With so many different interpretations of the Bible by sincere, Holy Spirit-filled Christians, we can’t all be right—which means most of us are at least a little bit wrong in our understanding of biblical truth.
By Christine McParland
I was at lunch sitting next to a friend I wanted to become better acquainted with. She was around my age and had a bubbly personality, but what most interested me was her faith. She seemed very dedicated to her church, which was part of a denomination I wasn’t familiar with and was curious to learn more about.
I broached the subject after some light chitchat. “So, what’s your church like?”
“We study the Bible a lot. Every summer we attend Bible school, and I think God might be calling me to missions in Asia.”
“Wow, that’s great!” Not satisfied with her answer—most Christian denominations study the Bible and send missionaries, after all—I pressed further. “But what makes your denomination different from others? What do you believe?”
“Well, we don’t really believe Jesus was the Son of God.”
I tried to conceal my shock and confusion but was apparently unsuccessful. My friend clarified, “I mean, we believe God gave him special powers, but not that he was actually God’s Son.”
“Oh, um, why does your church believe that?” was the only response I could think of.
“We just don’t see it in the Bible.”
Which Bible are you reading?! I wondered. What about all the gospel passages where Jesus references his heavenly Father, or the baptism and transfiguration accounts where God calls Jesus his Son? Or the passages where the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy because they understood he was claiming to be God’s Son? Not to mention the references to Jesus’ divinity and Sonship throughout the rest of the New Testament . . .
I didn’t doubt that my friend was sincere, just sincerely misguided.
I was troubled that someone—much more a whole denomination—could be so dedicated to the study of Scripture yet interpret it in a way that was directly opposed to the truth it contained. How could a church call itself a Christian denomination but deny the divinity of Christ? And worse, how could it teach this falsehood to its congregants, just because they had studied the Bible and decided for themselves what it said (or didn’t say) about who Jesus is? Who gave this denomination the right to declare its own truth?
It would’ve been easy to assume these people must not really be saved, and therefore they don’t have the Holy Spirit guiding their reading of Scripture. And that may be true, but God alone knows people’s hearts. As an imperfect and fallen human being myself, I had to recognize that I was also susceptible to erroneous interpretations of Scripture (even if I wouldn’t compromise on Jesus’ divinity). I don’t have the right to declare my own truth, either.
As a lifelong Protestant, I was used to different interpretations of Scripture among denominations. But I had found comfort knowing that most denominations agree on the basics of the faith laid out in statements of the early church like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed: the triune God, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus, forgiveness of sins and salvation through his finished work on the cross, etc. But even the denominations that agree on the basics disagree on a myriad of other topics and issues that are in the Bible, such as baptism, the role of works in the life of faith, a Christian response to homosexuality, and many others.
If I read the same Bible as Christians in other denominations, and if I have the same Holy Spirit of truth helping me understand what I read, why are we in disagreement on many things that, though perhaps not foundational to the faith, are still important?
Let me be clear: the Holy Spirit does help us understand the Bible, despite our fallen tendency to impose our own biases on it (see John 16:13). But with so many different interpretations of the Bible by sincere, Holy Spirit-filled Christians, we can’t all be right—which means most of us are at least a little bit wrong in our understanding of biblical truth.
Certainly, God honors those who seek to know him through the truth of His Word, even if they don’t get it 100% correct. He doesn’t hold up a list of specific beliefs and make sure we check all the boxes before letting us into heaven. But of all people in the world, shouldn’t Christians be united in truth because we have the truth about life’s most important questions?
The divisions over doctrine and beliefs within Christianity troubled me almost as much as my friend’s false view of Jesus. But while I wouldn’t be able to solve these denominational problems, I found peace in meditating on the way that Jesus describes the truth.
John 14:6 had always been a familiar verse to me, but now I saw it in a new light:
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NLT)
Jesus said . . . I am . . . the truth.
Truth isn’t merely a set of teachings, doctrines, traditions, or practices. It’s much more than that. Truth is first and foremost a person, and that person is Jesus Christ himself, the Word made flesh.
Truth isn’t a set of beliefs determining who Jesus is—Jesus is the truth determining what true beliefs are!
I was caught up in whether I (and other Christians and denominations) could interpret Scripture correctly. But I was forgetting that knowledge of the written Word stems from knowledge of the incarnate Word. True beliefs and doctrines are the fruit of being in relationship with the Truth himself.
This doesn’t mean that we automatically have perfect and complete knowledge of the Bible once we come into relationship with Jesus as our Savior and Lord—the Scriptures never promise us that! But we do have his promise that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13, NLT). This implies a journey into truth, not an instant download.
In your own pursuit of truth, don’t lose heart if you struggle to understand the Bible or to reconcile how denominations interpret it differently. Remain open and attentive to the Holy Spirit. Stay in close relationship with the Word. And keep your eyes fixed on the Truth himself.
Ultimately, all that is true will point us to Jesus.
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