Bible Interpretation—By Whose Influence?
ONE definition of the word “interpret” is “to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment, or circumstance.” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) Thus, one’s interpretation of anything is usually influenced by one’s background, education, and upbringing.
What, though, about Bible interpretation? Are we free to explain Bible passages according to our own “belief, judgment, or circumstance”? Naturally, most Bible scholars and translators claim that they do not do so but that they are guided by God.
A case in point is what is said in a footnote to John 1:1 in A New Version of the Four Gospels, published in 1836 by John Lingard under the pseudonym “A Catholic.” It says: “Men of every persuasion find the confirmation of their peculiar opinions in the sacred volumes: for, in fact, it is not the Scripture that informs them, but they that affix their own meaning to the language of Scripture.”
Though the point is well taken, what was the writer’s intent? His comment was in support of his interpretation of that verse, which he translated: “At the beginning was ‘the word;’ and ‘the word’ was with God; and ‘the word’ was God,” a typical Trinitarian rendition.
What impelled the writer to translate John 1:1 in support of the Trinitarian doctrine? Is it “the Scripture that informs” him to do so? That is impossible, for nowhere in the Bible is the teaching of the Trinity to be found. Note what The New Encyclopædia Britannica says on this point: “Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament.” In addition, Yale University professor E. Washburn Hopkins observed: “To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; . . . they say nothing about it.”
What, then, can we conclude about those who support a Trinitarian interpretation of John 1:1 or any other Bible verse? By Mr. Lingard’s own criterion, “it is not the Scripture that informs them, but they that affix their own meaning to the language of Scripture.”
Happily, we have God’s own Word to guide us on this. “You know this first,” said the apostle Peter, “that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—2 Peter 1:20, 21.