WHY DO CHRISTIANS SOMETIMES HAVE DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS?

It is very apparent that there are many well-studied and sincere Christians who have different interpretations of certain Bible passages and application. Not even the two most like-minded individuals see everything alike. Even Jesus acknowledged the fact there are different understandings of Scripture. In Lk. 10:25, a lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life. In Lk. 10:26, Jesus responded by asking:

“What is your understanding/interpretation of the law?”

Another similar question is asked by Philip to the Eunuch in Acts 8:30:

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Bible is from God and the Bible is an objective book (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 8:30-32; Jn. 17:17). However, at times, we will all have different understandings of certain passages. Some erroneously point to the words of Peter to claim that it is wrong to have different interpretations of the Bible and that everyone should understand every Bible verse just alike. However, this is a misunderstanding of the context in which Peter writes. Peter says in 2 Pet. 1:20-21:

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

This passage isn’t speaking of an individual’s understanding of a Bible verse or certain passage. Peter is speaking of how we received the Scriptures. Peter’s point is that we can rest assured that the Scriptures we have are from God and were not tampered with by man’s interpretation.

So, with that being said, let’s go back to the original question. What causes a difference of interpretation? There are several answers to this question.

First, while the Bible is an infallible book, we as humans are fallible people (Rom. 3:23). Naturally, there are going to be flaws in our own interpretations at times because we are human and we are not perfect. Only a flawless person could have a flawless understanding of all things.

Even though the lawyer in Lk. 10:26-29 knew the right answer, he was attempting to justify himself. Many times, we have preconceived ideas that hinder us from seeing the fullness of the text. This could be caused by self-justification, emotionalism, legalism, liberalism, self-righteousness, ignorance (lack of deeper study), fear, family, agendas, upbringing, pressure from others, tradition, money/job, politics at the church you attend, etc. Therefore, we as Christians will at times have different interpretations because of our own sinfulness and fallibility.

Second, there are some areas where God has purposefully not revealed enough information for us to know all the things we wish we could know (Deut. 29:29). This is one reason why preachers and Bible students often have to speculate about details that are not revealed. Therefore, this often leads to a difference in interpretation.

Third, Christians are not all on the same educational levels. We are constantly growing in our knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18). As we grow, we will learn more and come to a better understanding of something we perhaps did not see before. Not every Bible student is going to be at the same level at the same time (Heb. 5:12-14).

Every Bible student can look back and see where they believed or taught something they no longer believe because of maturing and experience. This is a natural result of spiritual growth that will take place with any Christian. Therefore, Christians will at times have different interpretations because of their constant growth in educational, experimental, and maturity levels.

There are many more points that could be stated, but suffice it to say that it is clear many studious, well-intended Christians hold different beliefs. It is also clear that even Jesus understood that people would hold different understandings of scripture. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is not objective truth, it just means we do not always objectively search for it the way we should because we are a fallible people attempting to understand and apply an infallible book. That is why it is so important to search and study the Scriptures with an open heart and open mind (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).

We should not use the excuse of “that is just your interpretation” in attempts to justify sin or lower God’s standard. But we should also abstain from haughty arrogance believing that our interpretation is infallible. We need to begin sincerely admitting the fact that many times sincere Bible students will come to different conclusions, and we should thank God that those in Christ have freedom in these matters (Rom. 8:1)! May our study always be with humility and the right heart!

– Kevin Pendergrass

For any questions or to be added to the newsletter list, please send an e-mail to kevin@kevinpendergrass.com.