Protestants: When You Speak for God, Be Careful

Protestants: When You Speak for God, Be Careful June 23, 2024

I recently came across a video on the YouTube channel Gospel Simplicity. Titled, Is a magisterium REALLY necessary to interpret the Bible?, the host (Austin) lays out his case that an infallible interpretive authority within the Christian Church is unnecessary. Furthermore, he also contends that some things in Scripture appear clear (perspicuous) enough for all Christians to understand.  Citing the understanding of other historical works, he says,

Scripture is unique but hopefully the thing we don’t believe that makes Scripture unique is the fact that it’s impossible to understand, while other texts are. I think actually when we begin to take this approach, we’re really becoming skeptical about our ability to interpret text generally.

He concluded that setting such a high bar (infallibility) for scriptural interpretation ends up harming the Catholic position, too, as each Catholic must fallibly engage with some sort of written text outside of Scripture to justify his/her belief in an infallible Magisterium.

As a Catholic, I disagree with Austin on his conclusion, but that is not the reason for this article. For this article, I point out what Protestants often miss in their fallible interpretations of Scripture: if they teach incorrectly “what the bible teaches,” they misspeak for God and add their own interpretation to the Word of God.

Allow me to elaborate.

What a Protestant Interpretation of Scripture Is…

When reading any text, the goal is always to get the true meaning of that text. Likewise, when reading Scripture, Christians seek to ascertain the true mean of Scripture, or what God says in Scripture. To declare, “the bible teaches…” means to declare what the infallible God said and not what the fallible individual said.

In other words, when interpreting other historical documents, the conclusions drawn do not equate to “what God said.” However, when a Protestant makes truth claims about Scripture, they put God on the hook for their personal interpretations. In an important sense, their fallibility gets absorbed by God’s infallibility, as they merely relate what “God said.”

God Said or You Said?

Moreover, if Protestants regularly admitted that their interpretation did not equate to “what the bible teaches” and merely just their own fallible understanding of it, this would go far to mitigate the dangers of speaking on God’s behalf. However, in their appeal to the teaching known as sola scriptura, Protestants think the Scriptures are clear or perspicuous to the extent that what they believe equates to what God teaches in Scripture. Now, they may attempt to dress this view in the trapping of interpreting Scripture “according to the ancient apostolic teaching of the Church—the regula fidei,” as Keith Mathison claims in The Shape of Sola Scriptura. However, as Casey Chalk points out in The Obscurity of Scripture: Disputing Sola Scriptura and the Protestant Notion of Biblical Perspicuity, the true source of proper understanding resides in direction of the Holy Spirit and proper faith. Any misinterpretation on the part of the individual points to flaws in spiritual character.

…if a person fails to identity the clear teaching of Scripture, the problem lies, not in some failure of Scripture, but in the reader’s hardness of heart, “ignorance,” “blindness,” or lack of guidance by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, those who interpret Scripture correctly and know “what the bible teaches” are those ultimately guided by Holy Spirit and their proper faith, not the regula fidei. How do these Protestants know the Holy Spirit guides them to correctly interpret Scripture? This answer remains unclear (obscure). God just does it.

The Dangers of Misinterpretation

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:14-16 [emphasis added]

In the epistle of St. Peter, we read of the dangers of Scriptural misinterpretation. It appears that some readers, “the ignorant and unstable,” twisted and distorted the words of St. Paul “to their own destruction.” What parts were misinterpreted? St. Peter does not say. However, he does say that such actions led to the reader’s destruction.

Since Protestants disagree on key doctrinal points, some divide doctrines into essential and non-essential beliefs, or salvific and non-salvific beliefs. To these Protestants, St. Peter’s words clearly refer to salvific beliefs. Does a list of salvific belief exist in Scripture? No. Do most Protestants agree on what constitutes a salvific belief? No. For a concise list, please click here. (For the record, please also add the Trinity and Incarnation to that list, as some Protestants who affirm sola scriptura also reject these beliefs, too.)

Again, not very clear, and considering the danger involved, not a very comfortable place to reside, theologically.

A Dire Warning…

Finally, for the dire warning for those who claim to speak for God, we again turn to Scripture. In Deuteronomy 4:2, we read:

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.

Furthermore, to those who claim to speak for God, yet prove themselves false prophets, Deuteronomy 13:1-6 states:

Do whatever I command you to do. Do not add anything to it, nor ignore anything from it.

If a prophet or one who foretells the future through dreams arises among you and performs some miraculous sign or wonder and that miraculous sign or wonder occurs, and he says to you, “Let us seek after other gods which we have not previously known and serve them,” you are not to listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams. The Lord, your God, is testing you to see whether you love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and your soul. It is the Lord, your God, whom you are to follow. You must fear him and observe his commandments and obey what he tells you and serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or the one who told the future through dreams is to be put to death for he counseled you to turn away from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. He was driving you away from the way that the Lord, your God, had ordered must be your path. You must purge this evil from your midst.

These two sections present dire warnings for those who think to add, take away, or advise God’s people falsely regarding Scripture. Now, Protestants will contend that they do no such thing, as they speak and teach “plainly” “what the bible teaches.”

Final Thoughts…

In the above, I show the dire situation Protestants place themselves in when they claim to teach “what the bible teaches.” According to 2 Peter 3:14-16, if not careful, they might twist Scripture “to their own destruction…” Or they might fall under the condemnation of Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1-6, if they teach falsely and claim this false teaching come from God (“what the bible teaches”). Regardless of the angle we approach this issue, dire consequences await. Now, Protestants may wrongly retort that Catholics “are in the same boat” here. They are not. Catholics submit their interpretive authority to the Church. The Church speaks for God, not the individual Catholic. The Church also understands the weight of speaking authoritatively for God and therefore does so with the utmost caution.

Thank you!

Read The Latin Right’s other writing here.

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