Interpreting Scripture in Community

In this episode of the Holy Joys Podcast, Johnathan Arnold and David Fry discuss how the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers relates to our interpretation of Scripture, as well as related doctrines such as inerrancy, the clarity/perspicuity of Scripture, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Quotes from Johnathan Arnold

  • The fundamental Protestant claim is not getting back to Scripture instead of tradition, it’s getting back to the true tradition which is a consensus about how Scripture is understood.
  • The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture doesn’t mean that everything is clear, and it doesn’t mean everything is equally clear. It means that the matters of first importance are clear.
  • There’s not a problem with God’s revelation, but we have all been affected by sin. And as human beings, we’re finite, we’re limited through certain cultural contexts. We’re prone to read Scripture through our biases and experiences, and that is why as a community we so desperately need one another. We need one another’s varying perspectives.
  • Among the community, not all people are equally intelligent, or educated, or informed, so not everybody’s perspectives are equally valued. Pastors are those who have been recognized among the community as having a special character, and intelligence, and ability. “Able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24), the qualification for an elder, indicates aptitude, intelligence, and ability. That doesn’t mean the pastor has unquestioned, absolute authority, but it does mean the community ought to be a learning community overseen by pastor-theologians who are equipped and tested, tried, and proven to have expertise in expounding the Word.
  • Christ promised to guide the Church into all truth. That promise, John 16:13, is given to the Church as a whole, not to any one individual in isolation from the Church.
  • The Church is a pillar and ground of the truth, not only one member in isolation from the body, but together as a community, we are a place where the truth has been deposited.

Quotes from David Fry

  • There is no one from whom I can’t learn something. If we have that attitude, it will foster openness and counter the built-in pride that so many people take in their accomplishments, or positions, or the power that they have.
  • There are two ditches that need to be avoided. First, the notion that any person, regardless of their faith, can take God’s Word in isolation and understand it as well as anybody else. Second, that you have to understand Greek and Hebrew in order to really understand what God is saying. That God’s Word is really obscure.
  • The tension is between the clarity of Scripture and the obscurity of Scripture. The fact that it is accessible but also requires the help of the Spirit.
  • Right now, the Church world is more plagued by the notion that everybody’s opinion is equal—that we have as many interpretations as we have interpreters, and that they’re all equally valid.
  • We don’t each get to have our own truth.
  • What we call the perspicuity of Scripture is based on the fact that the revelation of God is also and first clear through nature, through general revelation. One of the reasons that special revelation can be clear is because it presupposes that much of what is revealed in special revelation has already been generally revealed through nature itself.
  • I affirm the inerrancy of the text, but I don’t affirm the inerrancy of my interpretation. We’re talking about the interpretation, we’re not talking about the uncertainty being in the text.
  • Someone might think, “Are we questioning the ability of Scripture? Isn’t part of the authority of Scripture such that it is so clear that we ought to be able to understand everything in it?” I would say that’s a confusion of concepts. Yes, Scripture is completely authoritative, but that’s saying one thing; it is quite another thing to say I ought to understand how its authority functions completely in my life or in the life of the Church. It is a distinction between the text itself and my understanding of it.
  • The authority of Scripture is not threatened by our lack of understanding of it. Let’s not equate authority with clarity.
  • Although there are disagreements among Christian scholars, the truth has been preserved somewhere within the body of Christ. God preserves the truth which He revealed. We’re not looking for something that may have been lost in the past. God preserves His truth within the Church.
  • It is important for us not only to read the text but to read it in the community.
  • God superintends His Word and the preservation of His Word.
  • I am not the final answer, and yet God has entrusted to me the responsibility of interpreting God’s Word for our local congregation, and I’m not always going to get it right. But Lord keep me humble enough to make the corrections where I need to, but also to avoid the dogmatic preaching, the tones, and the statements that are not in keeping with His word, that are opinions and not based on the text of Scripture. God help me to avoid those things. That is where authority could be abused the most, not through what we say but in the tone in which we say it.

Other Resources Mentioned in this Episode

David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).