Perhaps one of the most common responses that we hear when talking to others about a Bible subject is the phrase “that’s just your interpretation.” Though it’s true that people interpret the Bible differently, is this what God originally intended?
If we wrote an important letter to a loved one with vital information concerning his safety, we certainly would want him to understand our intended meaning. The idea that contradicting interpretations of our message are acceptable and equally-valid would be counterproductive… and perhaps even deadly! This principle is not hard to fathom. Yet, when it comes to the Bible, many seem to think that each one is free to interpret it as he pleases and that God will be satisfied as long as we’re sincere.
Why is it that people resort to using this slogan? There are several reasons, but we’ll look at just two here.
They Don’t Like the Truth
About this, a “Christian apologist” by the name of Paul Copan says, “There are many truths that I myself don’t like or find difficult to accept, but not liking them doesn’t give me the freedom to reject them. I [still] have to accept that they are true.”
Anything said to us that censures our behavior or beliefs is painful. Instead of receiving the word “with meekness” (James 1:21), the temptation is to respond with this phrase or others that relieve us of the responsibility to make the necessary changes in our lives.
Sometimes the truth hurts! The word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Sometimes when we look at ourselves in the inspired “mirror” of God’s “perfect law” (James 1:22-25), we don’t like what we see! We’d rather not know the truth about ourselves and our condition before God (John 3:19-20).
Jesus experienced a similar reaction while speaking to a mixed crowd of Jews who had believed in him (John 8:30-31) and others who didn’t (John 8:13). In John 8:45 he tells the latter, “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” In the following verse, the Lord asks, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46). Immediately after this, Jesus reveals to them the cause of their predicament: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). Tough language!
They View the Bible through Other Lenses
Some are quick to rule out Bible teachings saying that they are “just your interpretation” because they look at them through the lenses of church doctrine, creeds, family tradition, personal opinions, and feelings. As a result, they are unable to take the truth at face value.
Jesus also had exchanges with a similar crowd. On one occasion, he told them that they had invalidated the word of God for the sake of their religious traditions (Matthew 15:6). Consequently, their heart was far from God and they were worshiping him in vain (Matthew 15:8-9).
Though some had “a zeal for God,” they were ignorant of his will and desired to establish their own system of righteousness based on man-made traditions, philosophy, and opinions (Romans 10:2-3; Colossians 2:8). Instead of helping them to know the truth, they were farther from it than when they had first begun.
Some will even use this slogan in response to the most obvious truths of God’s word. For instance, in Acts 2:38, the apostle Peter says to the multitude gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…”
Even though this verse clearly teaches that there are two things that we must do “for the forgiveness of sins,” namely (1) “repent” and (2) “be baptized,” many will still insist that this is “just a matter of interpretation” and that baptism for this purpose actually isn’t necessary at all. What they may fail to realize is that they’ve just stated their own “interpretation”… and it invalidates the word of God (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21)!
Regardless of what we may believe about baptism or other matters taught in the Scriptures, may God grant us the wisdom to know when an interpretation has the full support of his word and when it has no more weight than an empty, man-made slogan.