The ABCs of biblical interpretation 

What are we to do with all of the varying interpretations among Christian churches?  How can we decipher and discern between which views are intended for us, by Scripture, to behold? Aside from the pure gospel of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, by faith alone, churches can hold many different views on sub-issues: on baptism (infants or professing believers), on the ordainment of women as preachers, on the cessation or continuation of speaking in tongues, on eschatological views, on whether we’re elected solely by God by no choice of our own or whether in our acceptance of salvation that free will plays a role.  So how can biblical Christians determine God’s desires for us in any of the above listed disagreements?

  1. Act on it – By this, the implication is that we actively pursue answers, not passively or complacently accept whatever we’re told by the leaders in our churches, or any other influence within our spiritual life.  Action is required if we’re to reach any conclusions to our questions.  And it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow, the Scriptures are our final authority.  It is wise to gather information from all views outside of the Word, but then to hold any findings under the ultimate authority of the Bible and submit under it.
  2. Be a Berean – In Acts 17:11, we’re given insight to the approach that those residing in Berea used when first hearing the teaching of Paul in their synagogue.  They “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  The Bereans are commended even today for their attentiveness and deep desire for discernment when confronted with new, or differing, teaching to what they’d been accustomed to.  Note especially where these people focused their research, the Scriptures, and they did so every day.  By their dedication to consult Scripture as their authority to decide whether Paul was preaching truth, God clearly revealed the truth to them as verse 12 reads, “many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
  3. Captivate the conscience – As Martin Luther famously spoke at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”  I, personally, love these words since they sum up so much in regards to where our allegiance is to be focused.  Not on the fallible words and teachings of man, but the infallible Word of God. In everything, we have a duty to compare and contrast every teaching we hear and see from our teachers, our leaders, our communities, our culture and worship the Word as our guide.  God created us with minds and intellect; He also gave us Scripture as our guide, to blindly trust in man’s teaching is purposefully choosing ignorance over the wisdom that God can enlighten us with through His Word and His Spirit.

If we’re to follow these steps to seeking answers to some of the questions listed, are we guaranteed to come to the correct conclusion?  To answer “no” to that question would imply that God hasn’t given us clarity in His Word and that is not an implication I’m comfortable with. If it were, my esteem of Scripture wouldn’t be high enough.  The only catalyst to finding the answers that God does reveal to us is that we are required to do the tedious and time consuming work of searching for His views on each issue that perplexes us.  The answers to our questions are there, all we need to do is diligently look for them.  For some, that will take our lifetime, but if a lifetime is spent pouring through Scripture to search for the truths of God then that, I dare say, is a lifetime well spent.

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