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(c) Brandon Schaefer

I understand what people are getting at, I think, when they use the word “interpretation” to describe what we’re doing when we’re reading the Bible. We don’t want to be too rigid in what we think passages mean, we want to have the humility to be open to being wrong and changing our mind, we want to acknowledge that other people have different opinions on the meaning of different passages.

All that might be true and have a place, but that doesn’t mean that we’re interpreting the Bible. By saying that we all have different interpretations it sounds like we’re saying all those interpretations are equally valid, or that each is slightly distorting the original meaning – perhaps unconsciously – to suit their own agenda, or that there is no intended meaning and each is free to interpret as they see fit – which is probably a sub-set of the first option, really.

But none of those are true, and none of those reflects how the Bible thinks about itself, or more accurately how God thinks of his revelation. The Bible is itself an interpretation. We don’t interpret it, it is an interpretation. It’s God’s interpretation of the events that it describes.

So for example when Babylon attacks and captures the nation of Judah in the Old Testament, that movement on the national scale is interpreted by God as his specific act of judgement on his people in response to their sin in accordance with his promises in Deuteronomy.

Or take the phrase from 1 Corinthians 15:3 – “Christ died for our sins”. That phrase does not need to be interpreted. It is an interpretation.

People die daily. Thousands of people were crucified by the Romans. There were even two other guys crucified alongside Jesus the day he died. But the verse isn’t talking about them, totally ignores them. It focusses in on Jesus as the important death to mention.

And also notice it doesn’t refer to Jesus as Jesus. It refers to him as Christ, or Messiah. That’s not a name, that’s a title. And again there were hundreds of would-be Messiahs who were crucified by the Romans. But this verse is saying that Jesus, who died, actually had a title, Christ, God’s chosen King of the World. That’s who Jesus is described as.

And notice his death isn’t just a death. His death is interpreted. The two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus, their deaths were just deaths. But in Jesus’ death more was going on. He died for sins. That is, when he died his death was dealing with sin. His death was “for sins”, because of sins, dealing with sins. And in a bigger way than just that everyone dies because of sin – even though that would be true. No, Jesus’ death is for sins in the sense that his death is a sacrificial offering to remove sin and the wrath which is the consequence of sin. And this is done as Jesus is our representative and our substitute.

And notice lastly that his death is interpreted as being “for us”, not just for every individual person regardless of their trust in or standing before Jesus, but “for us”. For us as opposed to some others or for each and every. But even if it did mean for each and every human, it is still an interpretation in that his death is for all humans and not for all angels, for example.

The event was that a handful of men were crucified one Friday in Palestine under the Roman occupation. A handful out of hundreds who were crucified similarly. But the Bible offers an interpretation of that event that Friday. And says that in the death of one of those men God provided the sacrifice required to remove his wrath on sinful people, for those who recognise and acknowledge that man as their Messiah.

Now you could disagree with that understanding of the verse. Or you could agree with the understanding but disagree with that interpretation of the event. Or you could disagree with that understanding of that verse but agree with the interpretation of the event. But understanding the verse is not interpreting the verse.

We don’t interpret the Bible. The Bible is an interpretation.