Don't Wing It or Wring it: Read It

One of the biggest mistakes made in interpreting the Bible is trying to make it say "what it ought to" say. Or, perhaps, "what we want it to" say. More often than not, this is innocent enough. Everyone has preconceived notions of what the Bible says about certain topics. When a passage doesn’t completely agree with those biases, we start making assumptions. This really comes in two extremes, neither of which are sound methods for interpretation. Worse, even if we're ultimately correct about that issue, making these mistakes damages our credibility as Bible interpreters.

The first mistake is to "wing it." This is the careless, superficial approach. We "wing it" when we pull a verse out of the surrounding context. We find a phrase that more or less says what we want to hear, and run with it. It can mean taking an overly simplistic view. "Winging it" might also mean assuming a statement is a metaphor when it's meant to be literal, or vice versa, depending on which better aligns with what we want to believe. This is a more common mistake when we're trying to avoid some restriction, or claim a feel-good promise that's not necessarily meant for us. It's the easiest (incorrect) way to avoid a doctrinal position we can’t otherwise refute.

The other extreme is to "wring it." If you want the get the last bit of water out of a washcloth, you twist and squeeze it until you force those drops out. Some do the same with the Bible, with similar force required. In this case, we turn meanings inside out using convoluted explanations and circular assumptions. We bring out ad hoc arguments—suggestions which have no basis, other than the fact that they support the point at hand. "Wringing it" means contorting and overcomplicating what the Bible says to get what we want out of it. This is an especially common approach when we're trying to get the Bible to be more specific on some doctrinal point than it actually is. Or, when we're trying to make some interpretation seem more important than Scripture itself does.

Of course, these errors are two sides of the same coin: insisting that there is no possible way the Scriptures could be taken differently than we are taking them. At times, we are so convinced of the importance of an issue that we try to "help God out" through our method. In truth, the Bible sets certain boundaries, whether we like them or not. And yet, it's not always going to support our personal interpretations in explicit, unmistakable terms. Rather than "winging it," or "wringing it," we need to simply read it, carefully and humbly. That which it says, it says. That which is does not say, it does not say.

This is not only important for our personal study. It's also important for our ability to evangelize and disciple others. Both "winging it" and "wrinting it" are approaches which other people are liable to notice. They come across as insincere and insecure. Worse, if we're sloppy or obstinate in a particular topic, why would others think we're being fair-minded on the others? How we argue for something is critically important.

"Rightly handling the word of truth" means avoiding both of these mistakes. We can't afford to be superficial or hard-headed with the Scriptures. Rather, we should let the Word speak for itself, whether or not it says what we'd like it to say, or means what we'd like it to mean.