Our Faliable Interperation

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by Bryan, Apr 17, 2005.

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  1. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    I need some help with this one. I have yet to find an answer that sastisifies me.

    We all agree that scripture is the final infaliable rule of faith, but how do we know we have the correct interperation of it when we have faliable interperations?

    The first answer to this question is always that the Holy Spirit teaches us. Thats a good answer, but then why are there different interperations of scripture between Christians?

    The Roman Catholic answer is that the Pope can infaliably interperate. That answer doesn't even come close to solving the problem becasue it just moves the source of infaliable information to a person who we must now interperate through out faliable interperations.

    The "Reformed answer" I see no here is that scripture must be interperated with church tradition (I know thats a bit simplified). That is perhaps a better answer but how do we know what church has the right tradition? If you say the one that agrees with scriptures your reasoning in a circle and have gotten no where.

    It seems that at the basis of everyone's scriptural interperation is a faliable interperation, and if that is the case how can we know for sure we are correct except by our own private interperation which may or may not be as good as anothers?

    Have I missed another option? The only other thing that comes to mind is Romans 1-3 where it is clear that everyone knows God. It would seem that this would mean that there is some knowledge that we know infaliably at one level and may provide a basis for further knowledge.

    Anyone care to help me out?

  2. LawrenceU

    LawrenceU Puritan Board Doctor

    You've missed a critical element in your question. The cardinal point of the Reformation was not that the Scriptures were to be interpreted by the Creeds (it may well have drifted to that in time) or church tradition. It was the opposite of that. Rather the priciple was, and is, the perpescuity of Scripture. That means that the Scriptures are clear and understandable apart from other documents; in the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Does this lead to varying interpretations? Yes. Does this gibe across the grain of many of us detail freaks? Yes. Does it drive some of us nuts? Yes. Does it warrant the Scriptures being interpreted by another document? No.
  3. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    But that still leaves the question; how can a person claim to have the correct interperation when two Christian disagree? Both will claim that their interperation is correct, and both will use the Bible to back up their interperation. How can a person decide which faliable interperation is correct, without them simply relaying on their own faliable interperation?

    In the end is there any way to stop interperation from comming down to "me and my bible"? Sure a person could study history, lexicons, past interperations...etc, but both sides to most interperational differences already do that and it has lead us no where.

  4. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I don't agree that we have embraced church tradition, but that we have embraced what God has sanctified through His church, i.e. our interpretation of the scriptures, safely summarized in the creeds. Keep in mind, the creeds were put together to combat illicit views. They have over time, compartmentalized our views as a whole.

    The things we disagree upon, are generally secondary issues. Of the needful things, we have agreed.
  5. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    As D. A. Carson has noted, "œChristians will insist that the sovereign/personal God is a talking God; that he has left a record of his words in Scripture; that we can understand those words truly, if not wholly or flawlessly." [D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 544].

    In other words, we need not understand Scripture exhaustively nor infallibly in order to understand it sufficiently. Though the elect are not by any means gifted with the attribute of infallibility, collectively or individually, nonetheless God himself has declared that it is not possible ultimately for them to be overcome by deception of the most intense nature (Matt. 24:22-24; Mk. 13:20-22). Christ himself has declared that his sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd, follow him in obedience, shall never perish, and are so firmly held in his hand that no one can snatch them away (Jn. 10:27-29).

    Thus I think we misplace the issue by formulating it as "how do we know which one of us is right?" Rather, our confidence should be in the God who has promised that His elect will not be deceived ultimately, and that He will enable us to recognize the voice of Christ (which implies our understanding). Again, we need not understand Scripture, perfectly, exhaustively, or infallibly in order to understand it sufficiently.

    As an aside, R. P. C. Hanson, who is by no means a conservative scholar (though is excellent as an historian), nonetheless wrote as a stinging rebuke to the Church of Rome:
    I think the real issue from the human perspective is that of unity; and our unity should never be defined (or presupposed) as uniformity of belief in all matters of dispute. What is praiseworthy and pleasing to God is when we seek to maintain unity in fellowship when we obviously do not agree on every detail. It is the reality of our difficulty in achieving this in a fallen world that Paul writes as he does in Ephesians 4, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. As for disagreements in our observances, Paul recognizes the reality that we may indeed differ from one another and cautions us in this way, One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. You'll notice that here, rather than seeking to obtain the perfection of uniformity of belief, the apostle anticipates our disagreements and counsels us on how we're to disagree. You see, Paul's concern and counsel is to seek to maintain our unity over and above that of standing in judgment of our brother when we disagree with one another. I think this is both wise and realistic counsel considering our state of affairs this side of eternity in a fallen world. Thus I think it's clear that the Apostle entertained no such state of perfection in terms of a unity defined by uniformity of belief. His concern was rather to maintain our unity in spite of our differences in understanding with respect to non-essentials.

  6. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    Amoung Reformed folk yes, I would agree. But what of Christians that are not Reformed? Calvinism goes to the heart of how God works, yet there is major disagreement amoung Christians over it. Both sides claim scripture supports their interperation; how then can a person say their interpertation is correct? Or we could take it even further. What of the Trinity? How do you know a person hold to a heritical view? You look to scripture and see that what they are saying doesn't match up with it; yet it would be foolish to assume that those who deny the Trinity (in whatever way they do so) doesn't do this same thing. You have two faliable interperations; what basis do you have for saying which one is right besides your own interperation of scripture?

    But how can we know what the final truth is? It's one thing to say that Scripture is the final infaliable rule of faith (To this I agree), and that Christians will come to a right understanding of it, but this doesn't seem to have occurred in practice. Both the Christian and JW would look to those verses and would say "Yes, but it is the other side that has fallen away; we are true to the scriptures, they are false!". What do you do then?

    I believe I am elect. I believe that I am becasue of what I have read in scripture, and have acted on it by God's grace. What about the Roman Catholic who has read scripture, but come to a different conclusion on how to be saved. They also believe they are God's elect; yet both cannot be since their view of how to be saved is mutually exclusive. How do we know which one is not decieved? We go back to scripture and the same problem occurs again.

    And please don't take my posts here the wrong way; I do hold that scripture is infaliable and is the final rule of faith; but I cannot harmonize that in my mind with the fact that we can never be sure that our interperation of it is correct (since we are faliable), and if we can never be sure that our interpertation is correct then the truths of scripture become subjective and relative to each own interperation which is intellectually unacceptable (to me at this time) and makes truth relative.

  7. pastorway

    pastorway Puritan Board Senior

    just a quick note.

    David, you wrote:

    This along with the rest of your post above is one of the most encouraging posts I have read in a while. Thanks for posting this excellent thought and pointing us squarely toward God!


    [Edited on 4-17-05 by pastorway]
  8. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    Dear Bryan.

    I don't think I am taking (or have taken your post) in the wrong way. But I do think I have answered your questions, and I could be wrong but I do not think you have given sufficient consideration to what I've said. You see, your questions presuppose a certain kind of perfectionism of certainty and understanding with respect to interpretation. My responses presuppose a denial of that construct, arguing that we need not the kind of certainty for which the Roman apologist insists. As for your question, "But how can we know what the final truth is?"---You need to re-read carefully what I said because I answered it in the immediate paragraph that you cited in your follow up post.

    Permit me to address, as an aside, this feature of Roman apologetics. Your questions betray that you have in a sense accepted the Roman methodology with respect to certainty. No matter what answer you propose in answer to his apologetic trap, he will never accept it because his whole design is to create a false crisis of faith to drive you to accept his paradigm for faith. His paradigm of faith claims that his communion offers this infallible interpretation of Scripture. But when you press this paradigm practically in terms of details, you discover that there are very few of any verses in the Bible that the Roman magisterium has infallibly defined. In other words, the Roman apologist is arguing for an ecclesial paradigm that has no basis even in his own world of reality, because when pressed he has to confess that he de facto has no infallible human interpreter of Holy Scripture. This becomes evident in the following quotes from Roman Catholic writers...

    Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid:. the dogma being defined here is Peter´s primacy and authority over the Church "” not a formal exegesis of Matthew 16. The passages from Matthew 16 and John 21 are given as reasons for defining the doctrine, but they are not themselves the subject of the definition. As anyone familiar with the dogma of papal infallibility knows, the reasons given in a dogmatic definition are not themselves considered infallible; only the result of the deliberations is protected from error. It´s always possible that while the doctrine defined is indeed infallible, some of the proofs adduced for it end up being incorrect. Patrick Madrid,
    Pope Fiction
    (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1999), p. 254.

    Ludwig Ott, while commenting on Pius IX´s papal bull Ineffabilis that defined the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary, wrote: "œThe Bull does not give any authentic explanation of the passage [i.e. Gen. 3:15]. It must be observed that the infallibility of the Papal doctrinal decision extends only to the dogma as such and not to the reasons given as leading up to the dogma." Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, ed. James Canon Bastible (Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., reprinted 1974), p. 200

    Johann Adam Möhler states: Catholic theologians teach with general concurrence, and quite in the spirit of the Church, that even a Scriptural proof in favour of a decree held to be infallible, is not itself infallible, but only the dogma as defined. Johann Adam Möhler, Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctorinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings, trans. James Burton Robertson (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), p. 296.

    Johann Adam Möhler: Except in the explanation of a very few classical passages, we know not where we shall meet with a general uniformity of Scriptural interpretation among the fathers, further than that all deduce from the sacred writings, the same doctrines of faith and morality, yet each in his own peculiar manner; so that some remain for all times distinguished models of Scriptural exposition, others rise not above mediocrity, while others again are, merely by their good intentions and love for the Saviour, entitled to veneration. Johann Adam Möhler, Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctorinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings, trans. James Burton Robertson (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 301-302.

    Raymond E. Brown: Roman Catholics who appeal explicitly to Spirit-guided church teaching are often unaware that their church has seldom if ever definitively pronounced on the literal meaning of a passage of Scripture, i.e., what the author meant when he wrote it. Most often the church has commented on the on-going meaning of Scripture by resisting the claims of those who would reject established practices or beliefs as unbiblical. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 31.

    Maurice Bévenot, S.J.: But very few indeed are the Scripture texts of which the Church authorities have defined the meaning, and even there, their intervention has generally been to say what Scripture does not mean, otherwise leaving open what it does. See his chapter "œScripture and Tradition in Catholic Theology" in F.F. Bruce and E.G. Rupp, eds., Holy Book and Holy Tradition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 181.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: When one hears today the call for a return to a patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of Church documents that spoke at times of the "˜unanimous consent of the Fathers´ as the guide for biblical interpretation.(fn. 23) But just what this would entail is far from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a "œunanimous consent of the fathers" is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, "œnor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous." (fn. 24) Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture, The Soul of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), p. 70.

    You see, for all of Rome´s protests and insistence upon the need to submit to the "˜unanimous consent´ of the fathers, and its own official definitive meanings of Holy Scripture, there are no such specific infallible interpretations to which the Roman apologist can point! This is all a part of the ride on the "˜merry-go-round´ that one encounters in the world of Roman Catholic apologetics. The hypocrisy employed on this pivotal issue is so overt that it is amazing to consider what is maintained in the face of it. To hear Roman apologists complain repeatedly against the "˜heretical´ notion of private interpretation on the part of Protestants, one would verily believe that there is some accessible consensus Patrum or long list of "˜infallible´ interpretations of the Bible promulgated by the Roman magisterium. But such is not the case. When you pin the Roman apologist down, and he is forced to admit that no such "˜infallible list of infallible interpretations´ exists, he either becomes indignant at the audacity which would force him to face that reality, or he dismisses it as irrelevant for his agenda and quickly moves on to another issue. They assert that only Rome can "˜infallibly´ interpret Holy Scripture, and even then, they hedge with respect to their own claim when pressed for specific instances. Moreover, if an individual Roman apologist is bold enough to suggest any such instances, he has stepped out on his own precarious limb of private interpretation. The fact is that no such list of infallible interpretations exists, nor does Rome claim it apart from the high-sounding rhetoric of its leaders and apologists. This is nothing short of sheer hypocrisy. No such "˜unanimous consent´ of Scriptural interpretation (apart from the articles of the so-called Apostles´ Creed, a creed with which Protestants agree) can be found, nor this oft suggested rule of infallible interpretations! As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself."

    Protestant Karl Von Hase has pointed out: If the Catholic Church really believed in her infallibility, and did not prefer to hide the Divine pound in the earth, she would long ago have set forth a clear and well-defined list of all her teaching concerning the faith, instead of which we are now obliged to search for this, especially in its finer relations, from sources which in other respects are not irreproachable. On so many points are Catholic schools at variance with one another, and in rejoinder to every Protestant attack the appropriate subterfuge is of course that the Catholic teaching has been misunderstood or misrepresented.
    It is only seldom that tradition, summoned to the support of newly arisen dogmas, corresponds to any extent with the rule upon which Vincentius laid stress, that it should have been believed everywhere, always, and by all. Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), Vol. 1, pp. 128-129.

    Your questions indicate to me implicitly that you've accepted the Roman claim for an ecclesial infallible interpreter, when no such rule exists, no, not even within the Roman communion itself.

  9. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    Nor do I, but I wanted to make my position clear becasue I have seen on other message boards people ask this question and be jumped all over becasue they dared to ask such questions. I'm insecure and always feel the need to cover myself ;)

    Perhaps I have. As I originally said I do not think that the Popish system has solved this philosophical problem (and by far their scriptural basis leaves it in tatters) that they themselves continually bring up, but I do think the question has some merit.

    I really cannot see how my questions are answered in that, likely due to my own ignorance. How do you know that God has declaired "that it is not possible ultimately for them to be overcome by deception of the most intense nature"? You believe that becasue it is your interperation of what scripture says. I agree with your interperation, but is there any way besides our own opinions to know that interperation is correct? Can our interperation of those passages be wrong? Yes, since we are faliable.

    I agree with you that there is no way we can infalliable know what scripture teaches, and also that even without that it should be possible to have a good understanding of what they teach [The problem I see here is not limited to scripture but to any place where an interperation must be made. In other areas of life we make the same assumption, we need not understand something totally to understand it in part, that you made, and I think we should here to]. But then what? Where does that leave us, how can we respond to a person who says; "Thats your interpertation, but it is no better then mine". The problem I'm stuggling with is how to stop the truth of the bible from being subjective.

    Perhaps I am simply confusing myself. :banghead:

  10. Jeff_Bartel

    Jeff_Bartel Puritan Board Graduate


    1:7 All things in Scripture are not alike in plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2Pe_3:16): yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Psa_119:105, Psa_119:130).

    1:9 The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (Act_15:15; 2Pe_1:20, 2Pe_1:21).
  11. lwadkins

    lwadkins Puritan Board Junior

    I agree with all DTK has written. I would only caution that there are those who would deny CLEAR biblical teaching, who would then appeal to the need for unity, etc. to protect themselves from criticism. I feel that here as in so many areas discernment is imperative. There are a number of reasons that some defend positions that are not biblical. Some seek adulation from those in the church for "discovering" some new and overlooked nuance of theology for instance. Such persons will destroy the unity of the church while appealing to it up to the point that they have enough of a following to go their own way.
  12. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    Bryan: I think that you have asked serious and hard questions and you have no need to feel insecure for asking. There are so many interpretations competeting for our attention, each claiming to be right. As a practical matter, I think it is important to ask why one person's interpreation is right, over against other seemingly sincere people with different views.

    To me the situation is analogous to interpreting a civil statute. Imagine two private individuals affected by a particular statute. They interpret a key provision differently. They can argue and if one is able to persuade the other then great, the issue is resolved. If not, no amount of arguing will make any difference. If the rights between the individuals are at stake, they need a court to decide the issue for them and that is eactly what the courts will do, resolve the conflict in interpretation and apply the statute.

    The church has, or is supposed to have, such a court of appeal. Acts 15 provides a model of this. The Westminster Confession summarizes the Acts 15 model in WCF Ch. 31 (you will note that the proof texts rely heavily on Actrs 15).

    Of course, these synods are fallible too (as are civil courts and individuals), but are administratively useful for resolving controversies. Synodal decisions go beyond simply being consistent with the Word (although they are supposed to be that). The WCF says that they are to be received "not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word."

    So on the Trinity issue, for example, one ground for refuting skeptics of the Trinity is, of course, the scriptures. Another ground are those synodal decision defining Trinitatian orthodoxy. Those decisions should be received for the "power whereby they are made" in addition to being consonant with the Word.

    WCF 31 still leaves issues open and does not claim infallibility but I think it is a practical help. It is also admittedly not as helpful in a world with the church as fractured as governmentally as it is today. The WCF was written with a governmentally unified Church in view (meaning regional unification, such as the Church of England), as was Acts 15 (which was more than regionally unified). At best, synodal decisions (such as those produced by the PCA) can be seen as provincial or regional decisions with authority only for their respective denominations (i.e. not claiming any universal authority).

  13. kevin.carroll

    kevin.carroll Puritan Board Junior

    And yet how loudly and with what vitriole we can disagree. It's sad.
  14. john_Mark

    john_Mark Puritan Board Freshman

    One request for Bryan


    Can you give me an example where Rome has exegetically (or actually) given an official interpretation of Scripture?

    I believe David has taken the wind out of the sails of your question. However, the reason I ask the above is that one can talk about having proper interpretations all day long, but if they don't present them then what good is it? This argument put forth by Rome's defenders really don't engage in a true dialogue since they don't offer their side. This is exactly what the quotes David provided above show us. I have been over this with them numerous times, I say Scripture X=X and the RC says I am wrong, yet is unwilling to present me with their own Church's interpretation of what Scripture X means. You will find out why when you try to answer my question above. The are unwilling and can't provide us with the very thing they charge us with.
  15. smallbeans

    smallbeans Puritan Board Freshman


    Disagreements over interpretation of scripture should not put the infallibility or authority of the scriptures into crisis. When two Christians disagree over interpreting a passage, it is important to note the situation (two disagree) but it is also important to note all the other aspects of the debate. Who is more qualified to interpret the passage? Has one of the interpreters had more training? What arguments are being made on either side to support a particular interpretation? Can either side point to a well-established history of Christians taking the passage in that way? Further, think of an analogy with Christ - when Jesus walked the earth, he was an infallible teacher - God the son incarnate. And yet not every one of his hearers understood him to be teaching the same things. This does not compromise the nature of the teacher (infallible) it just kind of pushes us back to consider what sort of humility is appropriate in approaching the scriptures and those who disagree. And as someone else above pointed out from the WCF, it is no problem to recognize that the Bible has parts that are easier and parts that are harder to understand. It probably is unwise to devote a lot of time to dwelling on debates over the hard parts (baptism for the dead, to think of one example) unless one has a particular academic calling to do so. The major debates masquerade as differences over biblical interpretation (infant baptism, to think of an example) but who here really believes that such issues are reducible to differences over exegesis of particular passages? Those are most often nearly worldview-level issues that take a great amount of time and effort to resolve for oneself - part of it is biblical interpretation, but there are also theological, historical and even personal kinds of issues that play into those broader disagreements. Hope this helps.
  16. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate


    Did you (or do you) operate the reformed.org website? If so, welcome - I remember discussing apologetics issues with you several years ago (circa 1995)! In fact, even if you are not not the same person, welcome!

    Anyway, I think your suggestions are good. I think they also highlight a point about mechanics. You are describing a process of simple one-on-one persuasion. How can one individual persuade another to adopt a certain interpretation? Paul and the apostles certainly applied this method often.

    In addition to one-on-one suasion, there is also recourse to church courts (as I think you would agree). Acts 15 provides this model. The church had experienced numerous private and public debates between the Judaizers and the orthodox on the issue of the relation to circumcision and other ceremonial laws to the New Covenant era. The debate got so bad that efforts at personal suasion moved into the realm of church courts. At the Jersualem Council the church via duly authorized reps resolved this cotroversy of faith. The various local congregations were required to obey the decision. It had real authority.

    So, this is a second way that doctrinal debates can be addressed. There is the one-on-one way you describe and in addition there are church courts (as I know you would agree, being part of a Presbyterian church).

    It is comforting that we don't always have to rely on our own interpretations of specific issues. We can seek help that God has provided. The fracturing of Protestant denominations limits the effectiveness of church courts, but they are still a help.

  17. smallbeans

    smallbeans Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi Scott - yes, that's me. I haven't been associated with reformed.org for a long time, but I still use the resources there a lot.

    Right now I'm studying for my Ph.D. comprehensive exams; it seems like I've been in school forever.

    On this issue, I certainly think church courts are important, especially when there is some kind of error that gets into really central matters. I am a little less hopeful that church courts are a good place to discuss theology or discuss biblical interpretation in the absence of "charges" and such. The reason is that there is kind of an implicit adversarial context in a "court." And it is hard for people to float ideas and sharpen each other when they are worried about some kind of career ending judicial action.

    But I think this points to the role that creeds/confessions have - they kind of provide boundaries for our "creativity" and keep us from going too far astray. A confession really kind of codifies a tradition of interpretation in some ways. And these confessions are drafted by special church courts that are for this purpose (in other words, the doctrine in a confession isn't the by product of some kind of judicial investigation, it is a more deliberate process of crafting doctrinal statements).

    By the way, the Long Parliament not only commissioned the WCF but it also commissioned an entire biblical commentary - it is called the "English Annotations" and if you have library access to the Early English Books Online project, you can download both volumes of this huge work. The Annotations are a full bible commentary that gives you insight into the exegetical foundation of the work of the Westminster Assembly.
  18. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate

    Jonathan: Those are good points. Taking something all the way up to GA is not always the best course and, as you mention, is often in an adversarial context. IN addition to GA, there is assistance available from the session and then the presbytery too, which is obviously much less cumbersome.

    You studies sound interesting and I hope they are going well.
  19. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    There are but a few examples of where Rome has actually done this offically and infaliably but not much comes to mind right away. I do believe their doctrine of the Mary has had a verse or two offically interperated but I am not 100% sure.

    Rome's position really doesn't bother me however since like you and David has pointed out it cannot be sustained. A great question to ask a Roman Catholic in this regard is why they follow the Pope and not the Mormon Living Phrophet? A situtation that would bother me more is an athiest stating that since no person can have an infaliable interperation then truth of scripture must be relative to each person.

    Agreed! The problem is not with scripture in any way but with fallen man.

    That is an excelent point that I had not considered before.

    What happens if this is applied to the work of Calvin and Arminus?
    Also although someone's training should be considered it is very hard to judge what training a person has recieved; if a person was at seminary for 4 years or out preaching/counsoling for 4 for example. Both provide training but in different ways.

    Ah, but those creeds and confessions to follow? I agree with the Reformed Creeds becasue I believe that is what scripture says; yet what of the person who agrees with the Forms of Concord? If I were to use the above questions to make this determination I would be putting two groups of writters that tower over me against each other and wouldn't be qualified to make a judgment.

    In the end it seems it has to come down to what I believe scripture says based off my own interperation that has been influenced by creeds (IE the Church), others, prayer and searching the scriptures. Yet that is a scary thing the one I think about it; becasue who am I then to go against anothers (espically one who is much more qualified then myself) interperation? As an example Luther's view of the Lord Supper? Am I qualified from my own study to say Luther was wrong and Calvin was right?

  20. Scott

    Scott Puritan Board Graduate


    A couple of thoughts.

    [1] The doctrine of the clarity of scripture only promises that things necessary for salvation are clearly understood. The WCF defines it this way: "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them."

    The example you gave of the difference between Lutheran and Calvinistic understandings of scripture would not be in this category. I doubt any of us would believe that Luther and the Lutherans were damned for belief in consubstantiation.

    [2] The teachings that are necessary for salvation are plain. The Apostles' Creed is a good summary and is indicative of what the early Church considered the core of the faith. All these things are easily learned from the pages of scripture.

    [3] Remember that God gave us revelation to be understood. And it was to be understood by the ordinary Christian. The congregational epistles, for example, were written to be read in public worship and were instructions expected to be understood by everybody. Now, even Peter acknowledges that some of Paul's writings were hard to understood, and Peter was an apostle. But still the general idea is that every Christian should apply themselves to these truths.

    [4] From a practical perspective I think you are right that we must decide which road we will take and this involves our personal interpretation - even the interpretation of what creeds or schools of thought we will follow. We are faced with many competing options and we must choose one. This is made much harder by the factured sectarianism of the modern American Church. There are few controls on what people can teach. The rampant denominationalism seems to be worst in America.

    The willingness of Christians to rend the Body of Christ through division has made the Church as an institution (as well as the civil government, which is supposed to be a nursing father to religion) much less potent than she was designed to be.

  21. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior


    After all is said and done...it really comes down to each particular case.

    If defending the Faith to either a cultist or heretic extensive knowledge of Scripture (as a whole) is needed. To the charge "that's just your interpretation"....OF COURSE, it's your interpretation. So what? A better question is, is your interpretation (or theirs) correct? How is it correct? Does the correct interpretation obey logical rules of literature and grammar in its reading? (Basic stuff.) Most times, teaching how to read Scripture like a regular book is what helps.

    A charge from unbelievers - pagans not respecting Scripture at all, could be handled differently. Still --- there's no problem with so many interpretations....because all humans think in categories/doctrines --- and as each doctrine is examined in an orderly manner, Scripture will reveal its truth. A great example is the quest for "Arminian" verses about election. Anyone with a 3rd grade reading level, using the rules of sound grammar, can discover what the Text reveals.

    No matter the person's credentials, I've noticed that the other camp simply doesn't do their "homework." They really don't read enough -- and very carefully. (Btw, did you know you can use a Jehovah Witness bible to defeat their own position? It's amazing how the Word, though deliberately tampered with by evil men still prevails as God's eternal self-revelation!)

    Another tactic -- neglected, but obvious, is turning the tables. Ask them "how" do they know their interpretation is correct? This can be the best defense (the offense) if done in a sincere, charitable attitude. It might be the first time they ever stopped to question how they know a thing. Thinking is good.

    As for our true brothers in the Faith, having different conclusions, we must insist on unity in essentials; liberty in non-essentials; in all things, charity. Let's remember, our brother Paul "reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue daily."


  22. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    Dear Bryan,

    Take heart.... If you are obedient to sound teachers (be they dead or alive) and diligent in the Scriptures, you DO have the qualifications to question anyone espousing authority in the Scriptures. Even Luther.

    It may be of the Lord for you to question. Depending on circumstances....Remember the Bereans? Yes, it can be scary. But, as Luther said "my conscious is held captive by the Word of God -- here I stand and cannot do otherwise." He got that right. (But Calvin got more things right.)

  23. The Lamb

    The Lamb Puritan Board Freshman


    It is good to question interpretations. But remember this, Christ found His church based on aposolic teachings. This is a covenant community we are in. Every believer is not to be their own island. You have to determine what fruit is going to come from your studies.

    i would suggest reading the Whitefield/ Wesley debates. They are perfect examples of men of God debating in Love.

  24. Bryan

    Bryan Puritan Board Freshman

    I just finished Arnold Dallimore's first volume of his Biography of Whitefield (Awesome book, couldn't put it down!) and I agree with you; they disagreed but Whitefield espically did not want to get into a debate with Wesley over the issue however he was forced into it and even then he did it in love.

    Thanks for all the responceses. I'll have to do soem more thinking on this.

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