Does the Bible have more than one meaning? This question is confusing to many, but I believe there is one answer. The Bible does NOT have more than one meaning, but has MULTIPLE ways to apply that meaning. As John Owen said, “If the Bible has more than one meaning it has no meaning at all.”
1 Corinthians 14:33 says “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” If this is the case, why are so many passages confusing? Why does it seem like the Bible is ambiguous at times? Whenever we read the Bible, we need to recognize the presuppositional lenses through which we approach the text. We need to understand how much culture influences our interpretation. There is only one meaning to interpret from any given passage, but multiple ways of applying that meaning to our lives. See the difference? One meaning, multiple applications.
When interpreting the meaning of a passage, you must approach the text humbly. Don’t force the Bible to fit your idea of what it should mean; allow the Bible to challenge and shape your worldviews. We are not the Bible’s authority; we are under its authority.
To answer this further, we must realize who holds the power of meaning. Does the author determine the meaning of a text or the reader? If it was the reader, how would we ever know what a passage means? If the author determines the meaning, there is a definite way to understand what the text means. The author determines the meaning; the reader discovers that meaning and applies it to their own life.
Someone living in America may read the same passage as someone in a third world country. The passage they read has one meaning, but multiple applications. Their cultural context will determine how they apply that passage to their life.
Think of it this way. Imagine a white middle class man and a mother in a third world country receive the same bucket that is meant to carry water. They have the same bucket, but the way they use that bucket will differ. Their cultural context will determine how they apply the use of that bucket to their life. The white middle class man may use it as a trash can or a planting pot. The mother may use it to provide water for her family. Same bucket, different ways of using it. There is a flaw in this analogy. They each receive the same bucket, but one violates what the bucket is used for by how he uses it.
Be careful not to violate the meaning of the text by how you apply it to your life. Stay faithful to the meaning by applying it to your life appropriately. If the white middle class man and mother both received a bucket used to carry water, they should use it for water. The man may use the bucket to hold water when washing his car while the woman may go to a river or well to get water for her family. They both use the bucket for what it’s meant for, but in different ways.
One meaning, multiple applications…