The Objective Fallacy, or, Taking Back the Bible
The fallacy of thinking that we can read anything without doing the work of interpretation has reached critical mass. I find this fallacy most often attached to the bible. Too often I hear Christian leaders claim for their interpretation of the bible absolute authority. It sounds like this (tell me if it rings any bells):
“This is not what I say, it’s what the bible says.”
This says two things right off the bat. First, it says that the person talking is not honest enough to own their interpretation. Second, it says that they are not actually confident in their own reading and to cover up for their doubt they claim “Scriptural Authority” so as to not deal with objections or arguments. This tactic is both dishonest and destructive.
This is the Objective Fallacy.
The objective fallacy is according the weight and significance of objectivity to something that is highly subjective. It is claiming absolute authority for something that is unworthy of it. It is lying about the authority of your words in the hopes that people will accept your words without holding you responsible for the results they have on the world.
Any thinking person should realize that the words in the bible did not fall from the mouth of God and plop directly into your ear canals. They were written by humans, copied by humans, translated by humans over centuries and millennia.
Society has changed.
The world of the bible is, in one respect, the world of today. People are still people, food is still food. But the social patterns and ways of speaking are very different. This is nowhere more evident than when it comes to reading the bible and understanding exactly what is meant by the words and phrases. On the one hand, we can get a pretty good idea about what certain things mean (death is still death, love is still love). On the other, we’re really not sure what many of the phrases in the bible mean to our world today. Additionally, even the words of today require interpretation. I can speak normal, present day English to you and you will have the task of interpreting what I say and mean.
And there is a good chance you will misunderstand me.
My wife and I do this all the time. She will have one thing in her head and I an entirely different thing, and while we each think the other is talking about what we are talking about, we end up on completely different pages. The end result is frustration followed by realization that we were misunderstanding each other. The task of the interpreter is to engage such conversations from within and bring clarity and understanding to them.
And the bible is the same.
I have written about how the bible needs to be interpreted in another blog post, so I won’t retread it all here. But I will say that no one reads the bible without interpreting it according to what they know or without the aid of the Holy Spirit. It is neither one or the other, but it is both and the other. However, to ignore your role in the process is dishonest and destructive.
And I am sick of that destruction.
It’s time to take the authority of the bible away from those who abuse it and make it guilty of their own error. If you are a pastor or teacher who says things like this, STOP! Own your ish (as my friend Satoshi says). Don’t profane the word of God for the sake of getting your way. For the rest of us, stop listening to people who say things like “It’s not me, it’s the bible.” Take back the bible from those who have laid hold of it through violence and have continued to do violence to and through it. Claim your interpretation; do the work; own your ish. And then listen humbly to others who differ from you and see where the Holy Spirit convicts you.
Great article Nate. I could not agree with you more… to often pastor's, myself included, are lazy when it comes to preparing a sermon or a message and don't do their due diligence in order to properly interpret the scripture. It takes a lot of time and effort to do so, and sometimes at the end of it all you end up more confused than when you started, but properly interpreting scripture is a weighty task that cannot be taken lightly. Thanks for this post!