Subjectivism is the great danger of private interpretation of the Bible

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 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 the 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. I pray that you will seek the truth from God’s Word instead of falling for the snare of subjectivism.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “Subjectivism is the great danger of private interpretation of the Bible

  1. Greetings Bru Ratliff and Wife
    Once again God is good and faithful
    When we ask for more faith and we want Him to increase our belief He will do it
    My church home is Acts it is the COGIC
    I was taught in Holy Ghost service….. that we must be saved and then continue to ask God to fill us and refill us with The Holy Ghost ,we were told to come to the alter and open our mouths and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost…. I have read the book of Acts many many times and studied it in bible study and on my own ,just today while studying Acts 5:32 the Lord revealed to me that you don’t get the Holy Ghost or earn Him or open your mouth at the church alter to beg God for Him ,and you don’t need a special service for Him … the Holy Ghost is bestowed (with emphasis on bestowed )on His witnesses that OBEY Him … through our obedience to Gods word is the only way He gives us His Spirit for me that was very liberating to learn ,I’m understanding more and more what the word of God means when it says there is simplicity in Christ!!! 😄God keep you and have mercy on us all.
    Sis KK

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  2. Thanks again brother Mike. yes, we have to study the word of God a test the scriptures because we can’t go by Pastors and say ” my Pastor said it so it must be right ” many people are led astray by solely relying on what their ” Pastor ” said. and attending church just once or twice a week is not enough. There’s lots of pew sitters who are being sucked in by false teachings coming from their Pastors. And I was one of them. Thanks be to God who took the spiritual blinders off my eyes.

    A sister-n-Christ

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  3. The more we study with humility, beseeching the Lord for wisdom, He will lead us into a deeper understanding of His Word. Reading from others who have gone before us helps keep us from novelty, but no mortal is the authority for the Christian.

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