That’s Just YOUR Interpretation! Really?
by Kathy Keller
As a new Christian, my Uncle Bart was my nemesis. While other members of my family received the news that I was now a Christian with varying levels of bemusement or offense (my mother: “You were born in America; of course you’re a Christian!!”), my uncle delighted in skewering me whenever he could. His favorite riposte, saved for when I had referred to something in the Bible was “That’s just YOUR interpretation!”
At the age of something-teen, one lacks the self-assurance to say “Well, duh—it just came out of my mouth, so of course its my interpretation,” especially to an adult in whose pool one swam every summer. Plus, he had me, hermeneutically. It is true that no individual has the right to declare that he or she has found the true interpretation of a Biblical text, and that all the church has said about it over the centuries is wrong. It is also true that no individual should think that we can interpret the Bible anyway we like. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church says we may not “so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” I didn’t have enough information to counter his accusation that I might be interpreting the Bible idiosyncratically, and not in line with the historic teaching of the church.
However, my uncle’s real point was that there was no “right” interpretation of any part of the Bible. We are awash in a sea of subjectivism. No one has any more right to say this understanding of the Bible is more proper than that. Basically, you could get out of the Bible whatever you wanted. Little did I know that my working-class uncle in the 1960s was anticipating the rise of post-structuralism in universities, and the deep mistrust of all language and texts. No one can be sure, they said, of what anything means. We just have to live with infinite interpretations, none of which can claim to be the true one…
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