Seaborn Hall, 8/27/06, updated 10/28/19
Interpretation is the crossroads, the fulcrum, of life.
We are all born in a certain soil, with a particular background, and are taught a view of life, relationships with people, and understanding of God.
We may be taught to relate to our family and society in a certain way. We may be taught a particular view of religion, spirituality, and our relationship with God. Some are taught that Buddha is the greatest, some Ghandi, some Mohammed, some Abraham, some Jesus, and some something else. These handed down cultural and spiritual teachings – tradition – become our paradigm or worldview: Buddhist, Chinese, Indian, Hindu, Mid-Eastern, Islamic, Jewish, Western, African, Christian, Tribal.
This worldview leads us to interpret everything that comes our way in a certain manner. Depending on our paradigm or worldview, we so interpret and come to conclusions that make sense to us.
Everyone Can’t Be Correct In Their Interpretation
But not everyone can be correct, particularly about one’s view of God.
There cannot be five or six Gods, can there? All Gods cannot be the same can they, particularly if the people they inhabit represent their gods differently? And particularly if the people who represent their gods kill each other over the differences in their beliefs.
So, we have to ask, how good is the original soil from which the ideas and beliefs grew?
Which soil is better and why? And, what are the criteria for determining the soundness of the soil? We are asking which paradigm or worldview is to be trusted as the right one and, why? But to decide seems too complex, so we opt for the postmodern and clichéd “everyone’s belief is good and right – no one’s view of God is better than another’s.” But eventually – on a national level, if not an individual one – this conclusion leads us back to conflict over our different interpretations. There are conflicts all over the world today, most of them reflecting differences in interpretation, many of them because of differences in interpretation within Islam – Shiite vs. Sunni – and differences in interpretation between Islam and Christianity: in Iraq, Lebanon, Eithiopia, Somalia, and many more.
How Do We Simplify Interpretation?
One way of simplifying the decision-making process that leads to different interpretations and conclusions is to look at the founders of religion and compare their lives and beliefs.
When one does this, he or she finds that Jesus is unique among all of them.
Only Jesus claimed to be God. Only Jesus was killed by His own people – His own religion – because He claimed to be God. Only Jesus rose from the dead. Only Jesus’ disciples all died martyr’s deaths claiming that He was God and that He was resurrected from the dead.
Buddha and Ghandi lived good lives, but never claimed to be God. Their followers never claimed a resurrection. Mohammed lived a violent life, waging over 25 wars during his lifetime and killing Arabs and Jews, men, women, and children. He had planned over 30 more wars before his death. Islam means “to submit” and is propagated through militant domination.
Only Jesus gave His life willingly, rather than raise a hand or sword to anyone.
Is The Jesus Story A Myth?
Still, you may insist that this “religious” stuff is imagination, myth, an embellished story or legend that has developed down through time. You say: “Yes, Buddha, Ghandi, others, and Jesus all existed as historical figures, but we can’t really count on the facts of their stories. They aren’t history. They have developed as myth and legend through time, their stories and exploits embellished and exaggerated for effect.”
This is not a new theory.
In fact, it is one that students of religion have proposed and developed over centuries. In the case of Christianity and Jesus this theory began at least as far back as a guy named Reimarus in the early 1700’s and was more fully developed by D.F. Strauss in the 1800’s.
Strauss wrote a book called The Life of Jesus that rocked the religious world because it went through the New Testament and suggested – quite convincingly to many at the time – that the previously thought historical story of Jesus was actually a developed myth with many problems, mistakes, and contradictions. And if we go back even further to right after the resurrection – even then the opponents of Jesus were claiming that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, but that His disciples stole His body. That is, they claimed the disciples were trying to create their own “imagination” story.
But who will die for an imaginative story that they made up? All of the disciples died martyrs’ deaths, claiming to the end that Jesus rose from the dead and was one and the same with God, the Creator. And when you create a real myth during the very time it occurred among the people that it supposedly occurred, there will be many who rise up and easily debunk it. This never happened and Christianity was birthed and grew mightily.
But down through the years, many were influenced by the stream started by Reimarus and Strauss so that in the 1970’s a body of scholars in religious graduate schools around the world formed what has become known as The Jesus Seminar. This “seminar” of like-minded scholars holds that Jesus is just another man and that the Gospels are largely myth and may not be counted on as a true historical portrait of Jesus. This viewpoint is articulated in their foundational document, The Five Gospels, and is largely behind the media portrait of Jesus and Christianity of the last 30 years.
Fortunately, in the early 1900’s Albert Schweitzer and Joachim Jerimias answered the stream of thought emanating from Reimarus and Strauss and others, and laid a foundation for present scholarship championing the validity of a historical portrait of Jesus in the New Testament documents.
The result of their work, and others, is that there is presently a growing body of scholars who believe that the New Testament’s portrait of a historical Jesus is largely correct. These scholars believe that Jesus’ claim to be God is valid and congruent with His life and death and that the portrait of Him expressed in the New Testament, though influenced by modes of thought and writing of the time, is largely void of myth and imagination in its presentation and, on the contrary, reflects the actual words and actions of the man Jesus.
In short, the New Testament – a document supported by over 20,000 extant manuscripts – can be trusted as a historical record.
Interpretation Leads Us In One Direction Or Another
Interpretation is the fulcrum of life.
It is like a crossroads leading you in one direction or another.
Your interpretation of the U.S. Constitution places you at the left, right, or middle in regards to the Law. Your interpretation of what your spouse says tonight may lead to making love or to an argument. Your interpretation of the founder of any religion – and the documents about that founder or by him or her – will lead you to a conclusion about the belief system espoused by that founder.
By examining the life of the founder(s) of any religion you can come to a more sound and rational decision about the point of view itself. You can begin to interpret life correctly.
Jesus stands up to close examination and is a solid foundation on which to build a sound interpretation of life.