While the challenges that biblical interpreters face are many, the majority of them all share one commonality—distance. The overarching challenge of distance covers a variety of areas, such as time, culture, geography, and language, and each possess a unique set of challenges within themselves. However, within the realm of biblical interpretation, the distance of time is the easiest to overcome due to the unchanged nature of humanity. On the other hand, the distance of language is the most difficult to overcome due to the dynamic nature of the languages themselves, as well as the lack of original documents available for reference.
First, the distance of time, as related to biblical interpretation, is the easiest challenge to overcome due to the minor differences in human behavior throughout the ages. This challenge addresses the large time gap between when Scripture was written and the present, as well as the many changes that have occurred during that time span. For example, the world that Jesus and his disciples knew is starkly different than that same region today. In addition, most people possess a limited working knowledge of that historical period.
However, since Scripture is God’s revelation to humanity, and, at its most basic level, human behavior has not changed, one can utilize that constant in interpreting Scripture. According to James Estep, humans “are the bearers of God’s image, the imago Dei. This remains central to the Christian understanding of anthropology.” With this in mind, since humans were created in the image of God, and God is unchanging, one can use their understanding of human behavior to interpret the meaning of Scripture in many instances. A working knowledge of human behavior becomes a vital tool for a biblical interpreter, especially Scripture dealing specifically with that behavior, whether it be positive or negative. Furthermore, when applying the real meaning of Scripture to our daily lives, this knowledge makes the transition much easier. Issues and challenges for modern Christians are basically the same as during the era of Scripture, even though they possess different forms.
Second, the distance of language, as related to biblical interpretation, is the most difficult to overcome due to the dynamic nature of the languages used, as well as the lack of original documents available for reference. The distance of language is nothing more than a language gap between the world of the Bible and today. The Bible is written in a combination of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and is not easily available to most modern interpreters and readers. These languages present a wide variety of challenges, such as sharp variations in sentence structure and text formation, and one, Aramaic, no longer existing as a functioning language.
To further exasperate this issue is the fact that there are no known original biblical manuscripts in existence. Even though the original manuscripts were recorded and interpreted when they existed, there really is no way to truly validate this interpretation. In turn, we are forced to rely on second-hand information as a sole source.
In conclusion, despite all of the challenges of distance discussed above, the Author Himself has given all believers direct access to His mind as we read and study His infallible Word. The Bible cannot be read with a full reliance of human logic, but rather a harmonious dialogue between the logical reader and the Divine Author.
1. William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), 13.
2. James R. Estep and Jonathan H. Kim, Christian Formation: Integrating Theology & Human Development (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 11.
3. Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, 16.