Thursday, January 4, 2024

Interpreting the Bible (Acts 18:18-28)

"They explained to him the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26).

Before we begin our study of 1 Corinthians, we will spend the next nine days examining some principles of biblical interpretation. Most students of the Bible struggle to know how to interpret and study the Scriptures properly and profitably. It will be beneficial for beginning as well as more seasoned students to review the various rules of proper biblical interpretation.

When the Reformers of the 1500s freed lay people from the bondage of Roman ecclesiastical rule, they left two great legacies: the principles of private interpretation and the translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular. Up until that time, it was illegal to translate the Bible into any language but Latin. The church believed the common man did not have the capacity to interpret the Scriptures on his own, but needed to rely solely on the church’s interpretation, which alone was “divinely authorized.” The church believed lay people would only fall into heresy if left to interpret the Scriptures on their own. This, of course, was a legitimate fear, and many of the concerns expressed by Rome were realized in the years following the Reformation.

The Reformers, however, were willing to risk the dangers of private interpretation for the freedom of private interpretation. Luther, Calvin, and others were convinced of the clarity of the Scripture and the right of every Christian to interpret the Bible on his own. Yet, they did not condone arbitrary or haphazard interpretations. Just because every person can read the Bible and understand it apart from the interpretations of the church does not mean they can come to their own conclusions contrary to sound rules of biblical hermeneutics (the study of interpretation). This is why it is still important and necessary to have teachers in the church.

Any Christian who refuses to learn from others and chooses to rely only on his own conclusions is likely to fall into private heresies. Our privilege of private interpretation does not give us license to distort the truth. The best way to keep our interpretations in check is to abide by the rules of hermeneutics and, after we have studied on our own, to compare our conclusions with the traditional, orthodox teaching of historical Christianity.

Sometime this week, find a book on biblical interpretation. I suggest Grasping God's Word by Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Scripture as Communication by Jeannine Brown, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers by Abner Chou, and Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy Zuck. If you have already read them, read them again for review.