Private Interpretation 2 Pet.1:20 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
Private interpretation is the method of interpreting scripture to make it say what you want it to say. Private interpretation derives from four primary sources:
- The first is unbelief. You don’t believe what you’re reading so you make the scripture say what you believe.
- The second is presumption. You have decided that a certain doctrine is true and then you interpret scripture to “prove” that your doctrine is Biblical.
- The third is ignorance. You don’t have a clue what it means but you feel compelled to come up with something, so you just “guess” or “speculate.” Of course, when you resort to conjecture, you throw in a little “original language” and a quote from a “scholar” to sound authoritative.
- The fourth is misperception. 2 Tim 2:15 says to “study… rightly dividing the word of truth.” When you don’t rightly divide scripture, you must interpret it to fit your lack of division or your improper divisions.
There is an explicit command against private interpretation in 2 Pet 1:20. We are to depend upon the Holy Spirit and the correct cross referencing of scripture to understand what the Bible says. The Bible will teach you what it says when you correctly cross reference scripture with scripture (1 Cor 2:10-13) under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. He is the author and the interpreter of scripture. Notice the following:
Private interpretation from unbelief. Many professing Christians don’t believe in eternal security, for example. So, when they hit a verse that unambiguously says that you can’t lose your salvation, they interpret it to mean something other than what it says. For instance, Jn 6:37 says, “…and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” “In no wise cast out” has been privately interpreted to mean that the Lord won’t turn away someone who is coming to him for salvation. But the context clearly shows you that this interpretation is not what the verse is saying. Read Jn 6:39. It says that the Father’s will is “…that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing…” And, Brother, he didn’t lose one of them but the son of perdition [Jn 17:12]. And he only lost him so that the scripture would be fulfilled. Once Jesus has you, he’s got you forever [Jn 10:27-29].
Private interpretation from presumption. The Roman Catholic Church is famous for this kind of interpretation. For instance, the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the Mother of God. They say that she is the mother of Jesus and that since Jesus is God, Mary, therefore, is the Mother of God. They do this to give her elevated status so that she can be co-mediator with Jesus, contrary to 1 Tim 2:5. Mary is not the Mother of God. The second person of the Trinity was here long before Mary was born [Jn 8:58]. He’s been here forever!
The Catholic Church also teaches that water baptism is essential for salvation. Hence, they privately interpret “born of water” in Jn 3:5 as baptism. Born of water is your natural birth [Jn 3:6]. Likewise, they interpret the Spirit baptism of Rom 6:3-6 as water baptism, which it is not.
Another example of private interpretation from presumption is found in Calvinism. Calvinists are troubled by their inability to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. So, they teach predestination, that God determined from the foundation of the world whom he would save and whom he would send to hell regardless whether they wanted to be saved or not. A man believing in predestination will go to the Bible looking for verses to prove that he is right. Consequently, when he sees the word predestination, he presumes that it means salvation for the elect (those whom God has chosen from the foundation of the world to be saved). He cannot see that predestination never has anything to do with God predestinating a man to be saved. Predestination is for men who are already saved. Men who are saved are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ [Rom 8:29], to be adopted [Eph 1:5] and to obtain an inheritance [Eph 1:11].
Private interpretation from ignorance. This type of interpretation usually occurs with someone who doesn’t know much Bible. He looks at a verse he doesn’t understand and tries to interpret it within the bounds of his limited understanding. For him, the Bible is finite. Southern Baptists, for example, mainly hear spiritual applications in Sunday school and salvation messages on Sunday morning. So, they are generally “lost” when it comes to understanding doctrine.
Private interpretation is also found among “scholars.” If you look through commentaries, like the ones you find on-line, there is, generally, more confusion than truth published by “scholars.” They have learned a lot and yet know so little when it comes to the truth of the Bible [2 Tim 3:7].
I was approached by a young man recently who commented on a passage of scripture in James. He tried to explain Jas 3:2, “a perfect man,” by going to the Greek word translated “perfect.” He then cited another verse in the New Testament where the same Greek word has been translated a different way. He commented on both words and seemed to be in awe that this Greek word was used in both places.
However, when he finished his comments, we weren’t any closer to understanding the “perfect man” than when he started his explanation. This is often the case with interpretations offered by those who are awed by scholarship. It’s one thing to know Greek words and their meanings; but to know what the Bible says is altogether a different matter.
If you want to know what James was talking about, study the context of Jas 3:2, starting back at Jas 1:19-27 and continuing through all of Jas 3. And then cross reference the English word “perfect” when it is used to describe a man. You’ll know much more when you’re done studying than you ever would by defining a Greek work.
Private interpretation from misperception. This type of interpretation results from improperly dividing the scripture [2 Tim 2:15]. There are a couple of incorrect ways of handling the divisions in the Bible. First, you are forced to privately interpret some passages when you see the Bible as one book with no divisions [the non-dispensational view]. Second, you are forced into private interpretation when you chop up the Bible into more divisions than are there [the hyper-dispensational view].
In the first case, you will hear men use phrases like, “in the Old Testament they were looking forward to the cross and in the New Testament we are looking back to the cross.” That sounds good. But the truth is that even the guys looking at the cross didn’t “get it.”
In the second case, you will hear men preach Paul pretty much to the exclusion of all else in the Bible. Thus, they believe that you don’t have to be baptized in water, go to church on Sunday, tithe, confess your sins, or witness, and they don’t believe the rapture is for the church. They chop all that out of the Bible for Christians in this age they call “grace.”
Conclusion: You want to avoid private interpretation at all costs. To do this you must read your Bible humbly, believe what it says, study it faithfully, cross reference scripture with scripture, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth. Be patient and start with the milk of the word. Learn the basic doctrines thoroughly. Build slowly, line upon line and precept upon precept. And when you hear preaching and teaching be sure to check it out against what the Bible “says” rather than against what it is presumed to say.