Is the Bible Subject to Interpretation?

Before I started reading the Bible for myself as an adult, I subscribed to the view that “the Bible is subject to interpretation.”  By this, I meant that it wouldn’t be worth my time to read the Bible because its meaning would be whatever each reader said it was.  I did not realize at the time I held this view how dumb it really was.

I was assuming that the Bible was like a Rorschach inkblot that could have whatever meaning a reader wanted to give it.  I viewed as support for my view that there were different Christian churches on every corner in most towns; and if Christians couldn’t agree on what it said, then it must not have a clear message.

Even though I didn’t expect the Bible to present a compelling case for God, I started reading it at age 27 because I thought it would improve my cultural literacy.  Another motivation was that I would be able to make myself able to refute anyone who tried to convert me, using my newly-acquired knowledge of the Bible’s vagaries against any evangelist who approached me.

Reading the Bible for myself, however, changed my view…and my life.  While I did find many things in the Bible that were hard to understand, if not incomprehensible, I also found many things that were quite clear in meaning – and that inherently imposed on me the necessity to accept or reject that meaning.

I found to be true what the apostle Peter said was true:

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.
–  2 Peter 1:20-21

That is, the reason that the Bible is not a matter of one’s own interpretation is that the Holy Spirit who inspired its writing is the same Holy Spirit who’s present with you when you’re reading.  If He gives you the understanding of something, there’s really nothing to interpret.

For example, the Bible says that Jesus is Lord.  No reasonable person could read the Bible and say, “Well, my interpretation is that I think the Bible says Peter is Lord.”  Or “…George is Lord.”  Or “…Jesus is not Lord.”  And understanding the message that Jesus is Lord inherently imposes on me the necessity of accepting or rejecting that message.  And to then live with the consequences.  Even if I say, “I do not want to accept or reject this message,” that itself is a form of rejecting the message.  That “Jesus is Lord” is the most obvious and important example of clear meaning in the Bible, but there are many others.

Just because people may find things to argue about in the Bible does not mean that it cannot be crystal clear on important issues.

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