When Jesus spoke the words “you have heard it said but i say unto you”, he is addressing the interpretation of the word of God in his day. The lesson is a simple one, not every interpretation of the bible is valid and not every valid interpretation of the bible is equal. Therefore, some readings of the scriptures are better than others and this matters a great deal for those who seek to live according to the word of God. In other words, in the same way there is a connection between the questions we ask of the text and the resulting interpretation, there is also a connection between our understanding of the text and how we follow Jesus. The reason why we seek the best reading of the text is because of how this will affect our walk with Christ.
A better reading
It follows that the best reading of the text should have the most influence. It also follows that once this is understood it will lead to change in our lives. But this reasonable expectation is muted by not always wanting to be taught what the bible teaches or by a reading that seeks to place a weaker preferred reading of the text above a stronger one. We notice this when we place commitments as taught by Jesus and the Apostles side by side with our own and honestly ask if there has been a dilution in areas such as teaching, learning, following and most importantly, partnering in the advance of the Gospel. Without a good reading of the scriptures, where valid and stronger readings of the text are understood, such a judgement couldn’t be made and therefore possible improvements would not follow as a result.
A careful reading
When we think through the word of God and we think over the circumstances in which we find ourselves we normally turn to two tools. We either turn first to “correlation” or “causation” in order to determine what it all means. Since whatever we are dealing with in life we are dealing with God, it follows that God’s word is able to address life’s situations. Seeking to know what something means allows us to deal with the situation we are in, but sometimes we can arrive at the wrong conclusion simply because we don’t know what God is doing and so we must wait and see. Think of Paul when he wrote the letter to the Philippian church, he did so from a prison cell. Had he lost God’s blessing or was this a blessing for others by Paul being there? The purposes of God are known but this doesn’t mean we can know what we will face in the future or for what reason, we will just have to wait and see. When God led his people a different way (Exodus 13:17) he did so because he knew how much they could handle, he did not want them to turn back to Egypt and so he led them in such a way that they would not arrive at making that decision.
Any time spent reading God’s word will at some point need to arrive at a conclusion. While there may be a case for multilayered perspectives not all will be equally valid and therefore neither will the conclusions. The point of a conclusion is to arrive at the best reading of the text, the most valid, but such clarity will not automatically cause us to arrive us at the place where we will all commit to that reading of the text. The person who genuinely searches the scripture for its meaning will be open to other readings in the same way iron sharpens iron. But such a person will not treat all readings as if they are equally valid because the aim of teaching the word is not to get people to believe your preferred reading of the text but the best ones, because it is possible to determine which ones they are. Think of reading as arriving and interpretations as having arrived. This doesn’t mean that we will be able to exhaust the scriptures but it does mean that we can know what the text means.