Generally my blog writing doesn’t get much traction, so I’m always super thrilled whenever someone leaves a reply on one of my articles! A short while ago, a spicy skeptic posted a rebuttal to some of the points I’ve made in my article on Scripture Alone and this was his reply:

How can the word of god possibly be misinterpreted if god actually wrote it? That would be impossible. Yet the word of god is misinterpreted all the time, with writers of all ages interpreting the same words completely differently. This tells me that the word of god is not the word of a perfect being, but the words of fallacious beings who believe in their interpretations more than they believe that they are misinterpreting the word of god. Your reasoning sounds good, but it is no better than the reasoning of any other believer in the scriptures, circular and founded in a fallacious belief. But I think you already know that.

He has thrown a number of different points in his rebuttal, but let’s just work on his first major point of contention. Setting aside his rather sassy remark at the end, his counter-argument can be summarised in the form of a simple conditional syllogism:

Proposition 1: If the Bible is God’s word, then there must only be one true interpretation.
Proposition 2: There are many interpretations of the Bible.
Conclusion: The Bible cannot be God’s word.

Is his reasoning sound enough for us to lose confidence in the Bible’s self-attesting claim to be the divine word of God? Since this question is not all that uncommon among skeptics, I thought there was no better way to respond to his criticism than by writing an entire article in response to his question!

Exposing the logical fallacy with an analogy 

To simply answer his question, the myriad of interpretations and opinions that people have about what the Bible says have very little to do with where it comes from. 

Here is an example. In Australia, our Constitution spells out the rule of law, which subjects every person living on Aussie soil to the laws and regulations of the land, irrespective of their status [1]. The rule of law, in principle, “restricts the powers of governments, corporations and individuals, and protects against the exercise of power without a lawful basis.” [2] 

Though our country abides by the rule of law as a valuable principle, there is no consensus on its definition [3]. Politicians, jurists, and judges hold different interpretations as to the extent to which the law expands or constrains power in different circumstances and entities. Yet, these differences in opinion do not and should not undermine our knowledge of where the rule of law comes from. You don’t hear anyone arguing that we cannot know where the rule of law comes from, just because there are so many schools of thought with regards to the scope of its application. We know that the rule of law is written in the Constitution. We know who wrote the Constitution and where it came from.     

Similarly, many people have different views on what the Bible teaches on salvation, the sacraments, roles of men and women, spiritual gifts, church government, the end times and the list goes on. The church’s apparent lack of unity in matters of biblical interpretation throughout its history has cultivated a great degree of distrust in the Bible’s claim to divinity as the Word of God. And frankly, I can strangely empathize with our skeptic’s position here. Yet, I must refute by saying that he has drawn a false premise that the Bible can only come from God… if every single believer holds to one universal interpretation on every matter in the Bible. 

It is fallacious reasoning to believe that the existence of multiple interpretations from Scripture undermines its character and authority. We can still be confident that we know where Scripture comes from irrespective of the multiple interpretations, (much like we can be confident that the rule of law is part of and is enshrined in the Australian Constitution irrespective of the dynamic judicial interpretation of the concept over the years).

The reason for many interpretations of the Bible

I suspect my answer may sound unconvincing to some. If the Scriptures testify to being clear in teaching what it has to say, shouldn’t we all agree on what it says? How would you explain the multiplicity of interpretations? 

1. Our finite minds misunderstand the truth of Scripture

The plethora of scriptural interpretations does not reflect the defective nature of Scripture; it instead reflects our inability to see in Scripture what God says with striking clarity. We do not always properly apply the rules of exegesis when we read the Scriptures. Sometimes we make logical errors in our reasoning, and therefore make unsound conclusions from what we read in the text. Our sensory capabilities are not perfect and we are limited in our ability to perceive reality around us.

2. Our fallen hearts distort the truth of Scripture

But the most significant cause for the variations in interpretation is due to our bias. Our prejudiced views can often cloud our thinking, deny what the evidence tells us, and sway us into rejecting sound interpretations. Due to the hardness of our hearts, we are prone to suppressing the clear truth of Scripture and rejecting what it teaches. We misinterpret Scripture because we don’t always want to believe what Scripture actually teaches. We are most prone to accepting fallacious arguments when the conclusion is aligned to our stance, and the effects of sin often blind us to this reality.

It is fascinating to see that when Jesus taught and witnessed his audience’s failure to understand his teachings from Scripture, he never cast blame on the Scriptures. In fact, we see in multiple passages that the reason for the hearers’ lack of scriptural understanding was their ignorance and sinful rebellion against God (see Matt. 15:16; Mk. 4:12; Jn. 5:39; 8:43). Jesus’ rebuke to the religious leaders – “Have you never read [the Scriptures]” – communicates powerfully that the Bible is sufficiently clear, and hence we are accountable for the misinterpretations of the text we produce. It is not God’s problem that we cannot understand His revelation; it is fundamentally our problem. 

This is all the more reason that we must plead for God to forgive us of our arrogance and rebellion against the truth and ask Him to change the dispositions of our hearts. If we come before Him asking for spiritual wisdom to understand the beauty of His glorious truths, He will give it abundantly and generously (Jas. 1:5). There is always hope that when we trust in God’s illuminating work by the Spirit, we can handle the Scriptures in such a way that our minds will come to know and love truth for what it is.

References

[1] – Aph.gov.au. (2020). Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act – Parliament of Australia. [online] Available at: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/Constitution/preamble.
[2] – Australian Constitution Centre. (2020). The Rule of Law. [online] Available at: https://www.australianconstitutioncentre.org.au/the-rule-of-law.html.
[3] – Australia’s Magna Carta Institute – Rule of Law Education. (2020). What is the Rule of Law? – Australia’s Magna Carta Institute – Rule of Law Education. [online] Available at: https://www.ruleoflaw.org.au/what-is-the-rule-of-law/.

5 thoughts on “17. How can the Bible be God’s word when there are so many interpretations?

  1. Hey John. Thanks for writing that article. Pretty insightful rebuttal.

    I was wondering with the last point where you said that it’s not the scripture nor gods fault for our misunderstanding or misinterpretation and that’s understandable as we are fallen beings who ignore and rebel against God, yet will there be ever a time where we would truly understand what God is revealing to us in his word?

    I was thinking on one hand, yes, since others like Paul have interpreted it well (at least that’s what I expect). Yet on the other hand, I would say no since if we were to truly understand what he is writing, then wouldn’t that make us “God” or on the same level as “God”, yet no one is or will be at that level.

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    1. It’s during moments like these that I am thankful we went through the full book of Daniel.

      If someone who was held in such high esteem, brilliance, wisdom and faith was unable to understand everything that was revealed to him, surely we cannot hold a candle to it.

      Some things have just not yet been revealed to us yet but will become clear on the final day.

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    2. Hi Matt, thanks for the read and for your feedback!

      Yes I’ve been thinking about it as well, and I’d like to echo what Joe said about attaining an evolved understanding of God once we possess hearts and minds that are completely purified of sin. Yet the Reformers have asserted that the Scriptures are the “sufficient” word of God – sufficient in the sense that it tells us adequate wisdom to know the way of salvation and is a guide for godly Christian living. But the Scriptures never claim to be the “exhaustive” word of God. There were so many miracles that Jesus performed at his time on earth, that would teach us much more about his character and nature (John 21:25), yet it was not included in John’s gospel. This suggests that there is much more to know about the Trinitarian God than what we find in the revelation of Scripture, even if we understood Scripture perfectly! God is so big that He can be compared to the large oceans on the earth, with a drop of water comprising the amount of knowledge of God that is contained within our own Bibles.

      I suspect that even in our glorified states in the new heavens and earth, there is much more to know about God and we’ll be spending the rest of eternity doing so.

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  2. God bless your passion in sharing truth and defending the faith.
    This generation needs more people who has a heart for apologetics.

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  3. Hi Peevee,

    Thankyou for your wonderful encouragement! It means a lot and I totally agree that we need more people who are valiant for defending the truth of the gospel!

    Like

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