Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The principle of private interpretation carries with it the responsibility for correct interpretation.

Dave Warnock made an intersting post concerning the "Together for the Gospel" movement. He made a statement that I would like to respond to.

"Isn't that part of what the reformation was about. Luther saw injustices, corruption etc and reflected on it, then returning to Scripture he discovered new meaning."

This statement is not entirely accurate. As Luther began reading scripture (which wasn't publicly available) he became convinced that the church was not interpreting scipture correctly. It was scipture that allowed him to see the corruption. He didn't see corruption then reinterpret scripture to battle it. The Church understood that if scripture were let out to the masses, it would lead to a sort of private interpretation that Luther himself referred to as a wax nose that could be shaped and molded to the reader. This was a large concern to him. The Church and Luther both shared concerns that if individuals were allowed to read and interpret scripture on their own, there would become a multitude of christian denominations, each claiming truth for their own.

The Church was right. Today, there are over 1,000 different christian denominations just in North American. However, Luther felt that this was worth the risk (not many today would disagree). Even thought there are a multitude of denominations, there is still only one correct meaning of scripture (although the applications are limitless). The principle of private interpretation carries with the responsibility of correct interpreatation. And correct interpretation is not just the responsibility of the Theologians and Bible Scholars.

Truth is contained in the scriptures, and careful study is needed to ensure that it is interpreted correctly. But it should not be interpreted by our culture or by our own personal beliefs. The scripture speaks for itself. When we create a wax nose out of the scripture, it's truth is compromised.


  1. James Fletcher Baxter said...
    The missing element in every human 'solution' is
    an accurate definition of the creature.

    The way we define 'human' determines our view
    of self, others, relationships, institutions, life, and
    future. Important? Only the Creator who made us
    in His own image is qualified to define us accurately.
    Choose wisely...there are results.

    Many problems in human experience are the result of
    false and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
    in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

    Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly
    developed, and sensitive perception of diversity. Thus
    aware, man is endowed with a natural capability for enact-
    ing internal mental and external physical selectivity.
    Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends
    itself as the superior basis of an active intelligence.

    Human is earth's Choicemaker. His title describes
    his definitive and typifying characteristic. Recall
    that his other features are but vehicles of experi-
    ence intent on the development of perceptive
    awareness and the following acts of decision and
    choice. Note that the products of man cannot define
    him for they are the fruit of the discerning choice-
    making process and include the cognition of self,
    the utility of experience, the development of value-
    measuring systems and language, and the accultur-
    ation of civilization.

    The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
    customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
    his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
    creative process, is a choice-making process. His
    articles, constructs, and commodities, however
    marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
    atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own
    highest expression of the creative process.

    Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and
    significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
    fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
    forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
    ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
    natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
    bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his
    singular and plural brow.

    Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
    nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
    Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
    characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
    foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
    spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
    ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the

    Let us proclaim it. Behold!
    The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV

    - from The HUMAN PARADIGM
    David Faulkner said...
    Hi Brett,

    Your desire to argue against private interpretation is laudable. I'm not so sure about your claim that there is only one correct interpretation of Scripture, though. The grammatico-historical method leads us to make that assumption but runs into problems when we can't establish for certain the original context of a passage or we are not sure about translations (hence the plethora of commentaries with competing views). I'm not saying we should discard the grammatico-historical method but I am saying we should be modest in our claims for it. Although some postmodern interpretations become unbearably subjective in rather similar ways to your concerns about private interpretation, there is at least something in the 'reader-response theory' whereby different readers see different interpretations, some beyond the intention of the original writers but not all invalid: perhaps the original writers would have assented to the interpretations placed on their writings by later readers.

    Furthermore, we have a very different model of interpretation when we examine how the New Testament writers interpreted the Old. I've not read the book, but I posted a link on my blog to a review of Peter Enns' book 'Incarnation and Inspiration'. Rather than repeat myself in detail here, I'll just note the fact that they looked for the mystery behind the text. They judged that the mystery was Christ. Therefore at very least we need to modify the modernist approaches in a Christocentric way, but Jewish interpreters would disagree with us.

    A final thought: I think it was the Puritan John Robinson who sailed on the Mayflower who said, "Thou hast yet more light and truth to break forth from thy holy Word" - can he only have meant in terms of application?

    Thanks for a thoughtful and provocative post.
    Brett said...
    Just to be clear, I would never argue against the principle of private interpretation. What I wanted to point out is our responsibility to interpret the scripture correctly.
    And I believe that the Grammatico-Historical method is the best way to remain true to the original meaning of the scripture.
    I believe that we should look at the original intent of the writers (what did they have in mind when it was written?) but in a stricter sense, what did God have in mind when He inspired it?
    Last, I do hold that the scripture has one meaning (the intent of the author), but I believe that the Bible is a wealth of information that can be used for applications in all areas of or lives and culture. I heard of a seminary professor who gave his class a passage of scripture and told them to write down 50 applications of a particular passage of scripture. The next day after everyone turned in their homework, he told them to go find 50 more for the next day. I believe this could have gone on for a long time. The applications are virtually limitless, but there is only one correct meaning.

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