Not Open to Interpretation

Nearly all of the information we receive comes to us through the filter of man's interpretation. For example, the news is reported to us by men who interpret the facts before they report them. Some details are given and others are omitted according to the reporter's judgment of what is necessary, important, or expedient to his purpose. Another example is the records of history. Some stories are carefully documented and recorded for posterity while others are neglected and forgotten according to historians' choices. Of the stories that are recorded, different historians give different interpretations. In the area of science, evolutionists interpret the various evidences in terms of Charles Darwin's theory, whereas creationists interpret the same evidences in terms of the Bible's accounts. All of this is important for us to know as we digest the information we receive. We need to realize that the information is affected by man's interpretation and that our own biases play a part as well.

Concerning the Bible, the apostle Peter declared that it is not a matter of man's interpretation. He wrote, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2Pet. 1:20-21). This may seem to be a curious notion, but we need to consider how to properly interpret this passage. Does it mean that there cannot be different interpretations of the Scriptures, or does it have some other meaning?

The context of this passage is speaking of the origin of the Scriptures rather than man's understanding of them. The meaning is plain: the Scriptures did not come from man, but they came from God. This message is also found in 2Timothy 3:16-17, which says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." The Holy Spirit is responsible for the content of the Scriptures rather than man. This is the proper interpretation of 2Peter 1:20-21.

Nevertheless, there is a lesson to learn about our understanding of God's word in 2Peter 1:20-21. Because the Scriptures have come from God, they have an absolute, true meaning. The true meaning of God's word does not depend upon the man who reads them, for he may interpret them wrongly. Truly, there is a right way to interpret the Scriptures, and there are many wrong ways to do so. In this same epistle, Peter said that there were untaught and unstable men who twisted and distorted the Scriptures (2Pet. 3:16). By this, it is evident that a man's understanding of the Scriptures is a matter of his interpretation, so he must be careful to make the correct interpretation.

Consider an example that shows both wrong and right interpretations of Scripture. In Matthew 22:23-33, the Sadducees came to Jesus quoting Scripture and possessing the wrong interpretation. They thought there could be no resurrection because God had required a man to marry his brother's widow, and this would mean that two brothers would be married to the same woman in the resurrection according to their interpretation. Jesus answered them and said, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God" (v. 29). He then gave them the proper interpretation of Scripture, proving that there is a resurrection and that there will be no marriage in the resurrection.

It should always be our ambition to make the right interpretation of God's word. In order to do so, we must follow the prescription of 2Timothy 2:15, which says, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." Correctly interpreting God's word requires careful study. The science of interpretation is called "hermeneutics," which is a systematic, logical, and Scriptural approach to properly understanding and using God's word. In addition to personal study, it is also necessary to receive the instructions of others who are wise in the word of God (Acts 18:25-26; 2Tim. 3:14-15; Heb. 13:7). Furthermore, our own experience and exercise of the principles of God's word will train us to properly discern good and evil (Rom. 12:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).

Therefore, let us understand that the Bible is not the product of man's efforts, but the correct understanding of the Bible does depend upon our interpretation. We must be careful not to be as untaught and unstable handlers of the Bible who distort and twist the Scriptures (2Pet. 3:16), but instead we must become unashamed workmen who by diligence accurately handle the word of truth (2Tim. 2:15). In this way, we can be certain that we are not foolish, but that we "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17).

Stacey E. Durham


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