Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Private Interpretation

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

For several days we have been considering the difficult words of Christ. Many in history have selectively chosen which sections of Scripture are authentic and authoritative. Thomas Jefferson, for example, literally excised certain portions of the New Testament with a razor blade.

Beginning today and for the next two weeks, we are going to discover proper rules that govern our interpretation of Scripture. When properly interpreted, there is no need to excise certain passages, because the inherent unity and harmony produced by the Spirit will be evident.

The Protestant Reformation insisted on the right of private interpretation of the Bible. By this, they meant that everyone should study the Bible and seek to understand it. Unfortunately, this doctrine has been distorted by some to mean that we have the “right” to interpret the Bible without taking into consideration the wisdom of the past. Luther and the other Reformers never intended any such thing. In fact, they insisted that with the right of private interpretation comes the sober responsibility of accurate interpretation. For this reason, the Holy Spirit has given great teachers to the church.

Every passage of the Bible has one and only one meaning, but it may have many implications and applications. Sometimes uncovering the meaning is not easy. Therefore, we need to be open to the studies of peers, pastoral insights and scholarly research. Otherwise, we fall into sheer subjectivism.

Subjectivism not only produces error and distortion in our understanding of God’s Word, but it breeds arrogance as well. To believe what I believe simply because I believe it, or to argue that my opinion is true simply because it is my opinion is the epitome of arrogance. If my views cannot stand the test of objective analysis and verification, truth and humility demand that I abandon them.

No one has a perfectly pure understanding of Scripture. Subjectivism is one example of the excess interpretive baggage in our own day. As you read Scripture this week, seek the one true meaning of each passage.