Too Many Interpretations! [Objection]

Yesterday I had a conversation with a non-believer on my apologetics stream on the app Periscope. We were discussing the central tenant of salvation which is that one must believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. A fellow Christian joined in to read 1 Cor. 15 to him which shows the earliest creed of the Gospel. When we were reading, he got caught up when the verses mentioned Christ. He would say, “Your Christ is different than other people’s Christ within Christianity. Some might believe the Trinity is essential, others might not!” I asked follow-up questions like, “if a document has interpretations does that lessen its dependability?” he said yes. I followed up again by saying that by his reasoning, we should abandon the U.S. Constitution because it certainly has a lot of interpretations too. His main response was that since we are claiming the Bible is the Word of God, it should be clearer and Christians should at least agree on the fundamentals of salvation. We are supposed to speak again soon. How would you respond?
(By the way, anyone is welcome to join my stream on Periscope, my user is @someapologist)

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@KFriske Sounds like you guys are having a fun discussion :slight_smile:

I think the short answer is that if the core doctrines of Christianity - the Trinity, deity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection - are not difficult to arrive at if we study the Bible to understand what the original authors actually intended it to mean. However, there are a few things that could be impediments to arriving at these conclusions:

  • some people simply lack the ability to read literature accurately - like any other book, reading the Bible does take some skill. We need have at least a certain level of reading comprehension, some training in how to read ancient literature and some understanding of ancient cultures. Most of this is easy to get nowadays
  • some people use a different hermeneutic - their goal is not to understand what the original authors intended the Bible to say - there are actually lots of ways of reading the Bible that are not faithful to the meaning of the original authors. Some people read the Bible not as a history but as a kind of inspirational book to help them live their life, for example.
  • some people were taught the Bible means something it does not (in a cult, for example) or they have a hidden agenda (don’t like the message of the original authors, for example) or they have certain presuppositions about the world that keep them from reading the Bible as the original authors intended (miracles cannot occur, for example)
  • some parts of the Bible are actually harder to understand than others and there is room within orthodoxy for disagreement, but the core doctrines are clear

A diversity of opinions does not mean the truth is difficult to arrive at with a little study and the right motivations. Below are some other threads you may find helpful.

Interpreting the Bible

  1. most of what the Bible says is not hard to understand if our goal is to understand its meaning to the original audience
  2. the parts that are hard to understand are not central to Christian orthodoxy (such as the end times) and it is okay to disagree

In terms of belts and braces, I would say the following:

  • our goal in interpreting the Bible is to understand what the text meant to its original audience - we can figure that out by understanding the language and the culture - this is called the historical grammatical method of Bible interpretation. Some of these modern distortions of Scripture you mentioned use other methods of Bible interpretation that are not concerned with what the text actually says, but rather what they want it to say.
  • we should compare our teaching against the historical Churches teaching - if we are departing from orthodoxy (such as Nicene Creed) or views agreed upon for the last 2 thousand years, we should ask “why?” and express a fair degree of skepticism
  • we should let Scripture interpret Scripture - if Jesus interpreted the OT in a certain way, we follow His interpretation

Why so many denominations?

Levels of Doctrine

Not all doctrine is equally important. Some beliefs are at the very center of our Christian faith and to deny them is to deny Christ. Other beliefs are important to how we practice our faith and are therefore the cause of disagreement between many denominations, but these beliefs do not place us outside of Christ. Still other doctrines, such as eschatology, are difficult even for very learned and godly people to understand clearly and are therefore a matter of opinion.

The below article offers a fuller explanation of levels of doctrine and gives a helpful summary list of 4 levels of doctrine.

  1. absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;
  2. convictions , while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church;
  3. opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; and
  4. questions are currently unsettled issues.

Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:

  1. biblical clarity;
  2. relevance to the character of God;
  3. relevance to the essence of the gospel;
  4. biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);
  5. effect on other doctrines;
  6. consensus among Christians (past and present); and
  7. effect on personal and church life.
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The basics of Christianity are simple that Jesus is the son of God and he is God and that his death, burial, and resurrection are the core of the Christian faith. Are there those who call themselves Christians who distort this? Yes, but just looking at church history you will see that their claims are not new and would’ve been considered heretical.

Also by this guy’s standards nothing you read can be trusted, especially anything historical. Everyone will interpret things in their own way but the gospel is very clear in of itself that we are sinners and need a savior. And remember that the belief that we read in the new testament isn’t based on a book but an actual historical event that happened (the resurrection) . There were already Christians before the new testament was written thus the reason the letters of Paul are addressed to churches already established. The belief came before the book. So people can try to interpret things how they want when it comes to minor doctrines but the core beliefs were established before they were written down. Beliefs like that aren’t up for interpretation because they aren’t a doctrine but a historical account of an event that happened.

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Thank you for taking the time to respond in-depth, Sean! You’ve given me a lot to think over.

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Hi Luna, I entirely agree that his standard of rejection should apply to anything he reads (according to his standard). I called him out on this (politely) when I brought up the Constitution and the only response he gave to that was, “well I’d expect MAN MADE documents to not be clear but not GOD MADE” I personally think that something can be crystal clear but we as humans will always muddy the waters but would do you think of his response?

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Then I would refer to what @SeanO posted. There are levels of doctrine. The gospel and what I said about Jesus are in the 1st level meaning it’s absolute. And while God was clear on those things it doesn’t mean man will take it for what it is. That’s why we have heretical groups in history. I truly believe you would benefit from doing some research on church history because it has to deal with people who came up with different ideas of Jesus and the Christian faith.

History Of The Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes In One) is a book in Kindle you could get.

Whatever the motivation is people will distort things. Read the new testament and you will see there were individuals already doing this in the lifetime of the apostles. Some will just have a different view on lesser beliefs related to Christianity. That’s were we have to give grace to one another and not let it divide us as brothers and sisters. But like was stated the absolutes are not up for interpretation. Hope I helped some Lolol

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@KFriske, sounds as though you have a challenge on your hands. Thanks for having to courage to step up in a platform where you can meet unbelievers and seekers where they are at.

A thought came to mind reading these posts. Several years ago, on a mission trip, I was doing some contemplating during a break. So many people refuse (or say they refuse) to believe in God unless they see a supernatural display of power. But it occurred to me that a supernatural display of power does not necessarily change hearts.

The hebrew people saw all the plagues that God brought on Egypt and they were protected. They witnessed the parting of the Red Sea which enabled their escape and decimated the army pursuing them. They witnessed a smoky light show on the mountain that Moses had ascended to speak with God. They followed the cloud by day and pillar of fire through the desert for 40 years. And in all those years God provided their food and water. Still they grumbled. Still they wanted to go back to Egypt. Still they did not have the faith that God would see them through to the promise of the covenant. Even with a mountain of evidence we can all be stiff-necked, obstinate, stubborn mules. Seeing will not equate to believing for everyone. So God will not perform for us on command to prove His power.

Perhaps “understanding” can be thought of similarly. The rules laid down for the new nation of Israel were pretty clear and specific. They knew the kind of people they were to be. Still they gave their hearts to other Gods. Just as evidence does not necessarily inspire belief, clarity does not necessarily inspire obedient following.

Whereas I think the Bible gives us quite a lot to go on, I’m wondering if the areas that seem unclear, or inconsistent, or even the gaps are intentional so that we will have to grapple with them. So that we will have to spend time seeking God and waiting for understanding.

Just a thought. You are blessed to be a blessing in this pursuit. God is with you.

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Let me add a clarification to my post.

By grapple I mean both individually AND corporately–as congregations, as denominations, even as the catholic body (church universal).

This wrestling, contending we do is a privilege and a great benefit. (Jacob had an entire nation named for him after wrestling with God.) It helps us to grow, once again both individually and corporately. I think it’s predominately persons outside the faith that see all the “disagreement” as a stumbling block, because it’s convenient to their stance on unbelief. I suppose I know Christians who find some of it challenging, but not generally frustrating to the point of turning from God. Of course I don’t know everyone :crazy_face:!

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