by Stephen Foster
verb (used with object)
1. to give or provide the meaning of; explain; explicate; elucidate: to interpret the hidden meaning of a parable.
2. to construe or understand in a particular way: to interpret a reply as favorable.
3. to bring out the meaning of (a dramatic work, music, etc.) by performance or execution.
4. to perform or render (a song, role in a play, etc.) according to one's own understanding or sensitivity: The actor interpreted Lear as a weak, pitiful old man.
5. to translate orally.
(Source for definition: dictionary.com)
Here is the thing about interpreting the Bible, or biblical interpretation, that I personally find dubious: interpretation is frequently used to convey how something is regarded, as opposed to what something means.
Some of us talk about interpretation in terms of whether passages are literal or allegorical. However the primary definition of interpret is “to give or provide the meaning…”
The determination of the whether literature is literal or allegorical is certainly in keeping with the second(ary) definition of interpretation (above) but is not necessarily informative as to definitive meaning; and certainly not to understanding.
In my view, it is useless to simply opine or consider portions of the Bible to be allegorical without actually interpreting what said allegory is specifically telling us. In other words, if we don’t know what something means—whatever it is—then what good is it to us, in real terms? For what purpose was it even written? This is where exegesis enters the picture. Exegesis is used to “to explore the meaning of the text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance.” (Wikipedia)
Scripture has been provided to us as holy men of God wrote through the inspiration of God, right? Now, if we don’t know what something in the Bible means—or if we assume it to be allegorical—in order to determine the meaning or significance of it, should we depend on what those who do not believe that Scripture is given through the inspiration of God (by way of holy men of God) tell us? When should their beliefs ever inform/influence ours?
Another way of asking these questions, of course, is: should we, or can we, consider science—apart from divine inspiration or the influence and acknowledgment of same—to be a “lesser light” to Scriptural understanding? Lesser lights, theoretically, lead to greater light; and certainly don’t lead away from it.
When we categorize, or identify, or classify given portions of Scripture as allegorical, we nonetheless need to determine their specific meaning. Classification without understanding is really not interpretation. We can’t accurately term/define classification as interpretation because we must know what a passage means before we can properly classify it.
Finally, it would appear (to me anyway) that there is a correlation between detail and specificity insofar as the determination of what are the meanings of, and purposes for, certain biblical claims, narratives, and passages.
The intricacy of detail and specificity of instructions for the construction of the ark, and the crafting of the typical sanctuary, the health and hygiene laws, or the instructions for the building of the temple are examples of account detail which lend authenticity to each narrative in terms of the reliability of such things literally occurring.
The details of various parable narratives, despite minor version or perspective discrepancies, lend authenticity/reliability as to the probability that these stories were actually told; it seems to me. This is not unlike how investigators consider the interviews of various possible event witnesses.
Likewise, the specificity of the recounting and interpretations of the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, and the detailed description of the images in the visions of John on Patmos, point to the importance of determining what these images represent and what their significance is.
Classifying or categorizing is undoubtedly part of, and arguably indispensible to, literary evaluation or criticism; but shouldn’t be confused with determining the meaning of what the Bible says. When we say we have differences in interpretation, unless we can identify what our respective interpretations specifically mean, we’ve said nothing.