For more than three millennia, the people of God have used the Scriptures to teach, correct, and encourage one another. This is a vital practice of the redeemed community, and the Scriptures themselves bear witness to this model of Biblical exhortation.1 However, when one professing believer tries to impart Scriptural wisdom to another, it is not uncommon for the second person to get defensive and dismiss their brother or sister’s point by saying something along the lines of, “Well, that’s just your interpretation of Scripture.”
This kind of response is faulty for a number of reasons:
1. It Assumes the True Meaning of the Text is Inaccessible
The claim that a person’s Biblical basis for comments or concerns is nothing more than their interpretation is often undergirded by a fatal assumption: the true meaning of the text is unclear or impossible to discern. A defensive person will often appeal to the fact that through the ages, many have debated and disagreed about the meaning of various Biblical texts.
At face value, this is true: through the centuries, countless controversies have arisen as a result of dissenting Biblical interpretations.2 However, the fact that people have held numerous interpretations does not mean there isn’t a correct one. There is, and more often than not, the correct interpretation is easily accessible to those willing to hear it.
Additionally, many Biblical exhortations fall under the category C.S. Lewis calls mere Christianity—positions all orthodox Christians agree on and have unanimously held throughout Church history.3 Though there is great diversity of thought within the Christian tradition, followers of Jesus from various denominational and theological perspectives see eye-to-eye on many fronts. And therefore, if a person’s Scriptural encouragement is in agreement with the tenets of mere Christianity, it is likely unwise to dismiss it.
2. It’s Lazy
Shutting down the conversation by playing the “interpretation” card displays a lack of desire to engage with and be formed by the Scriptures. If a believer disagrees with another’s textual argument, the burden is on the former to go to the Scriptures and make their case. A Biblical argument should only be dismissed if one can offer an alternate interpretation.
The noble disciple of Jesus follows the example of the Jews in Berea, and eagerly examines the Scriptures to see if their brother or sister’s perspective is valid.4
3. It Hinders Growth
A person refusing to listen to Biblical wisdom on the grounds of interpretation is cutting themselves off from a powerful means of growth. When one denies the opportunity to gaze upon the glory of the Lord through the written word, they cut themselves off from one of the foundational ways God’s Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ. Unless the Scriptures are lying when they claim to be breathed out by God’s Spirit and useful to teach us what is true, make us realize what is wrong in our lives, teach us to do what is right, and equip God’s people to do good work,5 it is unwise for professing Christians to refuse to seriously engage them.
2. For more on the history of Biblical interpretation, see Justo L. Gonzalez – A History of Christian Thought; Gerald Bray – Biblical Interpretation: Past & Present; and Kemper Fullerton – Prophecy and Authority: A Study in the History of the Doctrine, and Interpretation of Scripture
4. Acts 17:11
6. John 1:1-18