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The Power of Interpretation

When you open a copy of the “New Living Translation” of the Bible you’ll find that there are notes in the beginning that include step by step instructions on how to know Jesus personally and a short letter signed, “The Publishers.” This may seem irrelevant but to me it was interesting. While this doesn’t necessarily fall under the umbrella of religious analysis, it pertains to the analysis of religion as an institution. Religion, in many ways, circulates around rules. While rules are arguably not what define faith, they often are put in place to define how one should practice it. This “to-do list” for allegedly knowing Jesus personally implies that there are things an individual must do in order to be spiritually fulfilled, including the personal acknowledgement of one’s own sinful nature, asking for forgiveness, and turning away from sin (ceasing the pursuit of a sinful lifestyle in accordance with biblical teachings). I feel there is an emphasis in the Bible on the lack of human intervention in conveying God’s word, however it is examples like this list that enforce my skepticism of the supposed unadulterated nature of the Bible. The reader is trusting not only in the perfection of God, but in the perfection of those who wrote and translated his word.  It is my understanding that all writing is an interpretation, making it imperfect by nature; therefore I believe it should be regarded as such. 

In the New Testament, it is written that “Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) I take issue with this, primarily because I am not willing to write off anything as truth just because someone from a really long time ago tells me to, which makes it difficult for me to accept faith altogether. Even if I were to fully accept that these prophets were speaking God’s word by way of the Holy Spirit, it is still indirect, and in my opinion disregarding this idea weakens the reader’s ability to distinguish between fact and faith. But I digress, because the introduction to my copy is just something written by someone or some group of people who simply supported their own interpretation of christian faith with biblical word, rather than pure biblical word itself. 

But what makes biblical word pure? When reading the Bible or any religious text, we put faith not just in God but in those who spoke for him, be it his prophets or the men that translated such works into the languages we read them in today. Therefore, before diving into biblical word and my interpretation of it, it is necessary for me to explain my belief that all biblical discussion is relative to who reads it. All works of literature leave a great deal up to the reader, because no matter how specific an author is, the individual will still read it the way they choose to. So I will end with this: I will not be reading the Bible as if it were truth, but as the interpretation of truths that it is. History itself is an interpretation, and our ideas of what actually happened in the days before we existed are hazy at best. They sway in and out of favor. Unlike popular interpretations of history, truth can’t be democratic. We cannot vote on facts. Texts can be manipulated, and despite its sanctity and age, the Bible is a text, a document of history, something we are all choosing to agree is “true” when we cannot discern much of history as fact in the first place. 

Ali is the social media manager for the Buffalo chapter of Her Campus. She is a Political Science major with an affinity for crooked media podcasts and bad movies. She hopes she will one day learn how to take care of plants.
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