What Does This Verse Mean to You?

A better way to phrase this common question

Two of every three American adults believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. And the percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 is even higher (72 percent), according to a Barna survey.

Does the way we approach Bible interpretation in our small-group discussions encourage this kind of relativistic thinking? Walt Russell, who wrote an article in Christianity Today (October 26, 1992) about this trend, thinks so. He says the "What's-this-verse-mean-to-you?" discussion question reflects a confusion between the difference between the meaning of a passage and its significance. The meaning is what the original author intended to say, and it never changes. The significance, on the other hand, is how that meaning relates to a person in his or her own unique situations in life, and this is fluid and flexible. When these two aspects of Bible interpretation are confused in our studies, we can easily fall into relativism, the idea that there is no right or wrong answer.

When you ask, "What does this verse or passage mean to you?" you are saying, in effect, that there is no right or wrong way of interpreting this-it's all up to you. Sometimes this kind of question takes the place of the more difficult work of studying the Scripture in context. Much of that work has been done for us and can be found in commentaries by trusted authors. Also, Bibles such as the NIV Study Bible have many good notes on the same page as the Bible text.

A better question to ask-one that gets to the relevance of the passage rather than its meaning-is how the passage applies to individuals. Something like this might work: "If you were this rich young man and Jesus told you to sell everything and give the money to the poor, what do you think you ...

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