I have been so saddened in recent months as I’ve seen prominent respected Christians pronounce their interpretation of certain scriptures based on a “look-imagine-see” method. What do I mean by “look-imagine-see?” Someone looks at a verse or passage, imagines what they want it to say, and then sees in their mind what they have imagined through twisting word meanings and interpretations. The result of their teaching feels a lot more comfy and cozy with the prevailing cultural views but is not intellectually honest. And, it really boils down to basing truth on someone’s opinion.
Cultural influence on Bible interpretation feeds this “look-imagine-see” method. You look at the passage, imagine a way for it to fit a particular cultural slant, then you see what you want to see. Look-imagine-see. Many types of false teaching through the years have started with this kind of “look-imagine-see” method. Once it starts, it’s like a fiery dragon burning truth in its path. The “look-imagine-see” method leads to error in any discipline based on truth. The brave thing to do is tame the dragon, at least as far as our own approach to Scripture is concerned.
Although this “look-imagine-see” approach to Scripture has been around for centuries, giving rise to heresies left and right, Darwin introduced the “look-imagine-see” methodology into scientific thinking as he invoked imagination into evolutionary scenarios. He visualized a bear evolving into a whale and human embryos reenacting their reptilian past. When looking at the lower portion of the axial skeleton and seeing this as the place where the embryo is yet to grow during spinal development, those who followed the “look-imagine-see” methodology would “see” a transient “tail” in their imaginations to reinforce their evolutionary bias. But there never is a tail. The embryo grows down to its coccyx, which begins anchoring developing muscles of the pelvic floor.1
But, evolutionary science is not the only modern user of the “look-imagine-see” method. Bible teaching Christians are using this as well to fit in with culture, to please academics who want to “improve” what the Bible teaches with their own ideas, or to apologize for Christians’ bad behavior and make it better by making Christians wrong in their moral stance. Using the “look-imagine-see” method of Bible interpretation can quickly become a fire-breathing dragon.
So, how do you tame the dragon?
1. Avoid the “look-imagine-see” method.
Well, the best way is to avoid the “look-imagine-see” way of looking at any verse in the first place. You do that by following the inductive process of Bible Study: observation (what the text says), interpretation (what was the author’s intended meaning—to him and to his audience that would read or hear it), and application (how to live this out in your life). That is the best way to study the Bible. Look at what’s there. Learn what it means and teaches you. Then, live it out in your life.
Actually, a long-time friend of ours who is now with Jesus used to say there were five steps to the inductive process: observation, observation, observation, then interpretation and application. We can get very lazy in the observation part. We begin to read into the Scriptures what we want to see there instead of making sure we see what IS there.
2. Approach the Bible as sufficient, not needing our “improvement.”
The second way to tame the dragon is to approach the Bible as the breathed out Word of God as God intended it to be and not subject to human “improvement.” In it, we find what our God considers right and wrong across all nationalities, time periods, cultures, and levels of civilization. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “all Scripture is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.” Not liking what it says about any particular issue does not give us license to change it to be more comfy for everyone to accept.
I don’t know about you, but I want to make sure I am basing my faith on what IS in God’s Word, not something I have heard before and not something I am imagining to be there. So, approach the Bible as sufficient, not needing our “improvement.’
When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. (Jeremiah 15:16)
3. Discern truth from error by using the whole Bible, not just pieces.
The third way to tame the dragon is discern what we read and hear by comparing it with the complete revelation of God’s Word (the whole Bible). We can’t extract pieces of it (that is, a verse or group of verses) and build our foundation on that. Nor should we build our faith on experiences and feelings. There’s junk out there about God and “what He thinks” so it’s important to really get to know the God of the Bible and how to live our life in Christ truthfully. The Holy Spirit uses the Scripture we read and study to teach us about our God so we can know truth and dwell in that truth. Dangerous teaching comes from picking and choosing what you consider to be “truth.” All false teachers through the centuries have taken advantage of people who were not dwelling in the truth portrayed in the whole Bible.
Taming the dragon
Tame the “look-imagine-see” dragon. Don’t let yourself approach the Bible with that mindset. Stop listening to others who do. As Paul instructed the Colossians, “See to it that no one…” (Colossians 2:8) and “Do not let anyone…” (Colossians 2: 16.
Just say, “NO!”
1 Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.D. 2016. Major Evolutionary Blunders: Haeckel’s Embryos Born of Evolutionary Imagination. Acts & Facts. 45 (11).
Four Steps to Inductive Bible Study on Bible.org