Private Interpretation

by Mike Ratliff

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14 ESV)

Even though it is discounted by many today, the Protestant Reformation was a wonderful work by God in that the Gospel was freed from the captivity of the apostate Roman Catholic Church. Over the centuries the Gospel had become obscured as the Bishop of Rome was declared perfect with authority over Scripture. Any resistance to his authority was dealt with through excommunication followed by being burned at the stake. The Reformation not only recovered the Gospel and Justification by Faith, the Bible became available to the common people whereas before this, no one was allowed to read it by the edicts of the Pope.

At Luther’s trial at the Diet of Worms when pressed to recant of His teachings he proclaimed, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

This declaration by Luther and his subsequent translation of the Bible into German did two things. First, it declared to the world that the Roman Catholic church did not have the sole right of Bible interpretation. Those who were able to live in areas outside of the rule of apostate Roman Church would no longer be at the mercy of its doctrine or have to accept tradition or church teaching as an authority equal to or even greater than God’s Word. Second, it put Bible interpretation into the hands of the people. This, in turn, has been problematic because it has led to many of the excesses about which the R.C.C. was concerned. Subjective interpretation of Bible has led many to depart from the historic Christian faith into various forms of heresy.

Subjectivism is the great danger of private interpretation. However, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. The principle of private interpretation does not mean that Christians have the right to interpret the Bible in whatever manner they wish. The “right” to interpret Scripture includes the responsibility to interpret it properly. The Bible is a wonderful treasure house of God’s truths and Christians are free to discover them. However, they are not free to fabricate their own truth. We are called to understand sound principles of interpretation and to avoid the danger of subjectivism. 

Proper Bible Study does not reduce Sacred Scripture to a cold set of facts with no spiritual life. No, when we have the right understanding of Scripture we find life and power because these flow from the Law of truth which is found in God’s Word. Read again the passage I placed at the top of this piece. What does the Holy Spirit do for us? He guides us into all truth. He declares to us God’s Word. Why? It is so we will know what is to come and to know God’s truth. What source do you think He uses for this? Isn’t it God’s Word, the Bible? 

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15 ESV)

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 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. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:9-16 ESV)

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21 ESV)

When private interpretation become subjective then problems arise. People have created all sorts of heretical teachings that lead many astray into false forms of our faith. There is not enough space here to address all of these. However, for an example where subjectivism leads follow this link to a very disturbing piece from a well known Revivalist, or this one from Pulpit Pimps

Private interpretation works only if we study our Bibles as we are led by the Spirit. If we seek only God’s glory and His wisdom and discernment then we are doing this in humility. However, if our motives are outside of that then we are operating in our pride and that means we are not listening to the Holy Spirit, but instead, we are listening to our own fleshly desires or even the voice of the enemy. 

My brethren, do not let this frighten you away from studying your Bible. Just remember that our guide through the Word of God is the Holy Spirit who seeks only God’s glory and our submission to His will. I pray that you will seek the truth from God’s Word instead of falling for the snare of subjectivism. 


25 thoughts on “Private Interpretation

  1. We have a book we ordered off of Monergism that we are in the process of reading now. In light of all the falsness going on out there we felt we needed this book badly. Its called ‘let the reader understand’, A guide to interpreting and applying the Bible. And its by Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton. We are on page 111 of the 312 pages. Yes we need to interpret the Bible rightfully for sure. The great falling away and the apostasy is in full swing. We need this teaching desperatly! Thanks for a good post Mike.

  2. Good post, Mike. I also read what orthodox men of God believed (Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, etc.) to give me some direction since subjectivity is so easy. I also review what was preached in great revivals to test the spirits. Although both those things are not fail safes, they still can lend some guidance.

    That protects us from arriving at a private or small group interpretation.

  3. Amen, Mike!

    I’m constantly amazed by the wild-eyed fringe “Christianity” so-called that is endlessly chasing after the latest “God-thing” (think of the occultist Todd Bentley-ites and the heretical WoF’ers) instead of falling down in awe and wonder at the foot of the greatest “God-thing” that has ever happened, the glorious cross of Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior!

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    In Christ,

  4. “the Protestant Reformation was a wonderful work by God”

    Why give God credit for what Luther accomplished? Did God nail the theses to the door? Did God stand before the Diet of Words?

  5. Hi Mike Ratliff,

    You might want to remember that the protestant revolution was also the reason behind many thousands of people being killed. One battle alone caused the death of six to seven thousand Christian believers. We find this throughout history. Do you really think there is a God operating there?

  6. Where would we be today if Luther would not have been a critical thinker? We need more Luthers and Jeremiahs. People who will question any misconception of Jesus Christ. Men who do not shrink away under pressure from the world. Soldiers who stand their ground with enduring faith, who say, ” I know this is not going to be pretty, but somebody has to rock the boat. Jesus, I know this is going to cost me. I cannot do it without you. Your will be done.”

    A wise builder will sit down and estimate the cost of building before he begins to build. The one who does not count the cost, Jesus calls foolish. Are we so in love with our standing with the world, that Jesus has been reduced to a trend? Rock bands, earrings, gangsta-Jesus, devil tattoos, porno sermons, and homosexual tolerance have all contributed to today’s apostasy.

    Jesus is not a passing trend who dwells at Vanity Fair. He is the great refiner and judge. Who are we to try to bind Him, so that He must do as we please?

  7. Will,

    It is Diet of “Worms” pronounced “Verms.” Yes, God has us to do this and is with us. Luther could not have done anything without God.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  8. thewordofme,

    I am referring to the Protestant Reformation not the political revolutions that took place around it. Even in all of that chaos the Gospel was preserved by God and the R.C.C. lost it’s stranglehold on both the Bible and BIblical doctrine and Gospel.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. Hi brother, Again I am so thankful for the Lord’s working in you to keep this web site going.

    I want to share two or three things my pastor regularly says in his sermons/teaching.

    1. Scripture must interpret scripture. If what you are understanding a text to say does not square with all of scripture you are incorrect. God is unchanging and is His Word.

    2. When we are reading His Word we must not put a grid over scripture as we seek to understand its meaning. We must be a grid over ourselves. And that grid is scripture. God’s word exclusively interprets God’s word.

    3. “I am all for liberty of conscience.” The Holy Spirit – He Who procedes from the Father- moves in the lives of the elect and directs them in all truth (scripture). And if what you “know” yourself to be directed in does not square with all of scripture, it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. Everything either bubbles up from God or from the flesh. And the Canon is closed.

    Although these thoughts are expressed frequently, they are also expressed variously. Any wording that is incorrect is my error. The point is always the same: All the working of the Holy Spirit, who procedes from the Father, who is the carrying agent of God’s Word, is in utter agreement with God’s Word. God has a plurality of expression and a unity of being. He is one.

    I hope these thoughts are helpful. Kim T

  10. oops. The second sentence in the second point should read. “We must put a grid over ourselves.” apologies

  11. Mike Do you think that the R.C.C. was hindering GODS WORD? or can it hinder HIS HOLY SPIRIT? It is mans pride(UNBLIEF), they were reaping what they themselfs have sown. Martian Luther was just the tip of many servents sent to free people from religion just as we need for today!!! There were men way before Luther that were burned at the stake trying to get GODS WORD in people’s hand so that HE can put HIS LAWS upon our hearts and our minds Hebrews 10:15-16. Look at Gal. 5:7-9 and Hebrews 12:1-3 if we rely on others to brings us a relationship with GOD other than THE HOLY SPIRIT and yes even HIS written WORD we have no foundation and when storm’s come (life) we fail. JESUS CHRIST is our only hope TODAY and this world is going to hell and we want to hear AMEN’S let US weep and mourn so that the LORD will find FAITH on earth when HE returns!!! There is no such thing as a reformation GODS WORD IS THE SAME TODAY YESTERDAY AND FOREVER not when men finally see it but when men react to GODS GRACE AND BELIEVE!!! LOVE BECAUSE OF JESUS CHRIST MY LORD JERRY

  12. Jerry,

    Yes there is such a thing as reformation and that is what took place in the 16th Century. The CHURCH is what is reformed. This is what I am referring to. No one is saying that God changed or the Gospel changed. What we are saying is that the R.C.C. had become apostate. In our time, the visible church is mostly apostate and we are in great need of a great awakening and that very well could result in another Reformation.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  13. “Do you really think there is a God operating there?”

    God is operating in everything, even in circumstances which we find confusing. (reference the cross)

  14. Mike Please you know reformed means to change or improve. JESUS CHRIST being the HEAD of HIS CHURCH Eph.5:23&Col.1:18 would let HIS church apostate. Correct me if I am wrong does’nt apostate mean reject JESUS CHRIST. So it is not JESUS CHRIST or HIS CHURCH that changed at any time in history but man’s imagination because there is no other wine skin’s in which HE has sent HIS HOLY SPIRIT in but to those who are called out to HIM. This is the only reformation I know of and that is JESUS CHRIST look at 1Peter2:4-11. HE has started building HIS church never to be built by others or started agian, We are HIS workmanship and GOD cause the growth not tumors so HE has to remove later. It is almost like you up hold the reformation up more than the day of pentecost which is the SEAL OF GOD HIMSELF THE HOLY SPIRIT which HE never leaves us nor forsakes us unless we APOSTATE! For Paul,
    > And as for GOD is in it all you better be careful where you try to place GOD because HE is more than you imagination when you put HIM in a LIGHT other than what JESUS CHRIST did when HE walked this earth Hebrews 1:3 And HE is the radiance of HIS GLORY and the EXACT REPRESENTATION of HIS NATURE….. HE never made any man sin nor told them the same but the exact opposite. But HE takes our weakness when we realize HE is our strength TODAY!!! not yesterday or tomorrow.!!! LOVE YOU BECAUSE OF MY LORD JESUS CHRIST JERRY

  15. Amen Mike! Good, sound, scriptural post. I think sometimes though we threw out a little too much baby with the bathwater with the Reformation.
    I pray that we’re able to take the church back much further though, as it was governed and structured in the first century. Somehow I don’t see the sons of thunder agreeing to all of our denominational dividedness today. I’ve become more of a Restorationist in my years since serving in stiff, litergical, and heirarchically liberal United Methodist churches and earlier in dogmatic, ultra conservative Southern Baptist churches. Though both groups have their good and sound points.
    Enjoyed the thoughts today.

  16. Jerry,

    Your mistake is ASSUMING that all professing Christians are in the visible Church are genuine Christians in the genuine Church. When I talk of the Reformation I talk of rescuing Christianity from the forms of the Church that are not real. Therefore, using the term “Reformation” strictly like you did is a wrong. That is not what we are even remotely talking about.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  17. Larry,

    This is why it is so important that we do know the history of the Church. God has used the Gnostics and all those forms of heresy related to it plus innumerable others to bring the Church to crisis. In the crisis the leaders come together and confront the heresies and in the process formulate what we call doctrine now. The Protestant Reformation was a rough time and I disagree with those who say it was a mistake. God did that. He used that time to rescue the Gospel and free the Bible from the prison in which it was held by the apostate RCC. Should we go back to the time of the Apostles? I don’t think so. Why? That was a period of apostasy just like we have now. Most of the Epistles were written to address this stuff.

    The UMC and the SBC have been declining for some time. I was SBC for many years, but I would say that my theology has been rescued from the bondage of the mediocre and watered-down way the SBC does church and handles doctrine. The mistake these churches have made and are still making is that they assume and teach that Doctrine is trivial and Christianity is just a life full of feelings and experience. Nope, Real Christianity is a life that is lived according to the doctrine of which our faith consists. Without this then there is no center, no foundation. Anything goes and that is not of God. This post is huge part of that. There is a definite relationship between these two things. The more precise we are in handling scripture the less we lean on feelings and personal experience. Instead, we interpret those things in light of it. It may seem a subtle thing, but the difference is huge.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  18. Hi Mike Ratliff, Thanks for the answer.

    Regarding your answer to me.

    “I am referring to the Protestant Reformation not the political revolutions that took place around it. Even in all of that chaos the Gospel was preserved by God and the R.C.C. lost it’s stranglehold on both the Bible and BIblical doctrine and Gospel.”

    Do you think the R.C.C. really had the ability, spirit, Godliness, etc. to hold on too and pass on the ‘Word of God’ for those 1300 years they had it in their soul possession?
    You know; killing non-believers, torture, brain-washing, pedophilia, that sort of thing.

    No disrespect intended, but they were not the people of God. I have a hard time believing they would be good stewards of the real Word of God.

    Regarding the last decade or two of the Catholic Churches performance…do you believe that this was not a world-wide and Looong (you know, like from the very beginning) running scandal?

    They simply do not seem, to me, a good choice to place God’s future for safekeeping…for 1300 years.

  19. thewordofme,

    God always has a remnant of His believers even within apostate churches like the R.C.C. back then. He is sovereign. in the 14th century, for instance, Wycliffe began the Lollard movement. It was all within the R.C.C too. The movment spread to Bohemia where Jan Hus started it there. It spread into Moravia in Germany way before Luther. This sort of opened the way for Luther and the Reformation.

    The RCC burned thousands during the period after Augustine until and through the Reformation. Who were they burning? These would be those who stood against the apostasy.

    I never once said the the RCC during that period was what you are saying that I said. I said that it held the Gospel and the Bible captive. They would not let anyone read the Bible. That was what the Reformation did, it put the BIble into the hands of the people.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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