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What Makes an Interpretation Correct?

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Sometimes, after speaking at a church on the subject of biblical creation (i.e., the belief that God created the world in six 24-hour days, that there was no death before the Fall, and that there was a global Flood), I encounter the objection, “But that’s just your interpretation!”

This objection is normally meant to dismiss what I have said as overrated or to tell me that what I have said is just my personal opinion on the subject and that any other opinion is equally valid. This sort of rhetoric is designed to make any appeal to Scripture sound less authoritative than it is. Such an objection is part and parcel of our relativistic culture where any claim to ultimate truth is seen as arrogant. Many Christians have now inhaled the relativistic air of our postmodern culture. Unfortunately, relativism and emotionalism now dominate many minds and affect the conclusions drawn by those who reject the Bible’s teaching on the origin of the world.

But what is it that makes an interpretation correct? There are two things that can help us:

Firstly, we need to interpret Scripture using the historical-grammatical approach, which means taking the text plainly according to its literary genre (2 Corinthians 4:2). The plain meaning is the one intended by the author, and it can be determined by the literary, biblical, and historical context. Thus the plain reading of Genesis 1:1–2:3 is that the text describes events that took place in six 24-hour days that occurred in time-space history. This is the natural interpretation (exegesis) of the text and the one that is meant by the author. When it is read this way, it is clear that the author is asserting that God created everything in one week. Using other passages that speak to the same topic assists in determining the proper interpretation since Scripture will never contradict itself. Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 make it clear that the events of Genesis 1:1–2:3 occurred in six days, just as the text plainly reads. Additionally, the passage informs us that mankind was created on Day Six (Genesis 1:26–31), and this was confirmed by Jesus (Mark 10:6).

Secondly, a correct interpretation comes from the text and not from outside ideas that are imposed upon it, such as evolution and millions of years. This was the reading of the text by most scholars before the eighteenth century including the Jewish historian Josephus, the early church fathers, Theophilus of Antioch, Lactantius, and Basil the Bishop of Caesarea, as well as the Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The idea of relativism is unscriptural as the Bible makes it clear that truth can be known (Psalm 119:160; John 8:32; 2 Timothy 3:16–17). Jesus settled many theological disputes with His contemporaries by appealing to Scripture (Matthew 19:4–6, 22:29). In Matthew 4, Jesus’s response to being tempted by Satan was to quote sections of Scripture from Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, 16) demonstrating His belief in the final authority and the truth of Scripture to settle an argument.

The objection “that’s just your interpretation” is simply a ploy used by people to avoid having to deal with the truth of Scripture.

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