Opinions on Scripture
Why are there so many different opinions on the Bible’s teachings? The answer lies in examining typical thought processes. We can look at this philosophically, theologically, and socially. It is abundantly clear that there are varieties of opinions even within the church. covenantal theology or dispensationalism? verbal plenary inspiration or dynamic inspiration? old earth or new earth? creation or theistic evolution? complementarian or egalitarian? These are just a few areas where different opinions are not unusual.
Similar to every other area of human knowledge, mankind’s understanding of the Bible is subject to the fall. Depravity has filtered through both our knowledge base as well as our rational capabilities. We like to think that we are logical beings, but often that could not be farther from the truth. Our presuppositions are usually tainted and invalid. Due to the nature of sin, the way we approach the Scriptures is often subsequently distorted. It would be wonderful if we could think without reference to the fall, but all people are influenced by both outside and inside sources. Even after becoming a Christian, we do not gain a completely blank slate to work from intellectually. Family background, social experiences, denominational identifications, and personal proclivities all affect our range of thinking on any issue. In short, we are an opinionated people and we come to the Word of God with those opinions. That being said, we must realize that there can only be one correct answer to a problem and there is only one correct way to interpret any particular passage of Scripture. That may sound arrogant to some, but philosophy teaches us the Law of Non-Contradiction which states that things that are equally opposite cannot be equally true. Something cannot be both true and not true. Therefore, when there are multiple views, logically it would hold that only one of them is correct. Even within this line of reasoning, things are not always black and white. We must consider which exegetical or theological ideas are most plausible. We should always aim at an apodictic certainty, leaving little room for doubt. Some ideas are absolutely right (such as the virgin birth.) Some ideas are entirely wrong (such as limiting the knowledge of God as open theism attempts to do.) Then there are ideas that carry good probability such as eschatological options or the age of the earth. All of this has created a whole range of biblical and non-biblical options. In short, human reasoning, impeded by the fall, accounts for a variety of biblical opinions.
Theologically speaking, we can be victims of the system. One person comes up with a way for viewing the Bible. While they have some good and valid ideas, others build it even further. Each step, if not careful, can move beyond the intent of the originally interpreter. A case in point is the Roman Catholic Church. Today they are a vast symposium of ill-founded doctrines. They foster a works-centered approach to Christianity which is not the Gospel. This did not happen overnight, though. It was a process of moving more and more away from a biblical center. In the early church, there were occasionally churches dedicated to Mary and an obscure prayer from the third century – a far cry from their view today. By the time of the Reformation, it had spun out of control. There were many churches dedicated to Mary, statues and other likeness made, and frequent prayers. Mariology and Marian art had blossomed, if we can use that word. (To the reformers, it was more like a flower blooming on the poison ivy.) Current Catholic teaching on Mary includes her Immaculate Conception (the belief that she was conceived free of original sin), the ascension of Mary (just as Jesus, she rose to heaven bodily), and her role as co-redemptrix (meaning that she has a role in our redemption along with her Son, Jesus). How far we have fallen! This illustrates how doctrine sometimes progresses biblically and sometimes it devolves. It is very interesting to take a long historical look at doctrine in the early church for there we can see the most basic understanding of what was intended for us in the Bible. The closer we can press our theology back to the early church, the closer we will be to the truth devoid of mankind’s interference.
Some of the reasons we have differences of theological opinion boil down to politics and stubbornness. Different political movements within the church have resulted in doctrinal shifts. The church in England as an example vacillated time and time again between Protestantism and Catholicism. One would be in power and dig their feet into the ground so as to speak. They then would outline theological imperatives. Sometimes this occurred whether it was biblical or not. The King James Bible is actually an outgrowth of just such a time on the protestant side. The church often is subject to whims functioning much like a pendulum. It swings to one side and results in excesses. So the other side tries to correct those imbalances and winds up just as imbalanced. The Holiness movement was a response to lessening Christian standards. They responded by coming up with their own doctrines. One called entire sanctification. Today, we see excesses of the charismatic movement. There are many who in turn respond with a cessationist Christianity. Sometimes, we respond to each other’s doctrine more than we respond to the Bible. That causes unbiblical balances and divergent theological opinion. Once a new opinion is reached, we entrench it with stubborn emotionalism. Thereby, we build an impenetrable fortress out of a belief system not founded on the Bible.
What is the answer? We must first realize that we all have presuppositions. Some of those presuppositions are valid, such as there is a God and the Bible is His perfect message to us. But other presuppositions should be examined to determine logical validity. We then remember that human sin has tainted our mental faculties, so we must be on guard for the ebb and flow of human theological thought. Lastly, we need to examine our own beliefs to guard from political and societal changes that can result in pure doctrinal stubbornness. These are difficult tasks, but they are quite necessary to determine the pure message of the Scriptures.
To put it in the nutshell: Why are there so many different interpretations of Scripture? Because we are all sinful human beings. We approach the Holy writings from the context of our depraved nature and wonder why we get it wrong. As our nature is redeemed and we walk in Christ, we gradually regain our rational center. Soon we are going to look at some sound principles to understand what the correct meaning is to Bible passages. This hermeneutical investigation will give us the tools to tackle the Word of God with confidence. As we correctly approach the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will apply it to our lives and we will be changed in the process.
Comments are always welcome.