Today we visit Kenneth Bailey’s fifth sin of biblical interpretation as presented in Interpreting the Bible. He calls it the Colored Glasses Theory.
Bailey reminds us that we are each shaped by our culture and context. How we read the Bible is influenced by the sermons we’ve heard, Bible translations we’ve used, what our parents taught us, what we learned in Sunday School, books we’ve read, and in general the interpretive tradition we were raised in. The danger is that we give these factors more credence than what the Bible itself says.
Bailey uses an example from Romans 16:7. The verse speaks of “Andronicus and Junias” as “men of note” among the apostles in the Revised Standard Version. Yet we if we examine the original language and the history of interpretation up to the time of the RSV we find that in fact the early manuscripts and early interpretations say “Junia” and that there is no indication of gender, simply that “they were prominent among the apostles” (NRSV). Every indication is that there was a lady apostle. I know others will debate various aspects of this verse but the point Bailey is making is that if such is the case, and we had always been told otherwise, will we persist in reading scripture with “colored glasses” or will we change our understanding to conform to scripture?
We must begin our interpretation of scripture with a level of humility that acknowledges what we personally are bringing to the interpretation exercise. We have to be open to modification. Yet Bailey appropriately points out that we can’t wait until we have exhausted every angle of interpretation to decide how to live our lives. Bailey says that he tends to hold his interpretations as “tentatively final.”
I think the idea is that we want to move boldly forward but also be open to further correction and learning. To do so requires us to be aware of our own colored glasses and I suppose you could say we need to occasionally try on the colored glasses of others to see what they see. Sometimes this will bring us into conflict with others but more often it gives a more holistic view the text we are interacting with.