Love is the Right Interpretation

Fred Clark has a great post up in which he talks about the necessity of love for biblical interpretation. Below, I’ll unpack a little of what I’ve been thinking about since taking in his thoughts.

First, read Fred’s post, part of which I’ve copied and posted below:

Without love, without being influenced by love, no human can ever “study the Bible and change their mind.”

If that strikes you as a radical hermeneutical claim, you’re right. But it’s also exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13. That’s not just something pretty to be read at weddings or an ethical plea for everybody to be more nice. Paul is talking about epistemology — he says that without love we are incapable of knowing. Incapable of knowing God, knowing others, knowing ourselves, knowing anything. Without love, Paul says, what we think we understand or know amounts to “nothing.”

Scripture is abundantly clear that people who know God are people who love. So if you know someone who loves like Jesus, you can be sure that they “get it.” I don’t mean that they agree with you on how to interpret every hard verse of the Bible. They may get a number of issues wrong. But then, being right and avoiding being wrong is not the point of our lives. We were created to be loved by God and walk in communion with Him. If someone is doing that, then you can be sure they’re on the right track, even if their answers to creedal questions need some work*.

For me, this means two things:

First, I need to constantly be reminded that the goal of my Bible study is not to eventually think about and believe the right things. It’s not to be the smartest guy at Bible study or to win arguments with skeptics (particularly the obnoxious ones, against whom gaining a victory is so tempting). The point of the Christian life is to be like Christ. We do that by living by the Greatest Commandment.

Second, this means I can’t write off anyone who loves because they disagree with me. We may not read the Bible in the exact same way, but if they’re loving, then they’ve got the point of Scripture correctly. Love is our interpretation, if you will, and I can practice love in my life by not being so sure of myself and listening more carefully to others. (In the same way, I’d hope that someone wouldn’t completely tune me out because I affirm the theory of evolution, same-sex relationships, and the necessity of women pastors in the church.)

What do you think of the idea that love must be our starting point in interpreting the Bible? Do you agree? Why or not why?

* This does not mean that you get to believe anything you want and there won’t be consequences.

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