Even if all biblical interpreters conscientiously used a consistent hermeneutical system, there would still be a variety of opinions because of the differences among the interpreters' abilities and backgrounds. Such differences are inevitable and must be accepted, but four characteristics are required of a student of the Bible who would 'accurately divide the word of truth. The interpreter must be (1) regenerated by the Holy Spirit, (2) Obedient to the Scriptures, (3)guided by the Holy Spirit, and (4)diligent in study.
The lack of any one of these characteristics is detrimental to faithful Bible interpretation. Now lets take time to look at how each one of these affects the work of the interpreter.
REGENERATION BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Picture with me two men studying the Bible. One is a professor of ancient literature at a prestigious university. Although he was raised in a Christian home, he is not a Christian. He is a man who vigorously studies the Bible and has a great deal of respect for its moral and ethical teachings.
The second man is a Christian who was saved out of an extremely irreligious background just three months ago. He is sincere but dislikes studying books in general, and he thinks the Bible if boring to read for any length of time. He struggles with some habits that are clearly unbiblical, and he prays only when he goes to church. In your opinion, which of these two men will be able to understand the Word of God better?
That question could provide some frustration. Obviously, someone who studies the Bible would tend to know more about it then someone who does not. Yet the Bible teaches that an unbeliever cannot truly understand the Scriptures.
In response to this question, let me clarify that the Bible never says unbelievers cannot have an academic understanding of the Scriptures. Rather, it states that their unregenerate spirits are limited in the extent to which they will accept this knowledge in a personal way. Paul tells us that the person who is not spiritual (regenerated) is limited in his or her understanding of the Bible in two ways: "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Corinthians 2:14)
Examining this passage in its context shows us that the 'things' which the natural man or woman cannot understand are the truths God has revealed to believers. It is a revelation given in 'worlds taught by the spirit (v.13). I believe that the written revelation Paul is referring to is clearly the Scriptures.
The person who cannot 'accept' or 'understand' this revelation is described as being natural (without the Spirit) in contrast to the believer, who has the Spirit. In other words, verse 14 says that the unregenerate person is limited in his or her understanding of the Scripture.
But exactly how is the 'natural' person's knowledge limited? Certainly there are scholars who do not have a personal faith in God yet give amazing analysis of the technical parts of the Bible's message. To answer this question, note the two words in verse 14 that indicate how the unbeliever is limited.
First, the verse says he or she is not able to accept the things of the Spirit. The Greek word used here for accept is dechomai. It refers to the idea of 'receiving with eagerness.' It is significant that Paul did not use the synonym lambano which would have implied simple reception. Instead, he chose the stronger word that denotes an attitude of welcoming the Word of God.
This can be illustrated with an example of a love letter. Those who inadvertently read the letter but do not know the author personally may understand the contents, but they will not be moved by them. In contrast, the young lady who received the letter from her fiance will 'welcome' his words in a way that the scholar could not.
The second key word in verse 14 is 'understand.' Here the apostle used the Greek word ginosko, meaning 'to embrace the teaching as a reality in a personal way.' A similar word he could have chosen is oida, which implies 'simple mental understanding.'
While unsaved individuals may have the ability to understand the gospel intellectually, they will lack the Spirit's help in embracing it with conviction as God's Word. Certainly they can become proficient in the study of the Bible as a piece of literature, but they are seriously limited when it comes to accepting the Word in a personal way. This full application of God's truth to human hearts is accomplished only by the Spirit of God.
Likewise, a person reared in a godly home but who has rejected the faith of his or her parents may be able to voice important Bible concepts and even quote verses; yet these truths will never apply personally until he or she becomes a 'spiritual' person.
One obvious exception is the unbeliever who is seeking God. The Holy Spirit directly convicts and convinces such a person to bring him or her to salvation through the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15).
(TO BE CONTINUED)