On Personal Interpretation of Scripture

2 Peter 1:20-2:9

Personal Interpretation

This passage begins with perhaps one of the hardest lessons in the New Testament for Western (read: American) Christians. This is so hard for us to truly embrace, “no prophecy of Scripture is for personal interpretation.” And that’s hard for us to comprehend, because we’ve spent our whole lives being taught that what we believe is true, is what is “real for us,” and that no one can tell us that we are wrong. I was speaking to someone yesterday who was complaining about bullying being a horrible thing, and, while I agree with that statement, bullying is horrible, but the line at what is considered bullying has shifted considerably. To me, we do our children no justice when we teach them that simply participating in an event is worthy of admiration, and it is to their detriment that we have refused to recognize someone as a winner vs someone who has lost. And it becomes even worse, a hundredfold worse, when we tell them that there is no right or wrong, something that is wrong for one person can be right for another. And this is sort of what Peter is touching on here. When I read the Scripture and when you read the Scripture, we can very realistically obtain two different meanings from the exact same passages. I think of Luther and Zwingli, who with the exact same Scripture derived to diametrically opposing positions on the topic of the Eucharist. However, this fact does not imply that we are both right…to the contrary, Peter tells us, there is one definite right, and all of the rest are wrong.

What Peter is teaching us here is that when we read the Scripture, we must always do so through the lens of the teachings of the Church. We must consider what the Church has always taught, going back much further than 1517, and we must always bear those teachings, those traditions, in mind. Anyone who would deny this fact would be arguing against St Peter himself here. And he goes further to warn of the many false teachings and heresies that have spawned from this refusal. He warns of the false teachings which had already begun to spread from those who had interpreted the Scripture based on how they understood it, rather than relying on the teachings/interpretations (in further generations, the traditions) of the Church.

See, when we read the Holy Scriptures, when we study them, we must always seek to reference those readings with the lessons which have been passed down from generation to generation. I see this all the time, even in protestant churches, who constantly quote Spurgeon, Luther, MacArthur, and Moody. However, there are many who preceed those, whose teachings have been all but forgotten in our culture. For me to assume that I have more knowledge, more wisdom, more “enlightenment” than not only the monastics who had dedicated their lives to God, but the thousand plus years of Holy Martyrs who gave their lives to defend those teachings, is the pinnacle of arrogance, the plateau of pride. And yet, this, regretfully, fits our Western mindset perfectly. I attending a very strict theologically sound church for years, and yet had never heard the names Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius. I had read entire volumes of JI Packer, but had never heard the name Evagrius, and had studied Oswald Chambers at length, but never once heard of John Climacus. And ultimately, this was because the teachers that I had heard of all taught the same thing, that Scripture alone was the sole authority, and that was all you needed to know. We sort of forsook the fact that each of them did lay ground work for what the Christian life should look like, and instead studied the very thing that Jude warns about, “”turning the grace of our God into indecency.”

See, when we read the Holy Scriptures, in absentia of the traditions of the Church, we are free to find whatever we want in them. I remember one Protestant pastor clearly stating, “pick a sin and I can find you a verse to defend it.” While he was speaking in hyperbole, that is fully the mindset of most Christians in the West. I have had friends argue that there’s a verse in Isaiah that justifies the use of marijuana, because she happened to like it. And that’s where the trouble sets in. We must read the Holy Scriptures, but when we do so, it must be in a manner that allows the words of Holy Scripture to change us, not vice versa. When we interpret through the lens of our current times, we allow the current mindsets, the current “trends” to warp our interpretation of Scripture. Rather, when we read the words of Scripture through the lens of the Church, it is we who change, not the Scripture. So often, we look for what is comfortable, what is “fitting” for our times. But, the words of Scripture are never comfortable. The messages, the commands, the warnings of Christianity can never be comfortable, they are never “politically correct,” nor have they ever been. That’s how 12 fishermen and tax collectors were able, through the grace of our Lord, to change the world. And our God never changes based on current trends. No, as Peter references here, the traditions are imperative for that very reason, because they have not changed. And this is how the Church changes the world, and we must cling to that fact. It never bends to the will of the world, it is never open to personal interpretation with personal bias. It can never change the world if it changes with the world. Rather, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And we, my brethern, must cling to that fact, rather than trusting in our own wisdom, which will always be tainted with the wisdom of the age.

May we always read the Holy Scripture, study it, and apply it to our lives. According to the words of the Scripture itself, and the Church, which gave it to us.

Christ is in our midst.

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