Re: universally misinterpreted verses

John Miller (
Tue, 2 Apr 1996 12:41:55 -0900 (AKST)

Fred.Phelps wrote:

>I would like to start a thread on "universally misinterpreted verses".
>It seems that we do not read Scripture for ourselves, but believe what
>others tell us it says. The purpose of this thread is so that we will
>be less deceived - if you have noticed how a verse is undisputabley and
>almost universally misinterpreted in your circles, please inform us.

Uhmm... I have reservatiosn about how well this might work even within the
variation of belief-structures of a spectrum believers. Might it better be
termed "verses with controversial interpretations"? That is, who is to say
that one interpretation is right and another is wrong? Even within
protestantism, people with a so-called dispensational view will differ on
some passages from those from a covenant perspective. While we may all
have our preferences, oftentimes it is not a matter of right and wrong, but
of strengths and weaknesses.

I've also learned gradually that a common interpretation may not in fact be
the primary point of the author, but that some secondary interpretations
can still have value even though not "proved" by the passage in question.
Take Gen 1:11 for example:

>1) Gen 1:11 (Thanks to Glenn). "Then God said "Let the land produce
>vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit
>with seed in it, according to their various kinds."
>I had always misread this and assumed it meant that seeds bear fruit
>according to their kinds (apples give apple seeds, hence some conclude
>no evolution!), not that there were various kinds of fruits. The same
>of course goes for the animals in Gen 1:25 and elsewhere.

But if I plant potatoes, I expect to get potatoes, not tomatoes. Within
the short term, only when some special intervention occurs does the outcome
vary. Thus for non-scientific people the verse says something about order
and repeatability, and we can profit from that expectation of nature. Is
that view necessarily *wrong* although if stretched it would be *wrong*? I

Another complicating factor is the role of translations. To my way of
thinking, many interpretations I formerly held were dimmed when modern
translations first became available, and I had to revise my conclusions.
We'd need to agree on a standard translation before deciding rightness and
wrongness of views. For example:

Proverbs 29:18 = "Where there is no vision, the people perish..." (KJV).
Pastors and Christian leaders were fond of that passage in my younger days
for it bolstered their influence. But a modern translation reads:

"Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint..." (NIV).
No grist for future-oriented leadership roles here, after all. Now we see
the importance of the OT prophets who delivered the revealed will of God to
his people. And by inference, many of us extend this to elevate the
importance of the inspired Word of God for our guidance in contemporary
times. But that latter interpretation (actually an application) is not the
*right* one, but in my view scarcely could be called *wrong,* either.

So we have a mud puddle to play in here...


John M. Miller, Geophysical Institute, Univ Alaska Fairbanks
903 Koyukuk Drive, PO Box 757320, Fairbanks AK 99775-7320
voice: 907-474-7363 fax: 907-474-7689, alt fax: 907-474-7290