Matt: There may be more than one “right” way to interpret the scripture, but that doesn’t mean there are no “wrong” ways.
Lin: So on what criteria would we identify the “wrong” ways of interpreting scripture?
One criteria would be an interpretation that is contrary to the intention of the author. This is certainly true if the portion of scripture you are reviewing is a rule or law. So, for purposes of illustration consider Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” If you interpret this to mean sleeping with someone other than your wife is no different than looking at a woman who is not your wife, and since you’ve already done the latter there is no harm in doing the former, your interpretation is wrong. That is most certainly not what the author of the words intended.
I think it is trickier when you have parables, though. Consider the parable of the talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30. We typically say that in that story God is the Master, and we are the servants. We then latch on to the word for a large sum of money as talents and neatly transform it into talents as in God given talents, and voila it is a story about meeting your potential. Marcus Borg suggests another possible reading is that God is not in this story, but instead it is a tale about the wicked and unjust system the early church members were living in. You could see how no matter what the teller of the story’s intention was, he or she could say to the other interpretation, “Yeah, I guess it works on that level too.” Or even, have intended it to work on both levels.
However, to interpret the story as meaning that Jesus only loved shrewd investors is wrong, right? Whatever rule of interpretation we come up with, that interpretation can’t be kosher. Someone who studied literature or fiction needs to help out.
One reply on “REAX: Parable Parable”
Yes, the nature of a parable is its parable-ness. They remain alive in part because of that changeling quality that keeps us from being certain about the meaning.
Clever Jesus just said, “Let the one with ears hear.”