“The individual's own study of Scripture requires recourse to an apostolic authority that can resolve interpretive disagreements. otherwise there is no way to determine what is orthodox v. heretical Christianity, besides the individual's personal opinion/interpretation.” – Casey Chalk, Roman Catholic author of “ Don’t Protestantize the Church.”
To Roman Catholics, our claim to every individual’s right to privately interpret the Scriptures is disproven by the plethora of denominations with their myriad of conflicting interpretations of Scripture.
Our response to this is for every individual’s right and obligation to interpret and apply Scripture:
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:14-15
We make an argument by looking at Scriptures which we believe prove our point:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. 15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, Ephesians 1:13-20
Notice here that all who become Christians have heard, understood and obeyed the word of God in becoming Christians, and Paul prays that God will give all Christians:
· the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
· having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.
There is no suggestion here that such knowledge and enlightenment – in becoming a Christian and in growing as a Christian - comes only from inspired teachers within the church who are the only ones able to infallibly interpret the Scriptures. 2 Peter 1:20-21 has been erroneously used to deny the right of the private interpretation of the Scriptures, when in reality it is speaking about how Scripture originated, and not how it is to be interpreted by us today. “No Scripture came from one’s own interpretation” is a better rendering than “No Scripture is of private interpretation” – which is highly misleading.
In fact, to make this clear, look at the next Scripture from Ephesians:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles — 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Ephesians 3:1-5
The Holy Spirit inspired men like the apostle Paul with the revelation of God’s will, which Paul says he has written briefly in this letter to the Ephesians. But Paul then says that when all Christians read what Paul has written in the letter, “you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
In other words, when we read the Scripture that Paul received as an inspired apostle, we can all perceive the insight
Paul received. What an apostle learned by inspiration, and then put in writing, all Christians can perceive when they
read that writing!!
Again, where is the Scripture that says that we today can only perceive God’s word when an inspired teacher infallibly explains it to us? Yes, we need our teachers today, but they are not inspired for infallible interpretation.
Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord … Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:8-10,17
And if we conceded that our churches did require Holy Spirit guided interpreters of Scripture as our teachers, doesn’t James imply that they cannot ever be expected to be infallible interpreters of Scripture?
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. James 3:1-2
Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures”, but he certainly wasn’t infallible, because he didn’t understand that the
baptism of John was no longer applicable!! He needed Priscilla and Aquila to teach him the way of the Lord more accurately. Acts 18:24-26. It is noteworthy that Apollos didn’t tell Priscilla and Aquila that they didn’t have the apostolic authority to question his teaching!!
How can we know what is pleasing to the Lord? How can we understand what the will of the Lord is? By having an infallibly inspired teacher in our church explain it all for us? No, for we already have the only words of the infallible teacher in the Scripture itself. As Ephesians 3 and 1 (already quoted) say: we understand God’s will when we read for ourselves and God gives us enlightenment!! The enlightenment comes -not from infallible teachers in the church – but from God who gave us His infallible Scripture. As we speak the truth in love, Ephesians 4:15, and take the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, Ephesians 6:17, we will be equipped to live the Christian life. Acts 20:20,27,31-32; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 1 Peter 2:2.
Does this mean that our churches do not need preachers and teachers? Not at all, for:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16
And, as the evangelist, Timothy, in Ephesus was instructed:
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 2 Timothy 2:14-18
This Scripture from 2 Timothy is significant. Notice:
1. The evangelist, sent to straighten things out in Ephesus, doesn’t get his ability to rightly handle Paul’s word of truth from the Holy Spirit through inspiration, but through his being a worker with persistent zeal who does his best. This implies intensely studying the Scriptures so as to get to understand them correctly. So, an inspired, infallible evangelist, mentoring the next generation evangelist, tells him to ensure he teaches God’s truth by perspiration and not by inspiration!! How can any church leader today claim he’s inspired to interpret?
2. Less diligent people in the church may struggle over words, misunderstand certain truths, spread false ideas, and upset people’s faith, all of which it is the preacher’s job to help correct – not because he is an infallible interpreter of Scripture, but because his diligence has enabled him to “rightly handle the word of truth.”
3. It’s all about the right interpretation of the Scripture (which takes much work) when many false interpretations abound because many are not diligent in the way they handle Scripture.
4. And if Timothy finds extreme difficulties in interpreting some Scripture, where is Paul’s instruction to refer those difficulties to an “apostolic authority”? There is no such instruction. Instead, Paul tells Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words that you have heard from me,” 2 Timothy 1:13, and reminds him that “all Scripture inspired of God is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16. The only authority for dealing with problems is the Scriptures!! Correcting is carried out by going to the appropriate Scripture – not to an “apostolic authority” such as Paul or Pope Peter!
Now to our teachers. The teacher in the church needs to equip the members to serve, and also to improve their knowledge of the Scriptures so that they can stand against false teachers, and play a part themselves in teaching:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:12-14
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. Romans 15:14
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.
Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us — eternal life.
26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. 1 John 2:18-27
The anointing they received is the gospel they heard from the beginning. We can abide in Christ when we allow the teaching we have received from the beginning to remain with us. Just as we saw in 2 Timothy 1:13.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:1-15
The disciples were to heed what they had been commanded by Christ, and we are to heed the apostolic word we now have in the Bible Scriptures. John 17:14,20-21; 2 Timothy 3:14-17. The only apostolic authority we have is the apostolic word in the New Testament. The teacher teaches with authority, Titus 2:15, not because he is Holy-Spirit-inspired and infallible, but because he is a teacher of the infallible and authoritative word of God. The only inspiration the Holy Spirit has given is to the original apostles who preached and wrote the Scriptures. Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14; Ephesians 3:1-5; 2 Peter 1:21. The 1 Corinthians 2 passage has been interpreted by many to mean that all Christians (and not just a few infallible teachers) can understand God’s revealed truth only as the Spirit imparts understanding. However, that chapter appears to be speaking of the inspiration of the apostles which reveals the wisdom of God.
My brother and friend, Bob Abney, made the following point:
Catholic clergy tell the common man/woman that they need an ecclesiastical authority to interpret the word for them. These authorities are depending upon the common person's ability to understand that instruction. If the common person can understand that point why can they not understand what they read in Scripture??????
My final question to Roman Catholics is this: where do the Scriptures teach that the church has a Holy Spirit-guided, infallible interpreter of Scripture? Yes, Roman Catholics believe it is just common sense: we have an infallible, Holy Spirit inspired Bible, and so we need infallible, Holy Spirit inspired interpreters of that Bible! But where do the Scriptures so teach it? Where is the Bible authority for such a belief? A “Thus saith the Lord”?
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
Of course, Roman Catholics are going to say: “You need an infallible interpreter of those Scriptures you’ve just quoted!!” But what if I claimed I was an infallible interpreter, and could perform miracles, as Jesus and the apostles did, to prove my authority. John 3:1-2; 2 Corinthians 12:12. How could you disprove my boast? No, such infallible explanation and exposition was a gift bestowed upon Jesus and his apostles. Mark 12:24-27; Luke 24:44-47; John 3:34; 14:24-26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15; Acts 1:8; 28:23. Rather, I study diligently to present myself to God “approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”!
The real question is: where does final authority lie today – in the Scriptures or in a church claiming infallible interpreters?