The shema proclaims in Deuteronomy 6:4 that “Adonai… our God… is one.” Yeshua teaches us in Mark 3:25 that “if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot be made to stand.” And Paul declares in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “every Scripture is God-breathed.” So if God is one—undivided—and the Bible is the written word of God, then why do we think that there can be more than one legitimate interpretation of the Bible? Why do we believe we have the permission to disagree with one another about what the Scriptures say?
While the more tolerant among us claim that disagreements over Scripture simply aren’t worth the fight or effort, the reality is that we consider it acceptable for others to hold their own interpretations of Scripture because we desire that same permission for ourselves. We want to be allowed to have our own mind on what the Bible says and how we live, and to not be challenged on it by others.
Strictly speaking, it is possible for each person to have his own interpretation—that is, to give his own meaning to Scripture based on his individual reasoning, perspective and faith traditions. But the question is: are those interpretations actually valid?
Wasn’t Keifa indicating that Scripture is not open to interpretation when he said in 2 Keifa 1:20, “no prophecy of the Scripture comes out of personal interpretation”? And doesn’t the Master Himself teach us that even the smallest letter and littlest mark of the Scriptures are exactly as God intended, saying that “until the time that the heaven and the earth pass away, not one י or one stroke will pass away from the Torah” (Matthew 5:18)?
God will never talk to us out of both sides of His mouth. The ultimate author of the Bible cannot speak to us so unclearly that there is no fixed meaning in His words. A Bible that allows for multiple meanings, depending upon who’s reading it, is a Bible we simply can’t trust. Once we believe that any given verse or passage is open to interpretation, then the Bible becomes nothing but an accomplice to deception, misinformation and lies.
The goal of reading the Scriptures is not to reinforce or find support for our presuppositions, doctrines, feelings or experiences—and especially not to see in the text what we think or want the Scriptures to mean. So when we fail to grasp the author’s original and intended message, we fail to understand and rightly interpret the word of God.
What should we do, then, when we disagree with one another about what the Scriptures say? First, we must humble ourselves, and accept that despite any amount of knowledge, or spiritual experience, or even centuries of doctrine and faith traditions that support what we believe, we prideful human beings are not the arbiters of truth. God is. So it is His word—not ours—that must have the final say on all matters of biblical disagreement.
And second, we need to realize that when two of us disagree on what the Scriptures mean, we can’t both be right. This is not referring to personal application—where the Scriptures may be inspiring, affirming, or speaking to a particular issue in your life that it’s not currently speaking to me about—but personal interpretation, which affects our beliefs and the way we practically apply and live out God’s word. If you and I are seeing the fixed words on the page differently, then either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. There are no other options.
2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to bring yourself near—proven to God, a workman irreproachable, straightly cutting a path for the word of the truth…” When it comes to interpreting the Scriptures, none of us has a monopoly on the truth. But if the truth we hold is defined only by the written word of God, then how can we ever be mistaken?
The one and only undivided God, the one Yeshua, and the one perfect word make it impossible to have different yet valid interpretations of the Bible. Every Scripture has but a single, legitimate interpretation: the one that was encoded and breathed into it by God.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!