Should we pay attention to the Scriptural interpretations of others? Should we allow the views of others to influence our understanding of Scripture?
A complete reliance on the views of some individual or group (e.g., our denomination, our parents, the one who led us to Christ, or first pastor, our current pastor, etc) is dangerous.
One problem with this approach is that no man, outside of Jesus, or group of men is an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Not Augustine, Aquinas, Arminius, Luther, Calvin, Baptists, Methodists, etc.
One is not even safe in going with the majority. For one thing, which majority? Roman Catholic? Eastern Orthodox? Arminian? Calvinist? Baptist? Presbyterian? Lutheran? Methodist? Episcopal? Brethren? Independent? For another thing, what guarantee is there that the majority is right? Actually, the Scriptures suggest that the majority may well be wrong (Matt. 7:13-14; Gal. 2:12-21).
We are each responsible to study the Word ourselves and decide what it means. If we blindly accept the views of some person or group, we do not escape accountability for our views.
Another problem with this approach is that it fails to consider the views of “outsiders.” If I look to some group or individual to interpret the Scriptures for me, then I need not study it for myself. I need not consider the views of “outsiders” since no one’s views, even my own, are worth considering since I have predetermined that my group or leader is right.
For this very reason many believers do not own even one Bible commentary. We may own thousands of dollars in tools to work in the yard, on our cars, and around the house and yet own very little if any Bible study tools.
God has given us gifted teachers today and throughout church history to help us grow (Eph. 4:11-16). Some people have spent a lifetime studying just one book of the Bible. To ignore the views of others is to cut ourselves off from an important discipleship tool. While no commentary is free of erroneous interpretations, that is a poor reason to reject them altogether. Following the same approach one would never listen to a preacher since no preacher is 100% correct all of the time.
Whose interpretations should I trust?
A wise approach is to consider the views of others and then to decide for yourself what a given passage means. The Scriptures themselves thus become the final arbiter. The views of others are merely options to be considered.
A group of first century Jews in Berea heard Paul and Silas preach. The preaching did not agree with what these Bereans had been taught in their synagogue. However, rather than immediately rejecting what Paul and Silas had to say as out of hand, the Bereans heard them out and “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
We would do well to follow their example . May we not aim to be Arminians, Calvinists, or even “GESers” (hah). Rather, let’s strive to be Biblicists (2 Tim. 2:15). May we, like the Bereans, be Scripture searchers.
Next month I will conclude this article by giving some practical Bible study suggestions.
Go on to Part 2 of this article