Interpreting the Bible
“How does the Bible mean?” Shouldn’t I say, “What does the Bible mean?” I once thought the same about John Ciardi’s How Does a Poem Mean? Leave it to a poet to tweak a straightforward question into something odd. But Ciardi has a point. Students of Scripture sometimes want the bottom line, “What does this passage mean?” without wasting time on, “How does it mean?” But you can’t get to the “what” without the “how.” If we think that Jesus’ story of the rebellious workers (Mark 12:1–12) is straightforward history, we will be mystified that He tells us about violence in a vineyard. Or suppose we take the story as allegory, thinking that everything in the story matches something real. Then, when the owner (who represents God) says, “They will respect my son” (v. 6), we will think that God was surprised when Israel’s leaders killed His Son. But if we recognize that this is a parable, a story that usually resembles the reality it symbolizes at one main point, we can hear what this story means by recognizing how parables mean.