Question: While visiting in Tennessee, I attended a congregation
where I was taught that the individual Christian should not try
to interpret the Bible on his own. Instead I was urged to rely
on the research of select Bible professors in our "Christian"
universities for the proper interpretation of God's Word. Is this
approach common among us now?
Answer: Sadly, it is becoming more and more common. Such
pseudoegotism on the part of its adherents serves to illustrate
how much like Catholicism the "New Hermeneutic" movement
is. Along with the trappings of Gnosticism (secret knowledge,
or intellectualism) which adorn this modernistic mess, the young
vanguards of this movement have not only set themselves apart
(through their yearly "Christian Scholars" convocation)
as possessing the only method of proper Bible interpretation,
but they are now asserting themselves (sometimes subtly but always
sanctimoniously) as being the only "qualified" guides
to this holy knowledge ("qualified" by having earned
a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt, St. Andrews, Princeton, Yale, Harvard,
What does the Bible teach about this? The term hermeneutics
is a transliteration of the classical Greek word Hermeneutike,
a cognate of the verb form Hermeneuo. It is interesting
to note that Plato was evidently the first to have used Hermeneutike
as a technical word denoting the interpretation of literature.
The word hermeneutics was used for the first time to describe
the study of Bible interpretation in J. C. Danhauer's pivotal text,
Hermeneutica Sacra, published in Strasburg in 1654. In
fact, the very title of Danhauer's book became the descriptive
phrase which early Latin scholars used to characterize the science
of Bible interpretation.
According to the Scripture, an Individual Can Interpret the Bible
The Bible teaches that an individual who is desirous of interpreting
(knowing the correct meaning of) the will of God can do so by
personal study and investigation (2 Tim. 2:15) without the aid
of any other person or "class" of persons (John 7:17;
8:32). Although reading the works of men, such as commentaries
and sermons, may at times prove helpful, God has never authorized
a "special professor/preacher class" to act as the rightful
interpreters of his will to the church at large.
That the Bible was written in a propositional style is a fact
revealed by the internal testimony of Scripture (John 8:32; 14:15,
23; Gal. 1:612; 1 Thess. 5:21). By the word propositional
we mean that the substantive doctrinal content of God's Word
is set forth in a provable and knowable manner. Thus, it can be
fully interpreted. A proposition is "a statement which says
that something either is or is not the case." In describing
the various kinds of propositional statements possible, it has
been observed that:
A proposition may be categorized in that it asserts that something
either is or is not the case, without stating any sort of conditions.
Or, a proposition may be hypothetical in that it may state that
if one thing is the case, then another thing will be the case.
Or, a proposition may be disjunctive in that it may state that
either one thing is the case or another thing is the case. A proposition
may be conjunctive in that it may state that both of two propositions
(or more) are true. In order for an individual to interpret the
Word of God correctly, there are several necessary requisites.
First, the one desiring to understand God's will must be honest
of heart (Luke 8:15; Acts 13:48). Second, one must strive for
purity of heart and mind (Matt. 5:8; 13:14,15; John 5:14; Acts
7:5153; 8:21; Phil. 4:8; II Tim. 4:3, 4). Third, one must
have a firm belief in the facts of the Bible, and the evidence
for this belief (faith) is produced by revelational proclamation
(Rom. 10:1117; 1 Cor. 15:14; Heb. 11:1).
Romanism forbids Individual Interpretation
D. R. Dungan has well stated, regarding official sanctions forbidding
the individual interpretation of the Bible, that "this has
been one of the great faults of the Catholic Church." He
continues by stressing:
In the decision of their councils, that the laity of the church
should not read that book, lest they should reach wrong views;
they have left it entirely to the control of those whose special
business it has been to furnish the people with a knowledge of
heaven's will. This enables them to establish a monopoly of interpretation.
So that, to the people, the Bible is not the book itself; but
the meaning of the book, as interpreted by the priesthood, is
to them the Bible.
Finally, Dungan concludes by stating:
This kind of power is always dangerous, as well in this respect,
as in any other. Due chiefly to the gains made by Protestants
during the Reformation Movement, the Council of Trent (convened
by the pope and meeting eighteen years from 1545 to 1563)
made the following epoch decree in respect to Bible interpretation:
'The interpretation of Scripture is to be given authoritatively
by the church and not the individual.'
Historian F. W. Mattox accurately recognized the logical consequence
of this decision by concluding that: "an individual had the
right to interpret the Scripture only if his interpretation was
not contrary to that of the [Catholic] church."
Commenting further on the evolution of the authoritarian nature
of the apostate Roman Church, Mattox traces its development as
From the scriptural position of the priesthood of all believers
there grew up a distinct priestly class.... The early leaders
warned against falling for this idea, but soon a priestly class
was developed and the priests began to do things for the common
Christians that, they were told, they could not do for themselves.
By 150 A.D. there is evidence of a distinction between those who
served as ministers and the rest of the congregation. As the distinction
grew the 'clergy' patterned itself after the Jewish priesthood.
Such a priesthood developed out of a prior separation of Christians
into two levels, the spirituals and the carnals.
If the ministers were to be priests they had to interpret the
items of worship in such a way as to give themselves special functions
and to justify their position. The priestly idea grew up with
the episcopacy.... From this point on the full priesthood required
only a little time to develop. The theory that produced Medieval
Romanism is centered in the idea that Christ left with the church
officials all of the powers and privileges that He had exercised
while on earth. Because Jesus taught with infallible authority
while on earth it was assumed that the church officials had the
same authority. This theory made it unnecessary for the church
membership at large to study the Bible as it was the priesthood's
responsibility to tell them what to do. It also became unnecessary
for the priest to study, because his instruction came from his
The notion of a clergy/laity system resulted in many diversions
from the truth, as history will testify. This false concept was
so broadly applied by the Catholic Church, and so strongly enforced,
that it inevitably resulted in yielding the right of Bible interpretation
exclusively to the papacy and the "messengers of Rome,"
the ordained priests.
Today, those among us who are advocating the notion that one cannot
interpret the Bible on his own are falling into the same gross
(Once again brother Meador has favored us with a wellresearched
answer to an important question. The winds of change are gusting
strong and threaten to accelerate to hurricane strength. We must
be careful that we are not "blown about by every wind of
doctrine." Joseph Meador is doing a much needed work in helping
to train men to preach the Word. Other schools of preaching are,
in like manner, producing faithful teachers of everlasting truth.
Such valuable institutions will help the church to weather the
storm - H. A. (Buster) Dobbs.)