Private Interpretation Leading to Subjectivism

by Mike Ratliff

13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.  (John 16:13-14 NASB)

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 Martin 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?

13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.  (John 16:13-15 NASB)
9 but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:9-16 NASB)
20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 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 NASB)

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.

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. Let us pray that we will all seek the truth from God’s Word instead of falling for the snare of subjectivism.

Soli Deo Gloria!

14 thoughts on “Private Interpretation Leading to Subjectivism

  1. Good instruction, my brother. As I’ve been taught in my church, if you come up a new interpretation of Scripture that no orthodox Christians have dug up from the Word before, check yourself – you’re in error. God has not and does not hide His meaning and reveal it bit by bit since the close of the cannon. While Scripture was being given, His redemptive plan was revealed bit by bit. He finished His special revelation.

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  2. Manfred, yep, if something is hailed as “truth,” but is “new” then it is more than likely false, but “truth” that is “old” is the truth. This wisdom is completely contrary to how fallen man thinks though. When I think of these things I remember my dear brother in Christ Jim Bublitz who, before his death, ran the website “OLD TRUTH.”

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  3. Dear Mike,

    “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. ” Amen and amen!!!

    I’m currently reading “What is Christianity?” selections from J. Gresham Machen and I found it very interesting that Machen respectfully called out those “pastors” of his day who were twisting Scripture, and as well meaning as they may be were leading people astray. Of course, as we already know, it is up to each generation to rise up and study, learn and properly defend God’s Holy Word. This is why it is so grievous when even sweet, well meaning, people write books declaring they are speaking the very words of Christ! There is this “super spirituality” (which I think also afflicted the monastics) where people believe that if they are “disciplined” enough they too can achieve direct contact with God and get direct revelation. Well, wasn’t that Christ’s purpose?[1Timothy 2:5] And, when we don’t know what to pray doesn’t the Holy Spirit make groans and intercession for us?[Romans 8:26&27] God knows our weak and vulnerable frame. [Psalm 103:14] He is our help, refuge and deliverer. [Psalm 46:1]

    May God who is rich in mercy and compassion grant us the ability to share truth in love with those who are held captive to deception.
    Kept only by His undeserved grace, charisse

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  4. Ah but Manfred and Mike, many teach as an echo of what they heard as an echo from their teachers as if it were truth. Luther himself brought what appeared to be new revelation thanks to the Holy Spirit.

    We are now about 180 years into the pre-trib rapture theory and the church ages teachings, which make the amil position look like new truth to most!

    So again we must lift up these scriptures that Mike quotes as our guide, for this is the purpose of the Holy Spirit. We too then must downplay the teaching of men, as all heresy has been introduced through them, and that from the teachings of or allowance of those in pulpits!

    Jesus set up one way for man to know Him, via His Word in context as revealed by the Holy Spirit. Elders are but guide rails along the edge of the narrow road. Our focus must remain upon the Destination as you both well know. The navigation of any road by bouncing off the guide rails as our source of navigation will always lead to destruction. Guide rails will fail you and then you will leave the narrow road. The whole concept of the Talmud proves this such as these hedge laws of the Jews were guide rails set by men such that their navigation lead to a change in focus such that the sight of the Destination was lost! See Jesus commentary on these traditions of men making His Word of no effect in Matthew 14 and Mark 7.

    It is the pointing to Christ and His gospel that produces the fruit unto repentance via the Holy Spirit that is our charge. Continue on there brothers. We must decrease and He shall increase. Religion values too highly the role of men and too lowly the role of the Holy Spirit,

    I appreciate you both in your faithfulness to our Lord. The power needed to finish the race and arrive safely at our Destination has never rested in religion and driving by the guide rails, but has always resided in the One who can and will cause us to complete the journey on this narrow road.
    ************************************
    Men tend to ever move the guide rails further out as they broaden the road. They call attention to their works programs just as the writers of the Talmud did. Both worked to help but only cause destruction, for the eyes left the Destination to look at the shiny new guide rails men praised for their safety.

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  5. What a blessing to come together in fellowship and test everything according to His Word. Was reading an article earlier today about the many denominations that man has made and yet the early church disciples were in unity in His Spirit.
    Prophecy is from God being the origin and not of a private source.
    Interpretation is a reference to origin.

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  6. Such a wonderfully informative article. Chocked full of scripture instead of mans thoughts and ideas.

    Thank you for using The Word, it seems few seldom do anymore.

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  7. This commentary from the Complete Biblical Library has been helpful for understanding of 2 Peter 1:20,21. Perhaps someone else may enjoy it:

    1:20. They should heed it, knowing this first, that no prophecy is someone’s personal, private idea. “Private” (idias) means one’s own. “Interpretation” (epiluseōs) means solution, explanation. It comes from the verb epiluō, to untie, release. In other words, prophecy is of divine, not human, origin. “The interpretation here is not that of the student of scripture, but of the inspired prophet or writer of the scriptures himself, since verse 20 speaks of the method by which these prophecies came with relation to these writers” (Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, 2:35). As 1 Peter 1:11 states, the prophets did not fully understand what the Spirit within them signified when He “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Now the first part has been fulfilled, and it is like a lamp in the night. When dawn comes, His glory will be seen and the prophecy will be fully understood.
    1:21. Here is one of the most definitive descriptions of Biblical inspiration. These writers were not inspired like a poet or an artist. They did not decide what or how to write. The Holy Spirit was the divine Author. They were not puppets, with no will of their own. Using their background, personality, and vocabulary, the Third Person of the Trinity moved with them and upon them to bring into being the sacred Scriptures which reveal God and His purposes and plans to man.
    The Old Testament prophecies came not by human “will” (thelēmati, choice, determination, desire); but dedicated men of God “spake” (elalēsan, utter words, talk at length, preach) as they were “moved” (pheromenoi, carried, borne along) by the Holy Spirit. Since the Spirit inspired the prophecies, they require His illumination to be understood.
    Complete Biblical Library Commentary – The Complete Biblical Library – Hebrews-Jude.

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