God has graciously condescended Himself to us and speaks to us even today, in His Scriptures. The Scriptures are “God breathed,” (2 Tim 3:16) and being that we can only talk when we breath out, we may surmise the Scriptures are literally God speaking to us.
However, there is a big problem…the problem of interpretation. As Todd Friel likes to put it, ever since the Fall our collective “brain is busted.” As Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it” (Jer 17:9)?
Even the Apostles could not understand the simplest of things Jesus said:
Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (Luke 18:31-34).
If our brains are busted and our hearts deceitful, just like the Apostles, how can we understand even the simplest of the Scriptures? How do we know we are properly discerning Scriptures that must be Spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14)?
We have a few options:
- We can just read the Scriptures because what they say will be readily apparent to anyone who wants to read them.
- Just not bother reading the Scriptures, because our minds cannot contemplate things that are divine under any circumstance.
- Do not deviate in interpretation from the consensus of Christian Biblical interpreters.
The first option appears unjustified in light of the whole premise of our article. If our hearts are deceitful, what guarantee do we have that we are not deluding ourselves when we read the Scriptures?
The second option is also not possible, as we are told to meditate on God’s words and the Scriptures have always been publicly read and listened to.
So, the only possible option is the third. We check our own hearts against the hearts of Christians throughout time. The Scriptures says that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church and Peter’s confession of Christ (Matt 16:18). So, we would hope that Christians over time have understood the Scriptures and as long as we stay within this historical consensus, we are on firm ground.
I put the last sentence in italics because this is purely a presumption on my part. It is reasonable, but ultimately not proved beyond all doubt. It is possible that the minority of Christian interpreters over time were correct in their interpretations and the majority wrong. However, it would become impossible for us to discern which minority opinion is correct, as being a minority and not being consistently held throughout time would make it hard to identify.
All of this being said, let me quote Vincent de Lerins (5th Century AD) on Biblical interpretation:
But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters….Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical [pertaining to the institution of the Church] and Catholic [universal] interpretation (Commonitorium, Par 5).
All of this being said, here is my conclusion: We must read the Scriptures and test our interpretation against the historical consensus. That historical consensus does not begin in the 16th century. It begins in the 1st century. If an interpretation in the 16th century was rejected by the historical consensus of the Church in the 1st, then 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and etcetera centuries would it not be incumbent upon us to reject the 16th century innovation?
I recommend that all Christians scour the church fathers and test their interpretations against what the historical consensus was. Simply Google “New Advent Church Fathers” [Insert Bible Verse Here]. Another online resource is the Aquinas Study Bible. I also highly recommend the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series–but that will cost you money unless you are lucky like me and got a bunch of them for free.
May God bless you in your reading of the Scriptures.