Why Are There So Many Christian Interpretations?

One reason there are many Christian interpretations is there is a lack of understanding of what biblical interpretation is, and many Christians also do not listen to the voice of the Spirit through the Word of God.

Dave Jenkins
Why Are There So Many Christian Interpretations?

Scripture teaches there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Such teaching helps Christians understand the unity that is theirs exists because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). In Ephesians 4:3, Paul makes an appeal to Christians for the character qualities of humility, meekness, patience, and love, which are necessary to the preservation of unity.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:10, teaches that the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), by which He reveals (1 Corinthians 2:10), and teaches (1 Corinthians 2:13) those whom He indwells. Such a process is what theologians call illumination, where the Holy Spirit helps the people of God interpret Scripture.

Every Christian is to read and study the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15), in prayerful dependence upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit. In the real world, not everyone who possesses the Holy Spirit obeys the teaching of Scripture.

There are Christians, Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, who grieve the Holy Spirit. One reason there are many different interpretations is some do not listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. Some other reasons include the following:

Unbelief

Some people who claim the label “Christian” are not Christians for there has been no real transformation in either their hearts or their lives. It is impossible for the non-Christian to correctly interpret Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:14), for they have no illumination of Scripture, which is why even being a pastor or theologian does not guarantee one’s salvation.

In John 12:28-29, Jesus prays to the Father, “Father, glorify your name,” and the Father responds with an audible voice that everyone hears. Even so, the crowd interprets the voice differently, “The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” Everyone heard the same thing, a plain statement from heaven, yet everyone heard what they wanted to hear.

A Lack of Training

2 Timothy 2:15 teaches there is no shortcut to proper biblical interpretation, but to study it. One example of this was Apollos, who was a powerful and persuasive preacher but who was ignorant of Jesus and Salvation. Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24-28). As a result of their training, Apollos preached Jesus Christ from the Word of God.

A Wrong Emphasis on Tradition

Where biblical interpretation goes wrong is when it is filtered not first through the Word but the established traditions of the church. Concerning tradition and the teaching of the Bible, far too often, tradition is given the place of prominence. When this happens, the authority of the Word is diminished, and the authority of the church leadership opinions, not the Word of God, are given supremacy.

Devoted to Biblical Doctrine

Christians need to prioritize what Scripture teaches but avoid being dogmatic about where Scripture is silent. The best example to follow is the Early Church in Jerusalem in Acts 2:42, where there was unity because they were steadfast on the Apostles’ Creed. Today there can be unity in the Church but not apart from biblical doctrine, and only when we are grounded in the Word.

The Analogy of Faith

During the Reformation, the Reformers aimed to put a stop to speculative and wrong interpretations of Scripture by setting forth the principle of the analogy of faith, which means Scripture is its own best interpreter. Christians, according to this rule of biblical interpretation, are to interpret Scripture according to Scripture.

Scripture, according to the analogy of faith,  is the supreme judge in interpreting the meaning of a particular verse in light of the whole teaching of the Bible. Behind the idea of the analogy of faith is confidence in the Bible as the consistent and coherent Word of God. The governing principle of the analogy of faith is to guide biblical interpretation.

Sensus Literalis and Biblical Interpretation

Sensus Literalis is the principle that governs an objective interpretation of Scripture. Sensus Literalis means Christians must interpret the Bible in the sense it is given. For example, parables are to be interpreted as parables, symbols as symbols, poetry as poetry, historical narratives as historical narratives, and letters as letters.

Literal Interpretation and the Clarity of Scripture

Challenging biblical passages are challenging for a reason, but they are to be interpreted in light of the clear biblical passages on the subject. Though all Scripture is clear, not all biblical passages are equally clear. Numerous heresies, for example, have erred on that particular point and forced conformity to the obscure passages rather than to the clear biblical passages.

As a result, these heresies have distorted the whole Bible. If something remains unclear in one part of the Bible, it is made clear elsewhere in the Word of God. Further, let’s say we have two biblical passages that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In such an instance, we must always interpret the Bible in such a way as not to violate  Scripture’s unity and integrity.

Interpreting Scripture Literally

The Bible is to be interpreted literally, which means the Word of God is not to be handled as a secret codebook to unlock the world’s secrets mysteries. Christians are to read the Bible like any other work of literature, for in doing so, our goal is to read the Scriptures correctly.

By reading the Bible literally, we are accounting for the intent of the biblical authors and the literary conventions of the particular style they used to address Bible readers. For example, we do not read poetry the same way we read the historical narrative of the Bible, for poetry employs rich imagery that serves as a figurative depiction of reality. The historical narrative gives an orderly account of what exactly happened.

As Christians, we read the Bible literally, the goal in doing so is to get the plain sense of the text to arrive at the meaning of the biblical passage. The Holy Spirit, in inspiring the Word of God, guided the human authorities to employ literary styles such as poetry, proverb, narrative, sermon, epistle, and many other styles.

The Lord used these genres so that the people of God would know that He gave them to us for His Word. While there are rules for each of these genres, we are not to violate them for the sake of allegorical readings that do not connect with the meaning of the biblical text.

Why Does This Matter?

Reading the Bible is critical for Christians, but we are to do so according to proper hermeneutics, taking into account the various literary styles. If we fail in this, we will get the wrong meaning. The plain meaning of a passage is best for reading poetry as poetry, narrative as narrative; we will get the meaning that is controlled by the text and arrive at the proper interpretation and application of the biblical passage.

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Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon.


Originally published March 31, 2020.