There is an idea about studying the Bible that is vain and divisive, and yet it is common. It is this:
“I see something in this passage which nobody else sees.”
Sometimes this thinking is extended to the past: “I see something about this passage which nobody else has ever seen.” Even worse, some have deceived themselves into thinking “I see something about the passage which nobody else can see.” Some claim to have special revelation from God that no one else has, but most who have these thoughts just think they are smarter than everybody else.
A fellow wrote a manuscript for a book on interpreting the Bible. He said he was proposing some “groundbreaking” principles that offered a new approach to Bible interpretation. His allegedly unique insights had actually been proposed and debated long before he suggested them. He said he was breaking new ground, but he was plowing ground that had already been plowed!
What question about the Bible in our time has not been raised in previous centuries? Where is the person who can show us something about the Bible that has never been seen? Many times I have read something interesting and thought, “I’ve never thought about that. This man has a unique concept.” Then a few months or years later I read a much earlier writer who said the same thing. Anyone who thinks he has come across or has come up with a new idea in Bible interpretation has not read much. There is a great deal of repetition of issues and interpretations throughout the centuries since the Bible was written. As Lincoln said, all one has to do to discover that those original thoughts of his are not so original after all is read books. In Bible interpretation, there is no new thing under the sun.
Preachers can be notorious for trying to come up with some new angle on the text of Scripture. This thinking is naïve at best and arrogant at worst. The job of a preacher is not to offer something new about the Bible. It is to preach the same message that has been there for thousands of years.
But preachers are not the only ones who are guilty. Sometimes in Bible classes people try to outdo each other in their comments. They end up making statements that are questionable or even false. No matter how plain a passage is and how thoroughly it is discussed, they find a different way of looking at it.
Even if a person does see something in a passage which no one else he knows of sees, that does not mean the insight is particularly important or that it deserves a lot of attention. We need to remember that something can be true without being of great importance. The things that are most important in the Bible are expressed clearly and repeatedly.
Jesus spoke in language that is easy to understand if a person is honest (Luke 8:15; John 7:17). That is why “the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37).