Kansas City, Missouri
Man is inherently incapable of comprehending spiritual truth independently of God. All his powers, innate and developed, powers that have equipped him so signally to govern the physical universe, do fathom the fundamental features of the spiritual realm. Both the Old and New Testaments state this. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9). Those things that man needed and could not learn of himself God has revealed, "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:10). Thus the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations…. now is made manifest to his saints" (Col. 1:26). The Greek word that is transliterated into the word "mystery" denotes, in the New Testament, "that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed" (Vine). The Scriptures constitute truth revealed by the Spirit (2 Pet. 1: 21; John 16:13; 2 Tim. 3:16). Thus man, hitherto unable to arrive at an understanding of such truth, is able to do so as he studies those Scriptures.
The Scriptures are understandable. The Scriptures themselves declare this. Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote, "By revelation (God) made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words; whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:3-5). It is to be noted, from this passage, that:
1. God revealed the "mystery" unto Paul.
2. Paul wrote what God had revealed unto him;
3. Those who would read what Paul wrote could, by reading, understand what God had revealed unto Paul–thus could understand what Paul understood. Thus the understandability of the Scriptures, to readers of the Scriptures, is set forth.
It inescapably follows, from this truth, that the Scriptures need no "interpretation." The Scriptures have been interpreted — from a language now known by comparatively few into languages known by many. No writing has been so painstakingly translated, as has the Bible. The ordinary reader of the Scriptures can have at least as great confidence in the faithfulness of a number of English translations to the message of the original as in any translation of any other writing. The Scriptures have been faithfully interpreted. Thus they no more need to be "interpreted" (explained) today than when they were first written. If people nearly 2,000 years ago could, by reading, understand God's word written in a language that they understood, why cannot people today, by reading, understand that same word that has been accurately translated into a language that they understand? To illustrate and apply the Scriptures is certainly called for. But to "interpret" them (as the expression is so much used) is not. And it follows, from this, that:
1. No "direct operation of the Holy Spirit" upon the heart of the reader is needed. To claim that such is needed in order that the reader understand the Scriptures is to claim that the Holy Spirit must reveal the meaning of His own revelation–which would be a contradiction.
2. There is no place for ecclesiastical "elucidations," many of which are more confusing than the scriptures upon which they pretend to shed light. The Scriptures were written directly to those who needed their truths. No intermediate ecclesiastical body was needed to "interpret" its truths. Neither is such needed today.
3. Those with specialized intellectual training are not necessary. We do not here criticize academic accomplishments. We do point out that one need not be specially trained in philosophy or speculative theology in order to understand the word of the Lord. Indeed, one without such specialized training can be as perceptive in this matter as one with such training. There is no need for intricate intellectual "gymnastics."
This is not to disparage "helps"–either oral or written. Most certainly there is need for preachers and teachers of the word, and for writings of capable men. Comments of men can greatly assist one in his study of the Scriptures — if consulted cautiously. Glasses can help many to see better; but glasses would be a poor substitute for eyes. The Scriptures, and only the Scriptures, are to be utterly depended upon for obtaining knowledge of God's will. Those who completely rely upon others to enlighten them regarding the meaning of the Scriptures little realize the divine design relative to the Scriptures.
Members of the body of Christ might well learn and appropriate this lesson. In the church there are many capable and effective proclaimers of the gospel. "May their tribe increase." But it is feared that many disciples receive practically their entire Biblical instruction at the feet of such men, seldom reading their Bibles. It is impossible for one to obtain a really working knowledge of the Lord's word by this means.
Others realize that "pulpit work" alone will not effectively provide the instruction that they need, and they think to augment this by attending Bible classes taught by capable teachers. Some of these seemingly think that if they are attentive during the class periods they will be supplied with that which "pulpit work" alone is incapable of supplying. This, of course, is an improvement, in that there is more "exposure" to truth. But this is not sufficient. Well-informed disciples are those who, not only readily receive Biblical instruction as taught by others, but also study the Scriptures for themselves. Here is an area largely unexplored by so many. The Scriptures are understandable as they are read. Let them he read!