Is the Bible to be "Interpreted"? How is God’s word to be read?  More specifically, what’s to say that one man’s interpretation of God’s word is more perfect than anyone else’s? Is it because we take into account the entirety of God’s law? Isn’t it possible for someone to read the entirety of the scriptures and come up with differing doctrine than another person who did the same? Is there really one "Sound Doctrine" and what makes it such?


This is a very practical question. My answer is that the Bible is not to be "interpreted." It is to be understood. This may sound like a narrow distinction (interpreted vs understood) and perhaps it is. I would quote from 2 Peter 1:19-21 where Peter says that no prophecy of God is a matter of one’s own interpretation. In the context, he is saying that what the biblical writers wrote was not their own interpretation, but it was inspired by God. I am perhaps stretching this passage just a bit to apply it to us as we read the Bible. It is not our job to interpret it (although we obviously do interpret the Bible, at least in a sense). It is our job to do our very best to understand what the author is saying. This means that we should be very careful to not bring our presuppositions or our assumptions to the table when we read and undersand what is said in the Bible.

There is an entire subject devoted to the best and wisest way to understand/interpret the Bible. It is called Hermeneutics. There are many "rules," such as using the immediate context, the audience of the writer, the type of literature, the common meaning of words, the historical context and many other factors in deciding the most likely meaning of a particular passage. I am teaching a class on the subject in October here in San Deigo. I can send you notes if you like.

I believe God gives you free will, and with that comes the responsibility to seek a correct understanding of the Bible. You need to decide for yourself what is the meaning of individual passages in the Bible. You would be wise to refer to reliable people to help you understand the scripture, especially those who can help you with the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words, the historical context and so forth. You should take the entire Bible as a whole in deciding the most likely meaning of a particular Bible verse or section of scripture. What is to say that one person’s interpretation is more perfect than another’s? My answer is that if two people disagree then either one is wrong or they are both wrong, because there is only one meaning and intention of God in the passage. You should look at the prejudices and biases of the ones interpreting. You should listen carefully to those telling you how they understand a particular passage. You should read it for yourself and look at the context. You should learn what questions to ask.

My answer to your last question is yes, there really is only one "Sound Doctrine." Paul told Timothy to "Watch your life and your doctrine. Be diligent in them because if you do so you will save yourself and your hearers." (1 Tim 4:16) Doctrine is important and God expects us to pay careful attention to it. It can be extremely confusing and even discouragint to look at all the churches and teachings out there. No single person or group is entire correct in what he or she or they believe, but some are much closer to correct doctrine than others. Also, it can be helpful to understand that some doctines are more important than others. Some are essential, some are important and some are not really all that important. The doctrine of who Jesus is, how one is saved, the nature of God are essential doctrines. How the church should be organized, when it should meet, how often the Lord’s Supper should be shared. These are less important doctrines, but probably still important. People can be wrong on these and probably still be saved. Then there are issues such as how old the earth is or when Jesus will come back. These are not important doctrines. If you can bear in mind the relative importance of certain doctrines and interpretations, this can help you to navigate the issue of what is the correct interpretation and what is the correct doctrine. I hope this will get you started. J

ohn Oakes

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