Is it simply a “matter of interpretation” or an outright rejection of truth?

“That’s just your interpretation.”

I hear that a lot. You’d be surprised how often gets thrown at me, especially over cultural issues. It’s a ridiculous statement, of course the person doesn’t realize that by making such a statement that they are putting themselves into a position where they have to defend their assertion: the tacit implication that the interpretation, and therefore the application, is up for debate, and that their interpretation is correct.

I’m sure that you have read plenty of blog posts or magazine articles on biblical interpretation. In fact, I’ve mentioned it a time or two as well, generally in response to articles that deserve some kind of response and simply haven’t had one.

Most often, matters of “interpretation” come into question when someone attempts to apply (they are confusing interpretation, which is how the passage is to be understood, with the principle that needs to be applied) a biblical text to a certain situation without asking certain critical questions of the text, such as:

1. Does the context of the passage allow it? If the passage is part of a larger discourse, say a conversation or a part of a discussion, then it is a dishonest use of the text.

2. Is there an artifact in the translation that I am misunderstanding? This question is important because English lacks certain verbal tenses and cases that exist in the original languages, and the English translation may obscure how the text is to be understood.

3. Are there parallels to the passage that would refute my “interpretation”? If the issue is discussed anywhere else, to fail to take those passages into consideration can undermine an interpretation.

Those are just a few of the questions that need to be asked of a biblical passages before an interpretation can be made and the appropriate application drawn out, because that is what we need to be after: the appropriate application of Scripture. At the heart of this is the how someone uses Scripture, or abuses it, to support a position. For example, this post by Jarrid Wilson, a “pastor, author and blogger”, from Nashville, Tennessee.

The post is titled, 4 Reasons Jesus Would Invite Caitlyn Jenner Over for Dinner, which begins,

The transgender discussion is something that has dramatically heightened over the last few months. And with the recent introduction of Caitlyn Jenner, formally known as Bruce Jenner, many people have fled to their social media feeds in order to share their opinions to the world. Might I say, many of these opinions are ill-minded and without love.

I think that there needs to be clarification over what he means by “opinions” and that they are “ill-minded and without love”. Does he clarify these? Not that I can tell, but he continues,

It seems as if mocking and ridiculing people who are transgender has become justifiably okay in the eyes of many of Christians.  This doesn’t help the Gospel of Jesus at all.  It’s wrong, regardless of what scripture you are using to combat the situation.

I have to ask what it means to “be” something? When someone say “I am (fill-in-the-blank)”, what exactly are they saying? If I were to say, “I am a hard worker”, that could just be my opinion, my boss could think that the only thing that I work hard at is dodging work. Or, “I am a father”, that has implications on multiple levels and a person’s experience with their own father could color how that is understood. So when a person says “I am transgender”, that means something. It is often meant to imply that the person does not identify with their external identity, which is determined by their genetics, and there could be numbers reasons for this, even past abuse. I agree that mockery and ridicule is not what is needed here, but compassion and understanding, and a desire to get to the truth, which is something that lies at the heart of Gospel. If that final element is missing then the entire endeavor is for naught, I’m afraid.

Jarrid, makes a statement that, depending on the context he’s implying I would necessarily have to disagree with:

I know that Jesus would welcome Caitlyn Jenner to his dinner table without question, and I believe that anyone who calls themselves a Christ follower is called to reflect an image of similarity.

Then he gives four points, with obligator references, to argue his point,

1.Jesus is love.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” —1John 4:8

2.Jesus is grace.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”—John 1:17

3.Jesus isn’t partial.

“For God shows no partiality.” —Romans 2:11

4.Jesus welcomes sinners.

“And the Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” —Luke 15:2

There are a couple of points that need to be pressed here:

What does Jarrid mean by “love”?

What does Jarrid mean by “grace”?

What does Jarrid mean by “paritial”?

What does Jarrid mean by “welcomes”?

These questions are points that he does not seem to touch on.

The texts he raises begs these questions because the passage from 1 John 4:8, is built around how believers are to conduct themselves around one another.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:7-8, ESV)

Kinda, changes the intent of the text.

Also, Jarrid seems to ignore the fact that along with grace comes truth in John 1:17, they are inseparable elements. Jesus also said,

 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV).

Grace is meaningless apart form the truth that is necessary for it to be effective in the life of a person, because the truth reveals the need of a person for what Christ offers: salvation from sin and its consequences.

What is the context for which Paul is declaring the fact that “God shows no partiality”?

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Romans 2, ESV)

It is in the context of judgment. Hmmm…

How does Jesus “welcome sinners”? The question is answered by Jesus’ response to his critics (after all, the Pharisees weren’t praising him),

 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7, ESV, emphasis added)

Luke uses an interesting word to describe the “welcome” or the “receiving” that Jesus was giving to the “tax collectors and sinners”, the verb προσδέχεται (proschedechetai), which means that he gave them access to himself. And why did he do that? So that he could call them to repentance, after all that was why he came, because in a similar context, Jesus says,

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32, ESV)”

So, Christ came in love, to give grace and truth, because God will judge every man, therefore man needs to repent of his sin and therefore be welcomed into Christ’s kingdom. Does Jarrid reflect this?

Jesus is the definition of love and grace, and let’s not forget that he will never be found partial towards one person or another.

Well that depends, because Jesus is also truth, and as Creator, Christ has given us certain truths, even down to our gender, something he emphasized in Matthew 19.

You don’t have to agree with someone’s decisions in order to show them love.

That’s true. But if you love them, you will want the best for them.

Many people forget this, and I believe this truth to be the very reason that Christians are looked at as judgmental and hypocritical.

That’s very judgmental of him to say.

Many don’t know how to love people who are different from them.

We do it every day, we just don’t realize it. But I think by “love” he means “accept”, which is not even in the ballpark.

Isn’t that what the great commission is all about?

Uh, no.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a, ESV)

The Great Commission is about spreading the gospel, calling men to repentance.

Jarrid does make a valid point as his closing statement,

You don’t have to condone something to show compassion.

That is very true, but compassion without truth is meaningless. Paul, when he describes love to the Corinthians in his first epistle makes this point,

[Love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:5-6, ESV, emphasis added)

This point needs to be stressed because of something Jarrid says,

So while many Christians and non-Christians alike continue to throw stones and make fun of someone who now wants be referred to as a woman, I’ll be over here showcasing love and grace to someone who is in need of a friend. (emphasis added)

Truth and love often confronts our desires, contradicting them, or at least it should. The logic should be outstanding here, but Jarrid seems to miss it: what if this was a man who was married and wanted to be with another woman? Would Jarrid show the same friendship? The same “love and grace”? I wonder…

Overall, this post isn’t necessarily a response to Jarrid, but to a someone who replied to a comment that I made on the post.

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2 comments

  1. Why can’t Jesus eat dinner with Caitlyn when all she did was to reveal the truth about herself? This was the same Jesus who helped a gay Roman officer, who uplifted eunuchs, who arranged to have a man doing a woman’s job to lead the disciples to the last supper.

    We are morally bankrupt when we follow the Pharisees instead of Jesus.

    • Jesus was, technically, a Pharisee: a teacher of the law, who expressed thought out exposition on the Law. And it is not implied that he wouldn’t. However the point is that Jesus would call for Bruce/Caitlyn to repent of his foolishness. As far as “gay Roman officers” and “uplifting eunuchs” you might want to check the facts.

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