Private Interpretation

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 the 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) 

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 1:21 (NASB) 

When private interpretation becomes 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!

7 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. Reblogged this on Rainbow Trout and commented:
    Truth is these Private Interpretations are so common. They range from the full blown interpretations that are found in “new” revelations that become sacred books used by those who create new “religions” or “churches” or ways to “God”, or spirituality, or just those personal “words” from God or the Spirit which get repeated or proclaimed in churches of all types, small groups, books or conferences. We so easily reach for and grab hold of so many of these….everybody loves hearing about these personal spiritual journey experiences….or the latest new book, with new insights, but few want to read just the Bible, or even fewer the historic Reformed confessions and catechisms, which are based on the Biblical text.


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