Ultimately, how can we determine which interpretation of the Bible is true?


#1

I need some peace of mind.

There are so many interpretations of the Bible, and what makes it so difficult to discern is that so many of those interpretations make sense, even if they conflict each other.

For example, let’s take the subject of confession. Do we need to confess our sins to a priest?
Catholics would say yes, claiming that Jesus sent the apostles to forgive sins in His name, and that we are called to do penance. Other Christian groups would say otherwise, claiming that all sins are already forgiven in the cross and that internal repentance is sufficient.
Among those other Christian groups, some would say “confessing is not bad, but it’s not a requirement”. Others would say “it’s blatant heresy!”
And the thing is, all stances, though conflicting, are backed up with logical biblical basis.

That’s only a slice of the cake. We’ve got the subjects of purgatory, predestination, election, etc.

And don’t get me started on Calvinism vs Arminianism. Even though the former isn’t so comforting, it’s logical, while the more-comforting latter is just as logical as well.

How are we supposed to know who are correct, and who are deceived? I believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but how can I say that I truly know them if I can’t discern which group of Christianity is the most accurate?

God bless everyone.


#2

I guess there are three ways to come at this:

  1. Is it consistent with a reasonable reading of Scripture? (And maybe both sides can make a good argument)
  2. Is the argument in line with the beliefs of the early church?
  3. Does the person making the argument have authority?

Based on these, I put a lot more stock in Catholic and Orthodox positions than protestant ones. And the two are usually pretty close.


#3

Its very simple. Jesus established the Catholic Church, entrusted it with the Deposit of Faith and gave it authority to teach in matters of faith and morals which means all Church teachings have the authority of God supporting it and therefore in such matters it cannot be in error.

If a Catholic does not believe that then they commit a sin of grave matter and heresy.


#4

Can the person doing the interpretation trace there authority back to an apostle?

1Jn 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens** to us**; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

What does John me by(us), the Church, the office of Apostle, and their successors to whom they passed on the Faith.

Any person whom tries to re-invent the faith of the early Church would make me suspicious and would test what every they say.

:slight_smile:


#5

My reply would be that the Christian community that (a) wrote the scriptures and (b) decided which Christian writings were scripture would be the community that best knew how to interpret scripture. The community that did so? The Catholic Church (at the time, the Catholics and Orthodox were one and the same - and it was more than 1000 years before the Protestant “Reformation”). In fact, whether they necessarily believe it or not, any Christian who recognizes the Bible as the only inspired scripture recognizes the Catholic Church’s authority in determining scripture (which, btw, occured after Constantine legalized Christianity - and therefore after the period in which many Protestants claim the “great apostasy” occured.


#6

This is how I would approach it. Put the other questions aside for a moment, and ask yourself if you believe Jesus established a literal church. And also ask yourself if you believe the Bible is the only source of revelation and instruction given to us by God. I suggest finding very early Christian materials, written by the Church fathers, to see what faith they taught.


#7

Hi Thistle,

This problem arises when we only accept the truth partially. I read a story once where God dropped His Mirror and it shattered into fragments and fell upon the earth.

Each person who found a fragment celebrated that they had found the truth to the exception of everyone else and then conflict arose and wars and killing began each trying to impose their ‘fragment of truth’ upon the others until they had almost annihilated each other.

Then a wise man suggested they compare their fragments calmly and peacefully. As time passed and they began to join the fragments they put the mirror back together. And then when they looked into the mirror they all saw the Face of God!!

It was their stubbornness in clinging to their own tiny fragment that had caused all the wars but when they had agreed to put the fragments together they found the same truth for truth is one.

There is truth in all religions and all beliefs and when they are joined together we will find ourselves that we all believe in the same thing.

Like the fragments, today each religion asserts it is the only way. But when they look calmly and put the pieces together they will find they all believe in truth.

If there is truth in Christ there is also truth in Buddha and Moses and Muhammad but when we cling to our own ‘fragment’ we remain at odds with each other and disunited.

I’ve seen the mirror all put together and so I see no contradictions but only the Face of God.

"truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” Rumi


#8

As any communications engineer could tell you, ‘redundancy’ is critical. The bible has a lot of redundancy, making it very resistant to ‘noise’ and losses due to ‘entropy’. God - I believe - makes sure the most important insights are repeated, over and over. Any doctrine or theology based on just one verse is suspect, as it could be a translation error or a transmission error.

Simply read the bible, starting with the Old Testament - especially the Torah - and don’t worry about other peoples ‘interpretations’.

If you just read and carefully check footnotes; and every now and then look up the original Greek/Hebrew for certain words to ‘back’ translate (to see if the original word has been consistently translated - since if it is inconsistent that is a red flag) you should be fine.


#9

You’ve just discovered the reason why the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura is useless. Why they (those who are aware that Protestant doctrine is based primarily or solely on Scripture and argue for that position) do not always acknowledge that fact eventually is beyond me-it’s beyond logic.


#10

I should also add, to my last post, that Jesus placed more faith in scripture than ‘priests’ or Pharisees - as evidenced by the sermon on the mount. Whenever He says ‘It is written’ it is quite different to when He says ‘You have heard it said’. The second instance refers to ‘hearsay’ or what the priests/Pharisees of the day told the people… basically, the verbal communications versus the written. So read, read, question, think, dig and find answers to each major inconsistency you encounter, and you eventually get to the truth in most cases. That’s been my experience, to the point where I feel a lot clearer today, than in the past - when I relied too much on ministers/priests.

Don’t rely on ‘authority’ figures - I’ve made that mistake too often in my religious and work life - only to then realise they were flawed human beings, who often don’t agree with each other anyway.

Many of the so called ‘church fathers’ were actually pretty late on the scene historically - post Constantine’s establishment of the Roman Church, more than enough time for human thought, and ‘oral’ tradition to corrupt communications.


#11

Much, very much of Scripture is unclear or ambiguous on important teachings.


#12

I don’t find that at all. It is crystal clear once you read the bible end to end, and throw out man-made teachings, doctrines and theology. This applies to both Catholic and Protestant churches, both have clutter.


#13

Nope. Sincere and well-credentialed SS adherents disagree greatly on their interpretations. Even Arians and JWs, going by Scripture alone, argue plausibly for the non-deity of Christ. The same goes for Baptismal regeneration, infant baptism, the Real Presence, the role of free will in justification/salvation, whether or not one can lose their salvation, whether or not God predestines the reprobate to hell, even whether or not hell is real and/or eternal-or whether we should observe 7th day sabbath as directed in the ten commandments. The list goes on.


#14

You get peace of mind through prayer and silence, not by trying to understand doctrine.

-Tim-


#15

Yes, but doctrine is important nonetheless- and* correct* doctrine, conveying the nature and will of God.


#16

Only the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth and if a Catholic does not believe that then they put themselves in a state of sin.


#17

There’s two points of origin (at least) in comparing churches. From the inside out, and then from the outside in.

The CC says you need the sacrament of reconciliation, confessing through a priest to God. Scripture does say that we should confess our sins one to another. The authority to forgive sins was given by Christ. That’s an inside outward point of view.

From the outside looking in, nearly every Protestant uses Luther’s bible – the books that he himself chose to put into the Bible and to leave out the one’s he didn’t like. That’s a key decision that everybody makes implicitly (usually) or explicitly, like myself. I don’t invest that much authority into Luther. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did exactly that – he said Luther was the greatest man since Christ – read the introduction to The Cost of Discipleship. That throws a lot of early church fathers, popes, and church councils under the wheels of the bus.

Now, read 2 Tim 3:15 to the end of that chapter. “All scripture is inspired by God…” is it? That was written in Greek to Greek speaking Christians and was UNDOUBTEDLY referring to the Greek Septuagint version of the bible (The Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures completed about a century before Christ.) If “all scripture” does not refer to the Septuagint (which includes the books Luther removed from the canon) then Paul’s statement to Timothy is an unsolvable mystery. IS THIS A MYSTERY TO YOU? It is not to me. The CC actually does not accept all the Septuagint, but largely so.

This is the key interpretation that you need to make – what Bible are you holding in your hands.

Luther changed the Bible, Henry VIII left the church and appointed himself head of the church of England (“pope”, in other words) and he granted himself permission to divorce.

Look at the beliefs or non-beliefs in the Eucharist – the real presence of Christ. The Orthodox accept this teaching, most if not all protestants do not.

These are black and white issues for you to consider and to use to form your conscience. I am Catholic and I only look outward to other systems of belief to see where they have gone astray. I can’t become a Protestant because I can’t overrule St. Paul and throw those books out of the Bible, I can’t take divorce as permissible, and I can’t deny the real presence. So, that’s from the outside looking into the Church, which I consider my earthly spiritual home.

Personally, I do look for other scholarly interpretations of scripture, in various Protestant and Jewish reference sources – and these are helpful when I can’t find the corresponding Catholic source. To respond to this thread, I have to get a little technical. The Pontifical Biblical Commission writes that scripture is a inexhaustible source of inspiration, so I look forward not to a single, final interpretation of scripture. I look at Bible study as a ladder that I am constantly climbing, always waiting for more.


#18

In the Bible Daniel is told to go his own way for the books are sealed till the time of the end.

Christ also said that When HE the Spirit of truth comes He shall take of mine and show it clearly unto you. So the key for me is that Christ promises to clear up the meanings when the Spirit of truth appears noting that a personal,pronoun is used so it is likely referring to a spiritual person who will appear.


#19

If people could figure out spiritual truths on their own with any certainty, then divine revelation, including the ultimate divine revelation, Jesus Christ himself, would not have been necessary. We know what is spiritually true because Jesus, who is truth itself, has revealed it. Jesus taught spiritual truths to his apostles. The apostles in turn taught those spiritual truths, the apostolic tradition, to other men whom they made bishops who in turn taught them to other men whom they also made bishops, etc. See 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Some of the apostles and some of their disciples in the context of the apostolic tradition wrote the books of the New Testament. There is no certainty in trying to determine the true meaning of the New Testament apart from the context of the apostolic tradition in which it was written. Today, if you want to know the spiritual truths that Jesus taught his apostles, if you want the true interpretation of the Bible, then learn the apostolic tradition from the men in that apostolic succession of bishops. The succession of the bishops of Rome is widely known. I would suggest you start with the bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, and those bishops in communion with him. If the transmission of the apostolic tradition was corrupted shortly after the death of the last apostle, or when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, or during the Middle Ages, or some other time, then all hope of determining the true interpretation of the Bible with any certainty is lost this side of Jesus’ second coming.


#20

Hi Todd,

In the Bible we can mostly understand anything referring to personal conduct and spiritual education such as being kind, loving, pure and holy etc.

But now, in our current period of history we need clarification on how to live and behave today because the world has expanded since the time of Christ and love thy neighbour is not enough in a world society. But where does Christ say to love all mankind, or love people of all faiths? He does not so in that case clarification is needed.

Do we see Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims as brothers and love them or only Christians?

Then, which form of government should Christians create or uphold? If the Books are sealed to the time of the end then these and many other questions can only be answered by Christ on His Return and not by man.

Which Christian sect holds the truth because there are many? Christ said He would come like a thief in the night and to ‘watch and pray’ or we would miss His coming. If it was going to be obvious to everyone He would not have said to watch and pray. So that means it is an event that requires a pure heart and spiritual awareness to see not just outward eyes.

What if He has come and we have missed Him?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.