Interpretation Of The Scriptures
By Rev. James Behrens, Retired United Methodist Pastor
Sunday, February 19th, is Transfiguration Sunday. This year the scriptures are Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9. Exodus focuses on Moses, who went up on the mountain and was covered with a cloud, which could be described as the Holy Spirit. The Glory of God shone upon him, which was witnessed by Joshua, his successor. In the Gospel account of Matthew, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where they witness Jesus being transfigured before them.
The three disciples were told not to share what they witnessed until after Jesus’ death. The Glory of God that day was seen by his disciples who also saw Moses (the greatest law giver,) Elijah (the greatest prophet) and Jesus. They were all present, as was God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In Exodus, as Moses was on the mountain, he was covered with a cloud. Similarly, in Matthew’s account, a cloud covered God the Father, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. A voice spoke from the cloud, which identified Jesus as God’s Son. Matthew 17:5 says, “While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (NRSV). It sounds a lot like the words heard when Jesus was baptized except for “listen to him.”
Later in the Epistle of Second Peter, we hear Peter witness to what he saw and experienced that day. Peter said in Second Peter 1:17-18, “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory…We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Peter is testifying to his audience that he was shown the Glory of God and heard the voice confirm Jesus as God’s Son. He did not mention the other disciples who were present by name.
Not all of us have seen the Glory of God. Peter cautioned people then, and I want to do the same. I have been in many Bible studies and Sunday School classes over the years. Some of them were as simple as sitting at a table and reading the Bible and sharing our thoughts. Peter today says, “that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”
It is fine for us to share our thoughts with one another. But make sure that your interpretation is accurate and not just an opinion. It is nice to have different perspectives, and we can learn from one another.
I once knew a man who had read passages from Revelation. He came to me and began to interrogate me. He asked, “Where is the church in Philadelphia?” It took me a while to realize that he believed that the church in Philadelphia was Philadelphia, PA. We need to understand how others interpreted the scripture and why it was interpreted that way. We have too many people in society who seem to think that they are experts on everything. However, their reading and interpretation may or may not be true.
When I was a chaplain at SCI Muncy, I told the ladies when I preached to prove me wrong. If they proved me wrong, I was willing to change. Either way we both won; they engaged more with the scriptures, and even if they proved me wrong, we found the right answer. In Second Peter 1:21, he gives the following as the reason: “because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” There are many who will twist scriptures by their human will. They will make verses say what they want them to say to prove a point. On all scriptures, we need to understand through the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost. Amen.