Preconcieved Ideas Hinder Proper Interpretation

Have you ever purposely been misinterpreted? Sometimes my five-year-old purposely misinterprets me to get out of doing a chore. I will tell her to pick up her room. She proceeds to sit on the couch and watch television. I will tell her I wanted her to clean her room when I told her. Then she will tell me she didn’t know I meant now. Afterwards she will only pick one toy up, and I will have to tell her to pick up all of the toys in the living room where they are supposed to go. This frustrates me and my wife because she is deliberately misinterpreting me so she can do what she wants.

Bible

Much like my daughter, many people treat reading the Bible the same way. They have preconceived ideas intentional or unintentional that hinder them from understanding the text. Sometimes these are willful blinders. Other times these beliefs are positive towards the text, but, they obscure the meaning.

All of those obstacles are difficult to overcome, but they can be overcome. It just takes time, patience, humility, willingness to learn, the right resources, and the help of the Divine author to help you accept it. In short, you have to want to understand, put in the time and effort, and ask God for guidance and help.

Those barriers occur over all of Scripture, but they occur often in the historical narrative portions of God’s Word. One of the most misinterpreted passages in the Bible is the Genesis creation account. Historical narratives are historical events in the Bible told in story form. They contain all the elements of a story: a main character, an antagonist, a plot, conflict, and a resolution. Yet, these are real events and are expected to be believed as such.

While these seem to be pretty clear principles of interpreting this genre, there are people who completely ignore these rules because of positive and negative preconceived ideas. There are people who disbelieve because they do not like miracles. There are people who don’t believe because it disagrees with preconceived ideas and manmade mythology, like evolution or a utilitarian view of the world.

The Genesis creation account clearly presents problems to these preconceived ideas and unbelief; however, these ideas confront all the miraculous events in the Bible, such as Jonah and the big fish and the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. The theory of evolution itself confronts the views of marriage, death, sin, resurrection, and God.

Since these positive and negative preconceived ideas and beliefs hinder a proper understanding of historical narratives in general, we will use the Genesis creation account as our model text. Let us look at some different preconceived ideas to the creation account and see how they can be overcome.

Hostile Preconceived Ideas

Unbelief

The obstacle of unbelief is a serious problem in interpreting historical narrative. It prevents the interpreter from getting the point of the story. There is a reason in novels and movies one has to suspend their disbelief, even though they are fiction. They will not enjoy the movie or novel if at every scene or page they say, “this isn’t real”. That is a trivial example with no serious consequences. Yet, what would happen if one applied this to a court case. If the evidence showed the party was guilty, this person would still go free because the juror kept saying this isn’t real. Numerous murderers, thieves, and rapists would go free because of continual disbelief.  

If you told me a story about yourself that really happened and I didn’t believe it, you would be right to be angry with me. Just imagine that you told me that you recently got married to a gorgeous spouse. I said, “No way, you are too ugly to have a spouse.” You present a photo of your wedding day to this beautiful person. I come back and say, “It’s photoshopped.” Then you happen to have your marriage license signed with your signature, your spouse’s, and your minister’s. I say, “That’s a forgery. You are too ugly.” At this point, perhaps at the first denial, you should feel insulted. It becomes clear no matter how much proof you give me you are married to your spouse that I will deny it. You would be rightly angry with me, and it would probably end whatever relationship we had.

If you refuse to believe God created the heavens and the earth, that is going to hinder you from accurately interpreting the text and the rest of the Bible. It makes it either a story book, a moral lesson with no authority, or an unenjoyable pack of lies. You will not get the message of the author. You will get either annoyed, amused, or apathetic with the passage.

The only way to overcome unbelief is to either suspend disbelief, or assume the passage is true unless other compelling evidence proves otherwise. Suspending disbelief will not get you to where the author wanted you to go, but it will help you get to the point of the text. The key to interpretation is to try to understand the point of the author. Assuming the passage is true unless there is good reason to believe otherwise is a good rule of thumb for any passage.

Think about it. We were not alive at the point God created everything. We have no idea in and of ourselves that this is false or true. Moses wasn’t there either, but he was able to speak to God directly, and daily entered a tent to meet Him (Exodus 33:7). Moses’ character revealed in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy proved he was a trustworthy witness. His successor Joshua also testified to the trustworthiness of Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 12).

The testimony of God is greater than that of Moses because He cannot lie (Numbers 23:19). God fulfills his promises, loves his people, and sent a savior to save us from our sin (Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Matthew 27-28, John 3:16). We have no good reason to not believe God created the heavens and the earth in the way and time He said He did. This is true for any account in the Bible because God is the one who inspired these prophets to write down history (Romans 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 1:20-21).

Evolution

            Evolution is a little different than unbelief. Evolution is mythology pretending to be science. It is no different than the ancient Near Eastern mythologies of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites, and the Greeks. They all start out with eternal energy. Then that energy is destroyed or changed into something else. Then conflict and death occur. Then out of that death and conflict new beings are created. Then after the new beings are created, mankind is produced by accident or afterthought.

The biblical creation account is completely different. It assumes God has always existed and intentionally created the heavens and the earth. The Bible teaches man was the pinnacle of creation to be the image of God. Genesis 1 has no conflict with God, no death, and no accidents. God created the world orderly, not chaotically, in a six-day span and rested on the seventh, making a week.

The evolution mythology is fictional and is the opposite of the creation account. The only similarity is both accounts try to explain origins.[1] These are contradictory accounts. The Biblical account and the mythological account of evolution do not belong together.

Imagine what would happen if someone tried to mix fictional history with real history. The Marvel movies are well known in America. One of the marvel characters is a fictional person named Captain America. The story goes that Captain America was a man from the 1940’s who was enhanced with drugs to help fight against the Nazis in World War II.[2] World War II really happened. Yet, Captain America is fictional. One is not going to have an accurate history if they try to mix the Captain America movies or comic books with real history. If a child tried to pass a history test just using the Captain America comic books, he or she would fail.

The same is true for the origin of the universe. If one tries to take the myth of evolution with the creation account, he or she is going to be wrong. He or she is also not going to get the author’s intended meaning. We overcome this barrier by rejecting the evolutionary myth and accepting the Bible’s account of what really happened.

The reasons evolution is a myth and not a science are evolution lines up with the religious, mythological stories and religion of the Ancient Near East and it has not been observed. We have not observed millions of years personally or historically. The rocks and fossils do not come with dates attached to them. As Ken Ham says in many of his talks, it just means there are “billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water all over the earth.”

Historical Skepticism

            Historical skepticism touches with unbelief and evolution in that the way the Bible describes the creation of the universe is believed to be inaccurate or false. Historical skepticism also touches with evolution in that those who believe it think the Bible was gradually changed overtime and that the creation account evolved from surrounding mythologies like the Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, and Greeks.

            The problem with this belief is those who present this teaching have to go outside the text, work with evidence that does not exist, and assume the author is lying. These people do not believe Moses wrote the passage. They believe different scribes from different periods of Israelite history edited the text in such a way as to hide Israel’s polytheistic past and give the Israelites hope during the Babylonian captivity. Historical skepticism is seen in the Ancient Near Eastern approach to interpretation, Documentary Hypothesis, and etc. Walter C. Kaiser appropriately said about this kind of thinking about the historical narratives in that modern scholars say the Old Testament: “is guilty by virtue of its divine claims, miracles and talk about God …is impugned as full of all sorts of impossibilities due to its nature of claiming to be from God himself.”[3]

            The reality is that out of the thousands of manuscripts that are preserved of the Old Testament none of the claims of the historical skeptics have been authenticated. The well-preserved Masoretic text dated to the 1008 A.D. show little differences in the text.[4]  Even the Dead Sea scrolls, dated over a thousand years earlier than the better Masoretic text, show the accurate preservation of God’s word. [5] Meaningful differences are extremely rare, do not affect doctrine, and do not show the type of changes the historical skeptics claim.[6] There is just no evidence for the historical skeptics claims. The only text we can interpret is the text given to us. These specific beliefs and others will be dealt with in chapter four.

Positive Preconceived Ideas

            The beliefs above all have to do with preconceived ideas. Preconceived ideas are thoughts or beliefs that hinder the meaning the author intended for the text. Preconceived ideas can be hostile to the text, like the beliefs mentioned above, or they can be positive towards the text and the author; but both add something to the table to keep the author’s meaning from coming across to the reader.

            One positive preconceived idea, out of many, would be the belief that Jesus is literally in every verse of the Bible. The problem with this view is it does not work in all verses. It also has the danger of spiritualizing the text. This can come from a hyper-literal view of the passage in Luke 24: 27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (ESV). While all of scripture does point to Jesus generally, and there are many passages that prophesy of Jesus, not every verse is literally about our beloved savior. The second phrase in Luke 24: 27 is important to understand. Jesus did not quote the whole Old Testament during his seven-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He told them all the prophesies in the Old Testament.             One bad conclusion that someone with this view could have in mind is days three and six were bad days for Jesus because he made the ancestor of the tree that would crucify him and the serpent Satan would possess to deceive Eve. The problem in with that view would be God declared those days good. There is nothing in the text or context to suggest Jesus as God was displeased with those days.

            The best way to overcome preconceived ideas when interpreting the text is to not bring them into the text. Let what the passage say be what it means. If the context commentates on your passage, or the New Testament commentates on it, then you can bring that to your understanding of the passage after you determined what the passage says in light of the author, audience, and immediate, surrounding, and book contexts.

            John 1:1-5 says that Jesus is God, the whole world was made through him, Jesus is the Word of God, and the light and life of man. We know this is true and can bring that understanding to Genesis 1 when we read it, but only after we know the author’s intended meaning. This way the meaning of the passage is not hindered by preconceived ideas.

I hope this has blessed you. Check out the resources section to help you interpret the Bible for yourself. Buy the books and the booklet to help you know and love Jesus more. Lord bless you.


[1] I do understand that some evolutionists claim evolution has nothing to do with origins, only change in species. Yet, they assume a Big bang created the planets, galaxies, and solar systems. They assume energy and matter are eternal. They assume that life happened by accident either by a meteorite from space, lightning striking a rock billions of years ago, or sea vents. They assume death, suffering, and mutations are the key to evolution. They assume one kind through gradual changes can change into another kind. They assume animals eventually evolved into mankind. All of this is assumed with no real evidence. It is obvious they deal with origins.

[2] Steve Rogers Captain America: Bio https://www.marvel.com/characters/captain-america-steve-rogers/in-comics accessed October 15, 2021

[3] Walter C. Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents Are They Reliable?, (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Academic, 2001). 27.

[4] Ibid. 42

[5] Ibid. 49.

[6] Ibid48.

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