D.A. Carson on Interpreting Scripture

D.A. The Heart and Mind

For a limited time, get James: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary for free when you subscribe to Bible Study Magazine!

The September-October issue of Bible Study Magazine features D.A. Carson, one of the most respected New Testament scholars in the world. He touches on important topics like training pastors, making disciples, healthy prayer life, and interpreting Scripture.

With your time in the Word comes your interpretation of its meanings. The basis of theology is Scripture interpretation, and as Carson says below, “We sometimes read the Bible to answer our own questions. We all come with a matrix of presuppositions, so it’s relatively easy to misinterpret Scripture.” This makes the way in which we approach Scripture incredibly important. In this excerpt from the latest issue of BSM, Carson discusses the importance of correct biblical interpretation.

In 1996, Carson published Exegetical Fallacies, a book dedicated to uncovering common interpretation errors. The book has become popular in biblical studies courses and with pastors. Speaking about the importance of correct biblical interpretation, Carson says, “We are finite and limited in our understanding. Worse, we’re sinful, and we sometimes make mistakes to justify our own biases. We sometimes read the Bible to answer our own questions. We all come with a matrix of presuppositions, so it’s relatively easy to misinterpret Scripture.”

The big picture of the Bible is straightforward. The trouble is, it’s a big book, written in several languages, with different layers and subtleties. It has different genres and literary forms. It’s easy for Bible readers—from young, immature readers to the greatest scholars—to have blind spots and be wrong. But if the Bible really is the Word of God, then there is nothing more important than handling it well. If the authority we Christians ascribe to the Bible is vested in a misinterpretation of what Scripture says, then we’re assigning the weight of biblical authority to our own opinions, which could be extremely damaging. Good biblical interpretation is bound up in the importance of hearing the voice of God and letting him set the agenda, rather than dictating our biases to God.”

Of course, even careful, devout reading of Scripture can lead to two interpretations. “At that point, we don’t simply ask which interpretation we prefer, but ‘Are they both mandated in the biblical text?’ If so, then these two differing interpretations must complement each other in some way.”

“Although it is true that the Bible rejoices in certain kinds of diversity—for example, around the throne on the last day there will be men and women from every town and tribe and nation—yet we mustn’t forget the importance of unity. Ten times in the little book of Philippians, Paul tells people to think the same thing. You don’t build church unity by ignoring differences, but by doing the hard work of bringing things back to the test of Scripture over and over again.”

“Some parts of Scripture can be pretty straightforward in terms of what they mean, yet complex in terms of the various ways in which they might be applied. A proverb tends to fall into that category. It can be worked out in quite a variety of different contexts. In that case, it’s not so much a matter of different interpretations as of different applications. The best applications are those that are heavily, carefully grounded in the Bible’s whole storyline.”

* * *

Get the full interview (and much more!) when you subscribe to Bible Study Magazine. Plus, right now you’ll also get EEC: James—normally $33—for free. Get it today!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *