I want to ask about how to interpret scripture correctly. Why do people end up having different conclusions when they study the Scripture? For example, some people think that the creation account was not made in 7-24 hour days. Also, in 1 John 1:1 some say that John is trying to explain the existence from the beginning of the universe. While from what I have been taught was the context, was that John was talking about the Beginning of the Gospel Preaching, when the readers first heard about Jesus. (e.t. 2:7, 24). If we use hermeneutics we are sure to come to one conclusion right ?
I understand that it can make a believer uncomfortable that there are different interpretations of God’s words, given that it is inspired and that, in principle, there is only one interpretation. In fact, Peter said, more or less, that there is only one interpretation in 2 Peter 1:20. However, if you think about it, by its very nature, God’s words must be interpreted. If God were to give a specific answer to every possible question, then the Bible would have to be infinitely long. Is it OK to shoot up heroine? In order to answer this question, we must “interpret” the Bible because it does not address this question. Should a Christian date a non-believer? Again, we must “interpret:” scripture to answer this question because it is not directly addressed (not surprising because they did not have dating when the Bible was written). At times God makes very definite statements in the Bible which does not leave room, or which leaves very little room for interpretation. God said that we should not commit adultery. This does not need interpretation. Anyone who “interprets” the Bible in a way which allows for a Christian to commit adultery is clearly making a false interpretation. I used an outrageous example to make a point.
The great majority of possible questions are not so clear cut. The Bible prohibits drunkenness. This statement requires “interpretation.” Does this mean that a Christian cannot drink any alcohol-containing beverages at all–not a single drop? Some interpret the Bible to say this, but this is a questionable interpretation because we know that Jesus turned water to wine and Paul suggested to Timothy that he drink a little wine for his stomach problems. So, is it sinful to drink two beers? What about the fact that bigger people can drink more without getting drunk. I am using a fairly trivial example, again, to make a point. The Bible must be interpreted in order to be applied. This is an inevitable fact which we, as believers, must come to terms with. It would sure be nice if everything was clear cut–black and white, but this is not the case. The Bible says to obey the law of the land, but then in Acts the apostles say “we must obey God rather than man.” These two ideas, at first glance, appear to contradict one another. What this means is that we must interpret and apply the scripture in real situations and people may not have absolute agreement on the precise interpretation. Live is messy and the Christian life is not an exception to this rule. As we grow and mature as disciples of Jesus we become more comfortable with this fact, but younger Christians must get used to the existence of grey areas and navigating grey areas of both life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). For some of us, having ambiguities about the Christian “life” is hard. For others of us, having ambiguities about Christian doctrine is harder.
Getting to your specific examples, what I said above applies. The fact is that some take the Genesis creation account to be a very literal historical account of what happened. They interpret the “days” of creation to be literal 24-hour periods. Obviously, you know that others have a different interpretation, assuming that the “days” are actual periods of time but that the use of the word “day” is metaphorical. We could wish that God had said something at the end of Genesis 1 such as “For anyone who asks, these days are metaphorical, not literal.” (Or we could which that God has specified the literal interpretation!). Unfortunately, God did not do this for us. If God had provided “interpretations” for every possible question, the Bible would be millions of words long. The young, idealistic Christian might assume that these things should be clear cut. In principle, of course, there is only one “correct” interpretation. Either the days are literal or metaphorical. However, as believers in the Bible, we must live with a certain amount of ambiguity. Here is a question you should ask yourself: Is this an essential doctrine? I believe that it is not. If it is not an “essential” doctrine, then you can live with some uncertainty. If it is an essential docrine (it is not) then we should decide what we believe and not move an inch on that teaching. I do not propose for a minute an “anything goes” approach to interpreting scripture. Not at all! However, some ambiguity is inevitable.
To be honest, I am not sure I exactly understand the issue about John 1:1. However, I believe that Bible experts will be more or less unanimous that the “beginning” John is talking about is the beginning of creation, not the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus was with God and was God from the very beginning of time. To me this is one of those very clear cut scriptures with little if any possible room for different interpretations. Jesus is was and always has been God.