Interpreting Texts Honestly
Nehemiah 8:8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
This verse describes what took place when the Law of God was read aloud to the large group of people who had gathered. Most of the folks who had returned from captivity had lost use of their mother tongue, Hebrew. And so when the Law of God was read, it needed to be translated into Aramaic and then explained. Many Jewish scholars believe this was the time when the Aramaic “Targums” originated. A Targum is both a translation and an explanation of the Hebrew text. A large body of literature known as the “Aramaic Targums” is in existence today that perform this function.
What we find here then, is an excellent verse explaining the process of translation and explanation. The way the New King James renders this verse is excellent: the Levites, when they read the Word of God, gave the sense, and then helped the listeners understand what was read. This is what we mean by “exegesis:” to draw out the meaning of the biblical text. The Levites were faithfully setting forth what the text said and what it meant, so that the average person could understand. This is extremely important. We do not want to misread or misinterpret Scripture. Tragically, there is too much reading into the biblical text notions or ideas that are simply not there (known as “eisegesis:” to lead into) but are merely reflections of the biases of the person doing the reading or explaining. No wonder there is so much confusion today about what the Bible means!
Post-modern relativism has destroyed the notion of a “fixed meaning” of a text for the Bible and for literature in general. There is no greater example of that than our country’s Constitution. Liberal Judges have been misreading the Constitution with impunity, wrenching it out of its historical context and forcing ideas into it that are utterly foreign to its original intent. All sorts of ridiculous, immoral, and godless ideas are justified on the arbitrary claim that they are “Constitutional.” Of course, these judges want their opinions to be understood in the normal sense. No “reading” into their opinions something that they themselves did not put there! How arbitrary!! Christian Rights Ministries rigorously opposes this abuse of language. We need to pray that the Lord will install judges who have a healthy respect for the original meaning (note the singular) of the Constitution, and for preachers/teachers of God’s Word who will do the same for Scripture!