Here's my latest article for reIGNITED:
One of the principles that our Restoration Movement forefathers like Alexander Campbell put forth was the concept of “individual private interpretation.” This is the idea that the Bible can be understood by the average person. The concept did not originate with Campbell. Reformers like Martin Luther and Bible translators like John Wycliffe, John Hus, and William Tyndale believed that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language. This ran counter to the belief that the Bible should only be read and taught by learned scholars and/or members of the clergy.
Campbell believed that it is the duty of each Christian to honestly and diligently study the word of God with the best helps available, and to walk in the light of divine truth as God gives him the ability to see that light. He insisted on the individual’s right to interpret Scripture. In his debate with John Walker, he complained about clergy who did not trust the laity to do this correctly. He said, “Go home and read your Bibles; examine the testimony of those holy oracles, and judge for yourselves, and be not implicit followers of the clergy.” Campbell (and Barton W. Stone) had a strong faith in the ability of lay people to read, interpret, and understand the Bible properly. The New Testament gives an example of people who verified the words of the preacher by checking the Word of God. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11 NIV).
There are some inherent dangers with the idea that each person can interpret the Bible for himself or herself. On several occasions, as I have been talking to people about the Bible, they have dismissed differences with the statement, “Well, it’s all a matter of interpretation.” Their basis for this assertion is that all interpretations of Scripture are equally valid. Common sense tells us that this cannot possibly be true. Another example is the Small Group Bible Study or Sunday School class that reads a passage of Scripture followed by the leader asking, “What does this passage mean to you?” This generally results in numerous and widely diverse responses that often have little relevance to the text. A more pertinent and appropriate question is, “What did this mean to God?” or “What does the Lord want me to do?”
The privilege of reading the Scripture cannot be separated from the responsibility of using sound principles of hermeneutics (i.e. the science of interpreting the Bible correctly). Members of Restoration Movement churches were once known as “the people of the Book.” Wouldn’t it be great to see that reputation restored? The admonition that the apostle Paul gave to young Timothy seems just as fitting now as it was in the first century: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV).