If all Christians have the same Bible, and the same Holy Spirit, should not Christians be able to agree? It is frustrating for those inside and outside the Christian church, the body of Christ, to see all the different interpretations of doctrine, biblical principles and church structure. In a perfect world, every believer would read and study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15), pray to the Holy Spirit for clear illumination, and come to the same conclusions. But clearly this doesn't happen. Why do we come to different conclusions about the Bible and interpret it differently if we are all believers in the same God, all saved by the same Lord Jesus, and all indwelt by the same Holy Spirit? There are several explanations for this phenomenon.
What is the reason for all the different Christian interpretations?
First, there is the issue of simple unbelief. The sad reality is that many who claim to be Christians have never repented of sin and come to Christ for the salvation He alone offers. The pews are filled with unbelievers who have come into the church for their own reasons and who have never experienced a true change of heart. Many who teach the Bible do not believe it themselves. They claim to speak for God but do not have the Holy Spirit indwelling them and, without His illumination, they come to wrong conclusions and false interpretations of Scripture. Some may even be well-meaning and deceived themselves, not realizing that it is impossible for an unbeliever to correctly interpret Scripture. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Another reason for incorrect interpretations is the lack of training. Peter reminds us that the letters of the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament epistles, "[have] some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16). When the "ignorant and unstable" attempt to interpret Scripture without using accepted methods of exegesis, error often results. Paul told Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Studying to show ourselves approved involves "correctly" handling God's Word to come to the correct interpretations.
Along with lack of training is poor hermeneutics. Applying good hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture) is essential if we are to come to proper and correct interpretations. Crucial in this process is considering passages and verses in their wider context of the chapter and book in which they are found, as well as their historical/cultural context. Taking verses and passages out of their context has resulted in more incorrect interpretations than any other single factor.
Another detriment to correct interpretation of Scripture is lack of understanding of the entire Word of God. Apollos was a powerful and eloquent preacher, but his message was incomplete because his understanding was limited. Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained to him the things they had learned from the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:24-28). After that, Apollos preached Jesus Christ and the fullness of His birth, death, and resurrection. Some groups and individuals today have an incomplete message because they use certain passages and ignore others. Failure to adequately compare Scripture with Scripture and preach "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) has led such groups to propagate falsehood and error.
When Christians are not as mature as they should be, they can come to wrong conclusions about the Scriptures. Paul reminds the Corinthians that many of them were not mature enough for the "meat" of God's Word, preferring to remain at the level of receiving only the simplest and most basic of doctrinal truths (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). When immature Christians do not have the chance or the desire to move beyond the "milk" stage, the "meat" of God's Word is obscured and misinterpretations occur. For this reason, those who teach God's Word, whether from the pulpit, in Bible classes, or on blogs or websites, must be mature in the faith and well-studied in the Scriptures. Sadly, this is often not the case, which results in a plethora of opinions and false interpretations of Scripture.
Finally, incorrect interpretations of Scripture occur because of an emphasis on tradition. Some churches claim to believe the Bible, but their interpretation is always filtered through the established traditions of the church or interpreted in light of the church's other publications or edicts. When equal weight is give to tradition and the teachings of the Bible, tradition is often given precedence. This directly contradicts the doctrines of the sufficiency and supremacy of the Word of God and leads to falsehood. No church tradition, papal edict, or writings of man can be placed on a par with the inspired Word of God which is declare to be all we need to be "complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17).
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