One of the problems of private interpretation of Scripture, along with the idea that the Holy Spirit alone is enough to keep us from error (compounded with the temptation to arrogantly assume that all the other people in the world who come to differing conclusions than us simply aren’t listening to God) is that our methods of interpretation can sometimes become truly odd indeed. This is especially the case if we aren’t learned scholars, knowledgeable in the Biblical languages, educated in the history and culture of the human authors, and well studied in theology and doctrine. The wheel we re-invent in our unwillingness to rely on the wisdom of the ages is all too often prone to be a rickety, even dangerous wheel.
Enter what I’ve dubbed “concordance theology”. This is when someone, attempting to plumb the depth of meaning in a particular verse or passage, seizes on a key word, looks it up in their trusty concordance or Bible app search function and, after hopscotching around the Bible, comes up with some way of stringing a bunch of verses together to arrive at some all too often novel meaning.
Let me demonstrate.
John 10:7 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep.
Hhhhmmm… What does this mean? Jesus couldn’t be saying that He is a literal door! I know — let Scripture interpret Scripture! Let’s see where the concept of “door” first appears in the Bible.
Genesis 4:7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”
Uh oh. That makes it sound like the door is a place where sin crouches. But wait — if that’s true, there needs to be at least one other verse to confirm that.
Proverbs 5:8 Keep yourself far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
Oh, wow. Doors are associated in Scripture with sin, and we are warned not to go near them. Is Jesus warning us to stay away from Him? Apparently He is the door for sheep, but doors are not for people trying to avoid sin.
John 10:2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
Now I get it! Shepherds are leaders, and only they are strong enough to actually get near enough to enter the door where sin is crouching. When Jesus said He is the door for sheep, He really meant that only shepherds should get close to Him. Got it.
I admit that it took me very little time to make this all up, and I made it as ridiculous as possible, but I’ve heard examples of “concordance theology” almost as absurd. Unfortunately, the people espousing their interpretations were serious, and were insisting their conclusions were obvious, sometimes to the point of exclaiming, “I can’t understand why no one else has ever seen this before!”
I thank God that He did not abandon me to living as an orphan with a Book, left to muddle my way through it on my own. Thank God for His Church, and for a glorious tradition of Saints far more learned and holy than I can ever hope to be!