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Private Interpretation

By Paul Swonger (March 1, 2010).


The private interpretation of scripture has lead to the creation and endless mutation of dozens of thousands of theologies all claiming to be Christianity. Every time someone's interpretation leads to a distinctive belief in a fashion different from established denominations and it is perpetuated, the problem compounds itself. Below we will examine exactly what the Scripture itself says about such things.

The Biblical Portrait of Interpretation

The first thing we must understand is that the Bible is clear about there being one fold, and one Shepherd. This one fold cannot be of varying opinion on the theology of the body of Christ (which is to say the Church cf. Ephesians 1:23). It must be of one mind, and that oneness will be a proof of it's truth (cf. Romans 15:5, John 17:23). These characteristics eliminate from the onset, those theologies that claim the Church of the Apostles "fell away" from the truth (cf. Matthew 16:18), or that intend to represent themselves as a reformed, or restorationist theology.

John 10:16
And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.

I. Luke 24:45
Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.

II. Acts 8:30
And Philip running thither, heard him reading the prophet Isaias. And he said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?

III. 2 Peter 1:20
Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation.

IV. 2 Peter 3:16
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.

V. 2 Peter 3:17
You therefore, brethren, knowing these things before, take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness.

Sacred Scripture sets forth a very clear solution, should the problem of conflicting interpretations between two or more parties arise. As we read in Acts 15, two groups of people each had conflicting ideas, based on their reading of Scripture. It is the Church, and those in authority within the Church who settle the disagreement. Note that none of the two parties claimed the other wasn't "truly lead by the Holy Spirit" in their interpretation. This sort of argumentation just doesn't pass the Scripture Test. This is because the Holy Spirit preserves the Church from error within the one fold via those charged with leadership, as Scripture clearly demonstrates. To state this another way, here we have two parties within the one fold, who are not leaders, but none-the-less in the same fold, with different interpretations. This demonstrates that even being in the True Church in and of itself does not mean the Holy Spirit will overcome your ego in interpretation. Scripture does not show another "denomination" or "consensus" being formed. Scripture does not fault the wrong party for subscribing to anti-Christ doctrine, which somehow impairs their ability to be led by the Holy Spirit (an example that parallels much of what protestants today argue). Sacred Scripture clearly shows that the Church has the authority to settle matters of interpretation through pronouncements made by her leadership, as Christ has deigned.


I. According to the Bible, it took Jesus Christ to open the minds of the Apostles so that they could properly understand scriptures and perpetuate the true meaning of them. It is a good time to ask yourself if you believe that likewise Jesus Christ opened the minds of those who rejected the Church of the Apostles and started their own branches of Christianity, all while contradicting each other on various points. This is a good time to ask yourself why if in Matthew 16:18 Christ said the gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church, why it took men and their private interpretations to correct something that Christ said was impossible. It is a good time perhaps, also, to examine why you would favor one protestant or "reformed" theology over another. Perhaps your own private interpretation agrees?

II. Since Philip had been filled by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:4, he was able to explain the truth of Isaiah to the eunuch. This ability was not of his own ego.

III. Many protestant denominations, TV Evangalists, and other "Christian Sects", most notably perhaps among them, the Jehova's Witnesses are renowned for making prophecies. In current times, a popular thing is to predict the end of the world in 2012. The Bible is clear on this sort of behavior. Martin Luther for example, caused much civil chaos by claiming that the Pope at the time was the anti-Christ and that the end was near.

IV-V. Why does Peter, in 2 Peter 3:16 simply tell us to ask the Lord into our heart that we may all have the correct understanding of scripture? Here is a very clear warning that it is easy to fall into error by private interpretation of Scripture.


The alternative to private interpretation is the teaching authority which stems directly from Jesus Christ, built upon the rock of Saint Peter (Matt. 16:18) which has been uninterrupted for ~2000 years. The alternative is the Catholic Church.

By giving Peter the keys of authority (Matt. 16:19), Jesus appointed Peter as the chief steward over His earthly kingdom (cf. Isaiah. 22:19-22).

Jesus also charged Peter to be the source of strength for the rest of the apostles (Luke 22:32) and the earthly shepherd of Jesus' flock (John 21:15-17). Jesus further gave Peter, and the apostles and elders in union with him, the power to bind and loose in heaven what they bound and loosed on earth. (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). This teaching authority did not die with Peter and the apostles, but was transferred to future bishops through the laying on of hands (e.g., Acts 1:20; 6:6; 13:3; 8:18; 9:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6).

See also:

The Visible Church

(Portions of "Alternatives" by John Salza, Scripture Catholic).