“What does this verse mean to you?” is a phrase oft-heard at Bible Study groups and the like. It suggests that Bible verses and passages can be interpreted variably, or that there can be multiple meanings to one text.
This is not so. The question should be “What does this verse mean?” Period.
The Author intended one meaning to any verse, any passage, and to all of scripture. There might be many applications the Spirit puts in our mind as He illuminates it, but there is one meaning and one meaning only.
As RC Sproul says in his course Knowing God, a 12-part lecture series on interpreting the Bible:
There is only one correct meaning of any biblical text.
IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
The implications of this understanding about how to interpret the Bible are as follows:
Some say there is a rapture. Some say there is no rapture. Only one interpretation is right. It’s not both. It can’t be.
Some say the rapture will happen prior to the Tribulation. Some say it will happen afterward. Only one interpretation is right.
Some say that the Church is the new Israel. Others say that the Church and Israel’s destinies are separate and distinct. Only one interpretation is right.
Some say that any person can, on their own initiative, ignite an internal faith in Jesus and be saved. Others say that faith is ignited by the Sovereign alone, and it only comes upon those whom He has chosen since before the foundation of the world. Only one interpretation is right.
Some say that there will be a 1000-year Kingdom on earth after the Tribulation. Others say there will not be any such literal Kingdom. Only one interpretation is right.
Some hold to believer’s baptism (credobaptism) and state that only those who make a credible profession of faith ought to be baptized. Others hold to infant baptism (paedobaptism) and believe that the children of believers ought to be baptized. (Challies). Only one interpretation is right.
The doctrines noted above from eschatology or covenant theology or ecclesiology are diametrically opposed. One cannot believe both at the same time. It is unwise to believe the Bible projects both as true. Therefore, if a person believes one interpretation is true, by necessity, one must reject the other as false.
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