What Does Scripture Mean? That's Up To You

Feb 16, 2017

Yale University Prof. Dale Martin.
Credit Yale University

Dale Martin rejects the idea that there is a "correct" way to interpret Biblical passages. That might make some Christians uncomfortable, but Martin says the idea of unequivocal Biblical interpretation is a relatively new concept and not reflective of the religion's long history.

Martin, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, says interpretation of the Bible is very much an individual exercise. He says Christians shouldn't be afraid of divergent interpretations.

"You never think about reading a poem, looking only for what the poet was trying to say," Martin told WUOT's Brandon Hollingsworth. "You can't listen to the Moonlight Sonata and think there's only one meaning of that music. So we've kind of crippled ourselves when we think that's what we're supposed to do with the Bible."

Martin's work revolves around interpreting the New Testament. His approach led him to re-evaluate the way he thinks about Scripture, a message he hopes to impress upon others of faith.

"Interpretation of the text, if you're a Christian, is no less a matter of faith than anything else you do as a Christian," Martin says.

In that sense, meaning comes not from the Bible's written words, but from the readers - something Martin says is already creating a cultural shift in the way believers worship, cultivate values and practice their faith.

Dr. Dale Martin delivered the University of Tennessee Religious Studies Department's annual David Dungan Memorial Lecture on Thursday, February 16.