The following is a post I made (edited slightly for this blog) on a friend’s message board in response to a poll question asking It’s Simple, Right? We Just Do What The Bible Says…
“Most evangelicals, working with a presupposition called Sola Scriptura, often seem to believe that the Bible is a simple and straightforward book that interprets itself, while almost completely ignoring both cultural and historical context.
Most assume that that they should interpret the majority of passages literally (except for when it contradicts one of their own pet doctrines, of course), completely ignoring the fact that most of Scripture is a series of figures of speech (similes, metaphors, implications, parables, mysteries, allegories, myths, visions, signs, types, shadows, examples, imagery, enigmas, symbols, codes, idioms, poetry, euphemisms, sarcasm, irony, puns and other plays on words, hyperbole, anthropomorphisms or personifications, condescensions, diminutives, association or metonymy, appellations, paradoxes, numerology and possibly gematria, to name just a few).
They also make the mistake of trying to interpret it with a modern, western mindset, forgetting that it was written mostly from and for an ancient, eastern mindset (or series of eastern mindsets evolving over the centuries).
All of that is important, but perhaps even more important is the fact that the book we call “The Bible” isn’t one book at all but rather a series of books and letters written by many different authors who did not all know or believe the same things and did not all write univocally (yes, different authors of the Scriptures that evangelicals use did contradict each other in places, and yes, this is okay once we realize that Scripture was never meant to be read with a western, historical-literalist mindset).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, God did not write the Bible using automatic handwriting. Most evangelicals will agree with this statement, of course, but will then turn around and insist that every word in the Bible is true and every statement accurate (not counting the few parts that they agree must be figurative since the passages contradict evangelical theology or just make no sense if interpreted literally). The problem is that if every word in the Bible is true, every statement 100% accurate, then God would have had to have used some form of automatic handwriting because there’s no way human authors are going to get it that right otherwise (and just as an aside, claiming that God inspired the Bible simply because the Bible says so is circular reasoning, but we’ll get into that some other time since I do believe that God did inspire it somehow).
I would suggest that Biblical interpretation might actually be one of the most difficult things that a modern, western layman can do, and that most of us are not even slightly qualified to dig into it. That said, I hope that with a little Wisdom and the help of the Holy Spirit we might be able to at least figure out part of what God might be trying to tell us through Scripture.”