7 Dangers of Fanciful Interpretations

Fanciful interpretations get great feedback, but they do great damage.  Fanciful interpretations get some people very excited, but those who know their Bibles, or have been to Bible school tend to look glum in the midst of the hysteria. Is this because all who have training are killjoys?  Or is it perhaps because they see through the hype like a parent watching children getting excited about excessive amounts of sugar?

You can usually spot the indications of fanciful interpretation.  One big red flag is when people are saying, “I would never have got that from that passage, wow!”  Or even, “That was so rich, deep, original, (you choose the description)!”

But if people are so obviously blessed and encouraged, what is wrong with it?  Let me offer seven problems with fanciful interpretation:

1. Fanciful interpretation teaches listeners bad Bible study. You may have convinced yourself that that particular reference to a boat has a deeper meaning relating to postmodernism, or that the name of the valley is an anagram of a suburb of Manchester, or whatever.  But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that your clever interpretation doesn’t seem to do any harm and is motivating for the listeners on a spiritual level (perhaps a spiritual theology of David’s brothers’ names, or the significance of a geographical feature for the Christian life).  Surely no harm is done?  It is if the listeners then copy your way of handling Scripture and come up with an application you find objectionable (the cults do this all the time).

2. Fanciful interpretation offers nutritionally empty fare. Perhaps you’ve come across the notion of empty calories?  Something made with highly processed sugar and white flour and unnatural ingredients.  These things tend to taste good (temporarily), but have no nutritional value.  In fact, over time and in excess, they can do great harm to you.  The same is true of overly sweet, overly processed Bible fancies that stir excitement but offer no nutritional value.

3. Fanciful interpretation may cause listeners to give up on their Bibles. After all, if they can’t see how you got there, maybe instead of copying your approach, perhaps they’ll just feel inadequate and give up on their Bibles.  They may look forward to hearing you again (which is the motivation for some speakers), but their Bibles will gain dust in the meantime.

The rest of the list tomorrow . . .

3 thoughts on “7 Dangers of Fanciful Interpretations

  1. Well said, Peter! I’m one who shrinks down in the pew and covers my eye when the nonsense starts to fly.
    I think Reason #3, especially, is all too real a problem in some settings.
    I also wonder if fanciful readings don’t reflect a very low view of God as a communicator. We would never treat each other in that way.

  2. After reading both posts I think you’ve made some excellent points. Not sure I’d put them in the same order, or if the order was supposed to matter, but still a good list. I think artistic intimidation (fanciful interpretation) is all too common among the “clergy class”. Only those with degrees in Christianese need apply.

  3. Thanks Lance – not sure I was intending anything by the order. Perhaps end-stress on number 7 (final position, rhythm of point length broken by brevity, etc.). The real point is accumulation of reasons to cut it out!

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