Why would anyone write a book about the memories of a goldfish? More specifically, why would anyone write a children’s book on the memoirs of a goldfish? “Do goldfish have memories?” I asked myself. Can goldfish think? Really? The Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian illustrated to me that one goldfish does think!
Every interpreter of the Bible may be compared to a goldfish living in his bowl. If you read the Bible hoping to understand it at all, you are a goldfish in the bowl –Whether you want to be or not. Imagine one goldfish swimming in his bowl. This amazing goldfish realizes that sitting against his bowl is another goldfish bowl with a goldfish swimming in it. Our astute goldfish wonders what life is like in his neighbor’s bowl. Our fish looks around his bowl. He sees his wet environment. He notices food floating on the surface. He captures a glimpse of something on the floor of his bowl that looks like a creature from the black lagoon. He even sees a plant or two.
Now, as he gazes dimly into his neighbor’s fishbowl, he imagines this neighbor’s bowl to be somewhat analogous to his bowl. But is he correct? How can he ever know for sure what life is like in the other bowl?
This is our problem when it comes to biblical interpretation. Our problem as goldfish (interpreters) is to understand how other goldfish lived in their bowl (people who lived in the biblical world). Our struggle is to know what life was like in their bowls so we can understand with greater certainly how to interpret what they revealed concerning life in their bowls. This is the goal of this blog: to help us learn to see life in their bowl and how that affects our interpretation of Scriptures and how that applies to life in our bowls.
We exist in a bowl where we communicate with our native language. We traverse familiar geography, or at least, use a GPS. We thrive in a familiar culture and we exist in our reality of time. These distances as they are called in some circles of biblical interpretation influence how we comprehend life in the other fishbowl called life in the Bible.
Over the next several weeks we will examine each distance: time, language, geography, and culture. We will strategize so we can accurately gaze into the other fishbowl of these biblical authors. We will offer bibliographical suggestions to help overcome these distances. And, we will explore practical exercises with examples to show how this may be accomplished.
However, this blog focuses on two other issues related to seeing the biblical bowl more clearly. A city in northern Italy, Monza, known for its Formula 1 Grand Prix racing, barred pet owners from keeping goldfish in bowls. The law’s author asserted that fish living in bowls understood their life from a distorted view of reality. Likewise, biblical interpreter’s often approach the biblical world in a distorted manner. Unfiltered preunderstandings and presuppositions can blur our view of the truth of God’s Word.
These two items may be compared to baggage that the interpreter packs as he approaches scripture. The goldfish interpreter ought to strive to leave them in his own bowl and not impose them on his view of viewing the biblical bowl as much as possible.
Amazingly, over the past several decades both psychology and theology embraced the notion that interpreters of the Bible fail to view both the bowl (world) which we live in nor the bowl (world) of the Bible with reality. Our attitudes picked up in life and our previous experiences taint the way we see reality. The study of interpretation (hermeneutics) labels this preunderstandings. This helps to explain why some of us see our bowls as half full and others view the bowl as half empty.
Our interpretation of past experiences, either positive or negative, flavor how we approach life, and ultimately, scripture. A child raised in a home with a loving, nurturing father, may see the God of the Bible in a similar manner. However, the child whose father was cruel, wicked and abusive may reject a relationship with God because he is called, “Father.”
Presuppositions represent our core beliefs. These core beliefs offer answers to some of life’s most important questions: Do I matter? Does anyone love me? Can anyone love me? Can I trust other people? Do they deserve my trust? Does God exist? If God does exist, how can I know Him? What is this God like? How does He behave? How can I relate to Him? Does God feel anything towards me? These core beliefs affect how we approach Scripture.
There can even be theological core beliefs that flavor the interpretation of God’s Word. What do I believe about the Bible? Is it God’s actual word or does it contain God’s word? Is it trustworthy? Is it without error? What do I believe is essential when it comes to who Jesus Christ is? What is His role in salvation? How is one saved from sin? Can anyone be saved from sin? What do I hold to be central about the Holy Spirit and His role in the life of the believer? Who stands more important in the interpretation process, the author and his intended meaning or the reader and his perceived and self-authenticating meaning? The questions can go on.
CAN GOLDFISH HELP US INTERPRET THE BIBLE?
As we gaze into the fishbowl of the Bible can we learn anything about interpreting the Bible? Do we surrender and say that our preunderstandings and presuppositions are just too ingrained that we can never hope to interpret the Scriptures in the manner the original writer’s intended their works to be understood?
First, we should realize that no person always sees his own world clearly and we cannot consistently view our neighbor’s world with reality either. Second, we are influenced by our past experiences and our core values when it comes to living in our bowls or when it comes to returning to the biblical bowl (world). This may help explain why two people can study the same passage and come out with different applications, but not interpretations. More on this later.
Now that we are aware of two pitfalls of our fishbowl: preunderstandings and presuppositions, we can learn to allow God’s Word to speak directly and pointedly into our lives in our own fishbowls. Do you think goldfish can help us interpret the Bible correctly? I pray that the next time you see a fishbowl at the store, in your home, in a garage sale or anywhere you might happen to be, you will be reminded of preunderstandings and presuppositions.