Aren't You Perfectly Capable of Interpreting the Scriptures All On Your Own?

neggalwayAn important man in a Limo was driving by with the window open.  Another person on the street heard that he was reading a Bible very loudly.  The person on the street asked the man in the Limo, “do you understand what you’re reading?”  The man in the Limo responded, “”How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” 

It didn’t quite happen that way, But here’s what really took place… 

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” Acts 8:26-31

This passage has been used by many to imply that you are not capable of interpreting or understanding scripture (The Bible) on your own.  You need the help of another to get it.  This sentiment has been used throughout church history to divide those “in the know” from those “not-yet knowing.”  The more of the Bible they know, the higher up they are on the ecclesiastical ladder they climb.  Entire hierarchical structures are based on mastery of the scriptures instead of serving the One whom the scriptures point to.

Another passage that’s been abused and misused is this:

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”  2 Peter 1:20

I’ve actually heard this spoken, and surely insinuated in this way – “No scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”  Catch the subtle nuance?  It’s the prophecy of scripture and not the scripture itself that this passage refers to.  Considering the previous, how would you answer these few questions:

1.  Are you perfectly capable of interpreting the scriptures (The Bible) on your own?

2.  If scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) doesn’t that suggest that it can be understood or interpreted by the average person?  Why or Why Not?

3.  Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  Again, wouldn’t that suggest that people (those in Christ) are perfectly capable of interpreting the scriptures and understanding them all on their own? 

* These questions are designed to provoke and stimulate conversation and do not necessarily convey the author’s opinion. 






0 thoughts on “Aren't You Perfectly Capable of Interpreting the Scriptures All On Your Own?

  1. Marshall says:

    No, we’re not. But thanks be to God, we are not alone; He has not left us as bereaved/orphans! Interpretation is brought forth and established from God above and through Christ in my brothers (today, yesterday, tomorrow). The Body receives shared understanding (i.e., interpretation) from the Head.

  2. David Woods says:

    Of course we can. With the Holy Spirit’s help of course. Looking at your second Peter reference, let’s let the Scripture interpret itself if one man cannot believe another. Simply read the next verse.

    2 Peter 1:20-21

    I think it’s quite apparent that he was speaking of the prophecies IN Scripture, assuring the reader that they were true, and from the Holy Spirit, and not just of each prophet’s interpretation. It takes a lot of diligent study and hard work using all other resources available to get from that verse that man must go through other men to interpret the scriptures. That’s something that must be taught, and in which one must have a lot faith to believe, because it certainly isn’t in there. Much better to have faith in God and God alone than to follow the erroneous teachings of men down the wrong path.

    • Marshall says:

      the true test would be uniform interpretation by people who are not just comparing notes or following a man-made guide (i.e., commentary). Any method failing this will consequently remain of little value in the ekklesia.

      curious, how I Peter 1:16-21 is more directly reminding us how no prophecy is becoming/writing its own interpretation. (if we will omit the additional words & word ideas so frequently inserted into the text by popular English translation).

      • David Woods says:

        I would refer back to my alcohol analogy in order to disagree with your “true test” Marshall.

        I allow for God to be sovereign enough to tell an old alcoholic to not so much as even touch NyQuil while telling another, as He did in 1 Timothy 5:23 to drink wine for their ailments, or in order to not offend one who drinks real wine with communion, or a host of any other reasons. He knows who can handle it, and who can’t. We don’t necessarily know these things, and therefore shouldn’t be making hard and fast rules concerning them.

        In my analogy, both Christians would compare notes, telling each other that God gave them opposite revelations concerning alcohol, fail your “true test”, split the church, and “consequently remain of little value in the ekklesia” as you stated—even though they are BOTH RIGHT.

        Comparing notes in order to “insure uniform interpretation” has done more to split the body of Christ than any other thing I can think of, and has done NOTHING to help unify it outside each local body.

        • Marshall says:

          agreed. we should not need to “compare notes”; we are brought in unity by the Holy Spirit
          Neither man in Romans 14 is “RIGHT” with or without a private revelation; only Christ is right/just; so also Christ in you. The weaker brother is not justified simply because he does not eat meat, or drink wine. Even the label “alcoholic” is an invention & perspective of man.. We should bring the mind of Christ concerning all things, and thereby we are of One mind.

  3. Peter says:

    Doesn’t 1Corinthians 2:14 apply to Scripture as well?

    • David Woods says:

      Yes, but keep reading. “But we have the mind of Christ”. Also read above “the Holy Spirit teaches us”. I may be wrong, but I took it that this post was directed at Christians, and was addressing our need to be taught by each other, with the assumption that we need the Holy Spirit.

  4. Tom Schultz says:

    I heartily believe that individuals can pretty well understand scripture on their own with the Holy Spirit’s help. It was the Gnostics that postulated the need for special revelation and insight that ordinary run-of-the-mill Christians lacked…a DEEPER meaning that only a few discovered. I believe that taking the plain sense of Scripture will lead any seeking person a long way…probably further than relying on learned teachers to make it all plain.

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