The Most Common Interpretive Mistake In Popular Culture


 Introduction

One of the most significant developments during my lifetime has been the rise and popular use of the internet. The internet has provided us with a great amount of good, and an equal, or perhaps even greater, amount of bad. While the internet provides a way for us to have an endless supply of good information at our fingertips, it also provides a way for us to have an endless supply of bad information at our fingertips. The problem arises when the bad information becomes more accessible than the good information. To quote the philosopher Bertrand Russell:

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible."

Biblical interpretation is no exception to this rule. Each day, I see people make silly statements about the Bible and how it should be understood. The vast majority of these come from non-Christian groups. The same groups who claim to have read the Bible, but cannot fathom the context of the vast majority of the passages that they attempt to cite. But I digress. The point that I am making is that just because a large number of people repeat a claim about what the Bible teaches does not mean that they are correct in their claims.

The Flaw In The Logic

The most common examples of this come from popular-level, non-Christian groups, such as the Philippine Atheists. Among the things that I see asserted in these groups is that, if the Bible talks about something, it must endorse that thing. For example, a recent post argued that, since the Bible records various murders, then the Bible must endorse murder. In any other scenario, this would quickly be seen as a ridiculous argument. Consider the following:

I. If a book speaks about an issue, then it must endorse that issue.

II. George Orwell's "1984" explores a totalitarian future.

III. Therefore, "1984" must endorse a totalitarian future.

Or consider the following:

I. If a book speaks about an issue, then it must endorse that issue.

II. "A Handmaid's Tale" speaks about oppression.

III. Therefore, "A Handmaid's Tale" must endorse oppression.


We look at the two examples above and see where the issue lies. In both cases, the second premise is true. Orwell does speak about a totalitarian future in "1984." "A Handmaid's Tale" does speak about oppression. The issue isn't in the second premise, but in the first. Logically speaking, just because a book speaks about an issue does not mean that it endorses that issue. We have a basic enough grasp of logic to understand why the conclusion does not follow in the two examples above. Why is it that the Bible is made an exception to this.

Unfortunately, even some Christians fall prey to this line of thinking. While it seems less prevalent among professing Christians, I do occasionally see this same fallacy play out among some Christians. As an example, it wasn't that long ago that I saw a prominent member of a theological discussion group, of which I am a member, argue that the Bible endorses polygamy. When pressed about why he believed this, it boiled down to the fact that the Bible records people who have had multiple wives. His position was simply that, since the Bible records that Jacob had multiple wives, and Jacob is painted in a good light as the father of the nation of Israel, then it must be the case that the Bible endorses polygamy. What he didn't take into account is how Scripture consistently portrays polygamy in a negative light.

Conclusion

The point that I am making is that just because an interpretation of Scripture is popular doesn't mean that it is true. It also doesn't follow that, if the Bible records something, then it must be endorsing said thing. It is possible for a book to mention something without endorsing it, such as when said book speaks against an issue. At the end of the days, we should not allow logical fallacies to determine our understanding of Scripture.

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