It has always bugged me that 2 Chronicles 7:14 suddenly shows up on Independence Day. Back up a few verses. America’s got nothing to do with it. And those wedding announcements that quote Psalm 34:3? That would be David rejoicing when he escaped Abimelech. And then there’s Jeremiah 29:11, which in case you didn’t know, is directed to exiles and not to high-school graduates.
Is it wrong to misunderstand the meaning of a verse and find hope in the misunderstanding?
This question was posed online several months ago, and I haven’t quite pushed it out of my mind. Maybe because I face misinterpretation of Scripture on a regular basis. And more often than not, it’s my own.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume we’re talking about Christians who unknowingly misinterpret Scripture. Whether you think you’re a hermeneutics whiz or whether you’re prone to select a graduation card with Jeremiah 29:11 inside because you believe God has plans to give your grandson a hope and a future, here are some thoughts for your consideration.
Truth doesn’t change. There is only one proper interpretation of Scripture, and it’s not going to change. While there may be varieties of application, the Scripture’s intended meaning does not adjust from person to person or with every new trend or line of thinking. If I say a given passage means one thing and you say that same passage means another, one of us is wrong. Which is why I hesitate to say, “The Bible says . . .” unless I’m merely quoting the Bible itself. And which is why I greatly hesitate to tag phrases or verses of Scripture to any given aspect of life as if to say, “This passage aptly fits here.” I’m sorry, but Philippians 1:3 doesn’t belong in every thank-you card.
Hope in misinterpreted Scripture is false hope. So to answer the second half of the question . . . Yes, it is wrong to find hope in the misunderstanding. The only hope we have in this life is in God, in what he says, and in what he means. Whether or not we understand it properly, his Word is hope. If we don’t understand it properly, that misunderstanding does not deserve to be accredited to God. So while we think we have hope in a particular interpretation, we may still have nothing more than our sure and steady hope: God, what he says, and what he means.
Finite minds fail. To answer the first half of the question . . . Yes, it is wrong to misunderstand the meaning of a verse. And we will. We’re going to get it wrong. Misinterpretation will happen. And often. This doesn’t mean we should give up altogether or resign ourselves to poor study habits. Rather, the failings of our own minds ought to increase our yearnings for the mind of God.
God uses misinterpretation for his glory. As with all things, God can use even our unbiblical conclusions and misplaced Scripture quotations for his glory. But the proper response is not fear or indifference. The proper response is to read and study the Word as if our lives depended on it. We must weed out the lies and be content only with the truth. This is our task and our joy until all is made right. For in that day, truth will prevail and misinterpretation will cease. Our hope will no longer by misplaced, because, to those minds once finite, God and his glory will be fully and rightly understood.
How I long for that day.
[image credit: wikipedia.org]