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Teaching

Personal Study and Private Interpretation

Most homes in the Western world have a Bible. The Bible is the best-selling book of all time and continues to be the best-selling book every year. Because of the easy accessibility of Bibles, many of us have forgotten the awesome price that was paid for the privilege of possessing a Bible written in our own language that we can interpret for ourselves.

1. Martin Luther and Private Interpretation

a. Two of the great legacies of the Reformation were the principle of private interpretation and the translation of the Bible into the language of the people.

b. Many were burned at the stake for translating the Scriptures.

c. At Diet of Worms, Luther brought issue of private interpretation into sharp focus: “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant. For my conscience is held captive by the word of God and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.”

d. Luther was called arrogant but maintained that popes and councils could error.

e. Only the Scriptures were free from error.

f. Counter-Reformation culminated at Council of Trent (1545-1563): “To check unbridled spirits it [the Council] decrees that no one, relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held or holds, or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published.”

i. Do the Scriptures promote “unbridledness”?

ii. Do the Scriptures promote the private interpretation to suit oneself?

iii. Are individuals to ignore those who specialize in teaching the Scriptures?

iv. Do individuals have the private right to distort the Scriptures?

2. With the Right of Private Interpretation comes sober responsibility

a. 2nd Helvetic: “We do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we do modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down thing differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures….”

b. Private interpretation opened the Bible for laypeople, but it did not do away with the principle of the educated clergy. (Ephesians 4)

c. “Priesthood of all believers” does not remove the need for gifts within the Body.

3. Objectivity and Subjectivity

a. The danger of subjectivity in interpretation

b. “Well, that’s your opinion…”

c. Subjectivity versus Subjectivism

i. Subjectivity – how does Truth apply to me?

ii. Subjectivism – truth is determined by me.

d. Objective – seeking to understand meaning, in context, before we apply it.

i. A statement may have many applications but only one interpretation.

e. Exegesis or Eisegesis

i. Exegesis (“to guide out of”) – what does the Scripture say?

ii. Eisegesis – to read into something what we want it to say

iii. Which is arrogant?

f. Do we measure the Word or does it measure us?

4. The Role of the Teacher

a. Though small groups and home Bible studies can be very effective in promoting renewal of the church and the transformation of society, somewhere along the line people must receive educated teaching.

b. Private study and interpretation must be balanced by the collective wisdom of the teachers. (Eph 4)

c. Private study is commanded but together we confess with the Church under the one Word.

d. Pooling of knowledge is edifying but pooling of ignorance is destructive.

e. Private study is an important means of grace.

5. Some terms and ideas

a. Solo Scriptura – me and the Bible

i. “All heretics quote Scripture. The question in this controversy is not the normativity of the Bible but who gets to interpret it.” – R. Scott Clark

b. Sola Scriptura – The Scriptures Alone

c. Roman Catholicism

i. Regula Fidei – Rule of Faith

ii. Fide Implicita – Implicit Faith

iii. “Although it would be nice to think that Scripture is so clear that no visible living interpretive authority is needed to provide the authoritative interpretation, if the fragmentation of Protestantism over the past four hundred and ninety years is not enough to falsify such a position, then how many more centuries of division would be needed to falsify it? Exegesis and hermeneutics cannot unite Christians in one body; only a divinely authorized visible living interpretive authority can do so.” – Bryan Cross, Called to Communion.

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