A Word on Interpreting Scripture and Church Authority

In Light of Our Sharp Division on Interpreting God’s Word…

Although our Roman Catholic friend Letting Smoke Out has entirely differing views from myself on almost everything related to the authority to teach the Scriptures, I still believe there is enough of a contact point in the Bible for us to proceed with this dialogue. LSO assumes that only the Roman Catholic leadership has the ability to interpret the Scriptures, and I assume on the other hand, as have so many of my Christian predecessors, that the Holy Spirit is the light of truth and authority. He does not speak only to a few men in Rome, but rather the Apostolic faith is carried among those who have received the gospel as a gift by grace through faith. Priesthood of believers, you know? Peter calls us a royal priesthood there in 1 Peter 2:9 – and he was speaking to the general congregation of Christians, not a special class of clergymen.

LSO and I do not have the space or time to debate all of the many historical issues surrounding early Christianity and how the Bible was canonized, etc… however, I believe we can at least look at the Scriptures and agree that since it is God’s infallible Word, that it is the authority concerning our religion and lives. If anyone teaches anything contrary to the Scriptures, it is nullified and furthermore, dangerous.

In light of this, I will briefly challenge a couple of points in LSO’s opening remarks. Although much of what he wrote is fraught with logical and historical fallacies, the main issue I have to mention is from this quote:

If the Bible is clear then why do so many Christian faith communities disagree about interpretation?  […]Why are there over thirty thousand denominations?  This reality proves there needs to be one authorized interpreter of scripture.

The picture you paint is majorly skewed. You know as well as I do that within so-called Catholicism (from the Greek for “Universal”), there is anything but uniformity of doctrine. The Catechism has as many interpretations as professors, and your number includes hundreds of orders, sects, schismatics, and dissidents. This is, however, besides the point of “the path of salvation,” yet I have to at least try to let some air out of that balloon before we look at the doctrine of salvation. It is not “Bible Only” as LSO’s post is entitled, but rather “Bible is Supreme,” and all doctrine must be aligned with what God has said in His explicit revelation.

In conclusion of this point, I must use absurdity to illustrate. LSO states:

Private interpretation means every single Christian can claim to be their own church; every single piece of scripture can be seen in a different light; every belief can be unique.

Yes, and there may be giraffes on Pluto – giraffes which chew bubble gum and do calculus, but it is the furthest thing from an accurate, realistic hypothesis. It is a similar idea with this “every Christian for himself” canard which Roman Catholics seem to play. The question is not, are there 3,000 or 30,000 denominations and interpretations, but rather, “did God speak clearly so as to be understood?”

Rules of Interpreting Scripture: Context, Context, and Context

I, and my legacy of 1,900 years of my orthodox Christian predecessors would stand together and say “yes!” – God has spoken so as to be understood. The problem is not a lack of a central authority to interpret, but rather the presence of sin in our fallen flesh – pride, arrogance, lusts, and all forms of selfishness obscure the clear proclamation and interpretation of God’s Word.

Not every passage is simple, but there are sure means of staying within the bounds of orthodoxy and sanity. I will use the historical/grammatical method of interpretation, that is, the writer had a specific meaning to which he wrote using specific words, grammar, and syntax. The Holy Spirit who was promised to every believer is alive and enlightening the mind as I read Scripture. I could go on concerning the interpretation of Scripture, but suffice to say, when the Bible says “red,” it does not mean “blue.”

Read with care...

1 John 2:26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

LSO, would it be alright to move on to the topic at hand, and if you’d like to hash out the authority issue further, we could do so via private e-mail? Our readers are surely informed of our foundational positions concerning authority.

I am going to move immediately into the topic “The path of salvation” after this is published, and will attempt to publish that one within hours.

Grateful for the Bible – and for LSO,

-Justin

Parts in this series:

Do Roman Catholics have the Gospel of Christ?“- Interpreting the Cosmos

Apologetics” – Letting the Smoke Out

Dialogue with a Roman Catholic – Introductory Remarks” – Interpreting the Cosmos

Bible Only” – Letting the Smoke Out

Roman Catholic Opening Remarks” – Interpreting the Cosmos

Categories: Comparative Religions, The Message of the Bible, The Nature of the Bible | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “A Word on Interpreting Scripture and Church Authority

  1. I don’t think you answer LSO properly. Granted that many Catholics disagree with official Catholic teaching, say on the use of contraception, abortion etc. but whatever they believe has no authority. The question remains the same, if two (or more) persons have different interpretation of the same passage of Scripture how do you judge who has the correct one, i.e the one that comes from Holy Spirit? Unless you know for sure who has correct interpretation, the truth in all post-Reformation churches is relative – there is no such thing as absolute truth (and no one dares to make such claim). Quoting 1 John 2:26 does help you either answering this question. Catholics fully agree that interpretation of Scripture comes (and only) through Holy Spirit. Scripture nowhere supports private interpretation.

    • Well, thanks for your thoughts. I wonder, would you say that the Roman Church has always, without exception, spoken infallibly on all matters to which the popes and doctors of theology have spoken?

      Vivator, your question is not difficult:

      …if two (or more) persons have different interpretation of the same passage of Scripture how do you judge who has the correct one, i.e the one that comes from Holy Spirit?

      You apply the same standards of thinking, logic, reasoning, and hermeneutics that would apply to any other piece of literature which purports to explain a truth.

      E.g. “There is a tree in Sweden.”

      Person A: That sentence is claiming that there is only one tree in Sweden.
      Person B: That sentence is claiming that there is at least one tree in Sweden.
      Person C: That sentence is claiming that the Queen of England visited Sweden, and is calling her a tree in reference to her stern, wooden features.

      So, how would we figure this out? By asking these questions: Who wrote this and to whom did he write? What do we know about trees in Sweden? Did the Queen really visit Sweden? etc…
      a similar, if not identical principal is at work in interpreting the Bible: we assume that the authors were writing about true history which they or someone to whom they spoke had witnessed, and that their meaning could be discovered by placing the passage in the light of its historical context and grammatical structure.

      Is that so hard? Why do people make it more than that? Sin. Pride. Selfishness. And the 2 Peter quote about “private interpretation” applies to someone who would teach the Scriptures in a way that does not align with the doctrines of the prophets and Apostles. Those were the men moved by the Holy Spirit – they wrote infallibly, and that same Holy Spirit is promised to all who belong to Christ – and so why would we think that He would not give each Christian the ability to understand His Word?

  2. Pingback: What is the Biblical Path to Salvation? Reformed View pt. 1 « Interpreting the Cosmos

  3. Unfortunately you did not answer the question. You wrote “why would we think that He [the Holy Spirit] would not give each Christian the ability to understand His Word?” If this is the case then everybody would have the same interpretation of the same passage of Scripture. The problem it is not the case – thus either (1) you made false statement or (2) the Holy Spirit is not doing His job properly. Obviously I chose the former.

    You confuse between inspiration of (books of) Scripture and its interpretation. Certainly the writers of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit – otherwise we don’t call their works Scripture. Christ did promise the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles, not everybody who can read the verse, in truth.

    Your illustration of tree in Sweden is not convincing either. Let’s work on real example. Calvinists believe regeneration takes place BEFORE faith while to Arminianists it takes place AFTER faith. Who is right? Certainly both claim they were guided by the Holy Spirit. Why would He give different guidance? Using Scripture as arbitrator, following your method ” their meaning could be discovered by placing the passage in the light of its historical context and grammatical structure” would not work either. In fact Scripture nowhere says Regeneration takes place before or after faith.

    • Ah but friend, you overlooked the explanation I set forth – it is not either

      (1) you made false statement or (2) the Holy Spirit is not doing His job properly.

      , but as I said, the sin nature of pride, arrogance, selfishness, and lusts cloud our minds and hearts and keep us from a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Don’t you know that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is really a Christian? The visible Church in this world is absolutely filled with unbelievers who for one reason or another want to have a religion and so join Christianity – but they do not know Christ, they do not love His law, and they do not trust Him for the forgiveness of sins. There are so many people who cannot understand the Scriptures because of the unconfessed sin in their lives.

      See an example from John

      5:37 And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me.

      God the Father has spoken clearly of Jesus; who He is and what He does – this testimony is both in the written Scriptures of the Old Testament and in the works of Christ.

      You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. 38 You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.

      Jesus is telling the religious leadership who spent their entire lives studying the Scriptures, that they 1) do not hear the voice of God and 2) do not have God’s Word in their hearts… and what is the proof? They did not believe in Jesus – and in the context of John’s gospel, this lack of belief was manifest in their misinterpreting the Word of God and trying to stop Jesus’ public ministry. I know you wouldn’t argue with that, right?

      39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

      What does Jesus say? He sees that they spend their time diligently studying the Bible in search of eternal life, but they have TOTALLY missed the point of the entire revelation: the Messiah, Jesus, has come and is the Savior of Israel. Why were they unable to correctly interpret the Scriptures, vivator? Look at what Jesus said! Because of pride, selfishness, arrogance, and lusts. They refused to come to Jesus to have life but instead demanded to have their acceptance with God based on their own earned righteousness. This is the definition of human, unsound, ungodly religion.

      As for the example of regeneration – I am going to be writing on that very subject in coming posts with LSO or otherwise. Thanks for the interaction 🙂

  4. Pingback: Salvation by Grace Alone: Reformed View pt. 2 « Interpreting the Cosmos

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