If you aren’t interested in “interpretation” of the bible, you might skip the first three paragraphs. But they also might help. Either way, hopefully this post can help.
In interpretation, the role of humility is paramount. Before any study may be commenced, humility must go before, during and after the study. This is because one may not bring their notions, positions and conclusions to the text in hopes to find them there. They must, in a sense, hold their notions beside or next to the text, in comparison to it. They must not hold them over, or under the text.
The example of a classroom of students working together to understand the meaning of the text comes to mind. The teacher assigns the class, for the remaining period, to research the meaning of a word in its given context. Each student, to the best of his ability, is to use whatever tools he has to ascertain the meaning of the text. After the students have come to their conclusions of the text, they are to compare them publicly, with the teacher functioning as the adjudicator. If one student comes closest to the intending meaning of the text, this will generally be apparent. Yet if another student seems inclined to a different interpretation and remains insistent on such an interpretation, then one may investigate the motives of this student. Is their goal to arrive at the truth of the text, or merely to have his interpretation go through?
This example may help demonstrate the necessity of approaching interpretation with utmost humility. One must not force their interpretation if it is a strain to do so. One must see Truth as the ultimate goal, not one’s own interpretation or body of interpretation as the triumphing party. If their is disagreement with the meaning that is emerging between the text and the interpreter’s position, then it is the utmost responsibility of the interpreter to bring their position in line with the meaning of the text and to not equivocate, suppress, or ignore the meaning, or worse yet, force an interpretation upon the text because the interpretation does not fall in line with their position.
This rule may apply in any discussion of understanding. One must restrain their judgment of a certain view until one has sufficiently understood the view. One must be humble in how they listen to another, especially those of differing views of them. One must first seek to understand. If a man passes judgment on a person before understanding what they mean and their position, then they may commit the greatest of errors in arriving at truth. This is not to say that one must restrain judgment altogether, as many today are in the habit of doing. This is a great trap. Truth, ultimate truth, is the goal of all discussions. It is not merely to “discuss” a matter or to simply “ask questions”. This is foolishness and a waste of time. World leaders do not meet merely to “discuss matters” with each other and then feel good that they “discussed the matter”. Their ideas have consequences and it is therefore the goal of the leader to understand their opponent (if that is the case) and then to pass judgment, whether that is declaring agreement or disagreement and then declare the ensuing consequences of agreement or disagreement. So it must also be in any discussion we have about a matter. If we disagree, we must out of necessity for Truth, pass judgment upon the other’s ideas. To not pass judgment is to make a mockery of Truth. In fact, passing judgment is humility in its consummation. Humility is not the withholding of judgment as many suppose today, but it is the withholding of judgment until one may fairly make a judgment about the other’s position. It is true humility because it submits to the other person that there is truth and to reject truth is dangerous and can have severe consequences for doing so. Arrogance, on the other hand, is when, after one fairly understands the other’s position, refrains from offering their judgment of the other’s position. This is a mockery of the other person by showing that coming to the truth of the matter is useless. You state a matter of the dignity of the other person when you refrain from passing judgment. If the person were of value, you would help them arrive at the truth by declaring your judgment on their error. But if you refrain from giving your judgment, you allow them to continue in their ignorance or foolishness while you have in your hand the tools that would bring them healing. This is the greatest arrogance and must be fought against with great vigilance. To be a doctor who has the ability to rescue a dying man and to yet refrain from doing so because you do not want to “impose yourself” upon the man is the most inhumane and arrogant moves any human ever can make.
Another significant step in humility is to hold one’s ideas not simply in competition with another person, but also to, as best as possible, to learn from another person. Certainly there are occasional times when what one may glean from another is minimal, and in extreme circumstances and albeit rare, may learn nothing, but this must not restrain you from listening to the other party in an effort to actually learn from them. In nearly everything anyone is saying there is an element of truth. Nearly all lies are built on a distortion of truth, and often in an idea there may very well be an element of truth. The humble dialoguer may draw this out in the discussion and use it to help the other person arrive at the truth. If one relegates everything that the person has to say automatically to the realm of uselessness and error then the discussion itself will quickly become useless itself. Only after being exposed (and often lengthy exposure) to another’s ideas may one draw conclusions about another’s ideas. Though this is not always the case, since some ideas are replicated and the same error may be reproduced and spotted quickly, we must be careful of assuming that this is the case. As one reflects and gleans from what another says, they make themselves not only wiser for doing so, but also a more useful combatant in the discussion, putting himself on a much better footing for bringing the other person to the truth.
The final step in humility is to admit one’s errors if they become exposed, whether another person brings them to light, or, through reason, your own conscience becomes aware of them. If one does not expose the error it will remain and often be entrenched, though forgotten, and later affect multiple lines of thought and reasoning. It will ultimately impair one’s ability to arrive at the truth. Humility’s goal is to arrive at the truth, and so will flee from error seeing that it is a great hinderance to arriving at truth.
This is why, as some have masked, wittingly but erroneously, by saying, for example, “there are many who have right doctrine but are arrogant, but i would rather have wrong doctrine and be humble than to be arrogant and have right doctrine.” One must see this as nearly the most arrogant statement about knowledge that a person can make. It is merely the other side of arrogance of the person who actually appears arrogant and has right doctrine. As was noted, a truly humble person will flee from error. A humble person will see what danger there is in believing error and see that there is nothing more ruinous to them than to have significant erroneous thoughts. A humble person will strive to know the truth, not run from it. A humble person will love the truth, not despise it. A humble person will seek the right use of truth, not neglect it because another person has abused truth. You must be aware that you cannot be truly humble until you have rightly come to the truth. If a person has good “doctrine” or “theology” yet is not humble in their appropriation and use of it then we may conclude that they have not yet rightly come to the truth: this was the error of the Pharisees. Yet if a person has wrong doctrine but assumes this is of no harm to themselves because they refrain from judging another’s position, then they are not humble either. This was the error of the Gentiles whom Paul spoke with.
To be a truly humble person you must love truth. And to be able to know the truth you must love humility.