…”


After all, much easier to dismiss someone’s interpretation (which involves a bit of their own thinking), than to actually dismiss a passage of the Bible itself.  So perhaps we are better off trying to rest on the “Bible” instead of an “interpretation.”



As Merold Westphal puts it:


“Common sense . . .  claims to “just see” its objects, free of bias, prejudice, and presuppositions (at least sometimes).  We can call this “just seeing” intuition.  When [this] view of knowledge and understanding is applied to the Bible, it becomes the claim that we can “just see” what the text means, that intution can and should be all we need.  In other words, “no interpretation needed.”  The object, in this case the meaning of the text, presents itself clearly and directly to my reading.  To interpret would be to interject some subjective bias or prejudice (pre-judgment) into the process.  Thus the response, “Well, that might be your interpretation, but my Bible clearly says…”  In other words, “You interpret (and thereby misunderstand), but I intuit, seeing directly, clearly, and without distortion.”




Westphal refers to an ad for a new translation of the Bible billed as so accurate and so clear that the publishers could announce: “NO INTERPRETATION NEEDED.”  The ad promotes the “revolutionary translation that allows you to understand exactly what the original writers meant.”  (Unfortunately he doesn’t mention which Bible made this claim).


The “no interpretation needed” approach says that interpretation is accidental and unfortunate, that it can and should be avoided whenever possible.


What do you think?  Is interpretation unnecessary?


2 thoughts on “No Interpretation Needed?

  1. I’m kind of a professional Bible interpreter – the kind of person who helps people understand the Bible – so I’ll admit to being a bit biased. I believe that all Christians try to make sense of the Bible, which implies that we all interpret the Bible to some degree in order to have what it says make sense in the world we live in today. The push against interpretation is more against bad interpretation – and bad interpretation is something professional scholars can do as well as lay people! One of the best ways I’ve learned to limit bad interpretation is the question “and can you show me where exactly it says that in the Biblical text?” Checking with good Christians who are obviously living a faith never hurts either.


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