“The Bible means different things to different people,” we often hear. Some adopt this approach because they believe it is unkind to tell someone that their beliefs are wrong. Others feel like no one can understand the Bible and since many Biblical scholars have different opinions about what a passage means, then it must mean different things to each reader. In addition to being unscriptural, those who adopt such an approach fail to see the dangerous implications of the statement.
The Bible tells us that we can understand it, Ephesians 5:17. God did not give us the Bible in a mysterious code that some may interpret different ways. The Bible was written in the language of the common person. The English translations we use are easy to read and comprehend. The Bible often uses everyday objects like seed, fishing, and the body, to illustrate spiritual concepts. We cannot blame misunderstanding on the text itself for we can understand it.
If each reader can interpret the Bible differently, then the message is irrelevant for there would be no inherent truth—no objective standard—by which we could shape our lives and worship. Error and falsehood is known as opposition to truth. Instead, the Bible becomes like clay that we can mold into whatever shape pleases us. The Bible then becomes no different from any other book. If this view is true, the Bible cannot be authoritative for no two people will understand the law correctly. Of course, Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:17 opposes this.
The confusion comes when individuals interpret a scripture differently. Peter acknowledged that some of Paul’s writings were hard to understand but he did not say that it was impossible, 2 Peter 3:15-18. In fact, Peter said that by growing in the knowledge of God we could recognize and avoid the error of those who twist the truth.
The Bible exhorts believers to “be of the same mind,” 1 Corinthians 1:10. Worldly approaches to the Bible lead to division, 1 Corinthians 10:11-13; 3:3-4. Taking a view that is concerned with physical concerns more than spiritual needs will lead us astray, 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Timothy 1:5-7; 6:20-21. This carnal/spiritual conflict will cause religious division. Paul recognized that such an approach always leads to arguments over scripture because some are misusing God’s word, 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-9. These people usually lead others into their error.
Some will quote “no Scripture is of private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20) to prove that we cannot understand the Bible, at least not without aid. However, Peter really says, “no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation.” Peter wrote that the prophetic word was made more sure because they saw it fulfilled in Jesus and the church. Most translations make a marginal note that interpretation can also be translated origin. Prophecy did not come by human wisdom or analysis, but God gave the prophets the message, v.21. This verse has nothing to do with an individual interpretation of Scripture.
Some will acknowledge what the Scripture says but feel that they do not have to obey it or that it really does not matter what they do. Jeremiah 17:9 warns of the danger of relying on one’s feelings; they can be deceitful. How can a man decide what God does or does not want? Even David, a man after God’s own heart, was rebuked for presuming to do something for God in service to Him that He did not command. In 2 Samuel 7:1-7, David wanted to build a wonderful temple for God and the prophet Nathan told him to do it “for the Lord is with you.” But God rebuked Nathan and told him to tell David that He did not ask for a temple to be built and prohibited David from doing so! David and Nathan had a good idea but they acted presumptuously; only God knew what He wanted. When we set aside God’s will for worship for our own desires, we also act presumptuously.
I studied with a religious group once that told me to pray about what they were teaching; if I had good feelings, what they said was true. I pointed out an inherent flaw in their approach: I have often had good feelings about bad things and bad feelings about good things. I can remember when I have had to tell a good friend and fellow Christian that some friends saw her buying alcohol and were talking about it. It was good and right for me to talk with her about the bad example she had set, but I had bad feelings of nervousness and sorrow that I had to confront her. I also had a good feeling when I told off a person that was being a jerk, but I realized later that I handled the situation incorrectly. Though I felt good about it at the time, I did the wrong thing. Our basis for evaluating truth must lie outside of ourselves, James 1:23-25; 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Many things seem good to us but do not please God, Proverbs 14:12. It is presumptuous for us to put what we want to do above what God has commanded. Paul wrote that there were many things he thought he ought to do for God, but he was wrong, Acts 26:9; 1 Timothy 1:12-13. Jesus warned of religious people who would be lost for disobedience, Matthew 7:21-23. They did what seemed to be wonderful things, but they did not please God. We must not think that just because we are religious God will be pleased. God wants obedience to His law, not our desires.