Q&A: Our Accountability in Interpretation

Our Accountability in Interpretation

Why aren't our interpretations of Scripture equal in authority to Scripture itself?

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Answer

Our interpretations of Scripture are accountable to the authority of Scripture in a way that Scripture is not accountable to the authority of our interpretation. Now, we want to be careful how we understand that. We don't want to indicate that we cannot understand Scripture accurately, where we do understand Scripture accurately and repeat it back in terms that might be different than the terms Scripture uses. For example, the word "Trinity" as a summary of what the Scriptures do teach about God, even when the Scriptures don't use the word Trinity, we would understand our interpretation to be an accurate interpretation. But we always have to allow our interpretation to be accountable to the Scriptures themselves. It is possible to misinterpret. It's possible to not consider all of the relevant data. It's possible that there is some piece of information that we're missing about the historical situation of the original text itself. And so, we always want to understand that our interpretations are revisable in light of what Scripture teaches, and we come back to that authority again and again and again to correct possible misinterpretations, nuances.

And in this, the teaching of church history is very helpful because it points out ways in which people throughout the history of the church have both gotten major doctrinal issues right and major doctrinal issues wrong. And so, we stand in a stream of witnesses, a stream of inheritance, so to speak, of handling the Scriptures. So, we're not interpreting the Scriptures in a brand new way, absent of context of, say, 2,000 years of church history. So, we can correct our interpretation by looking at what other good Bible interpreters have had to say over the years, and use them as conversation partners, but always appealing to Scripture itself as the final authority.

Answer by Dr. Rob Lister

Dr. Rob Lister joined the faculty of the Talbot School of Theology in 2006 (M.Div, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, B.A., The Citadel, and Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).