Private Interpretation of ScriptureIs 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The Problem: Many, many people accept sola scriptura, the idea that Scripture is the sole authority and/or that Scripture can interpret itself in such a way that all one needs to know for salvation is available from the word of Scripture. Yet these same people cannot agree on a simple thing like the regenerative nature of baptism and its necessity for salvation. Christianity has split into over 23,000 separate sects, each teaching a Scripture so clear on its face that the requirements for salvation are obvious, thus resulting in 23,000 different ideas of how it is obvious.
The Truth: No truth of Scripture can be assuredly obtained unless it be studied within the light of Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of the Church, who alone has the authority, wisdom, and guidance to interpret the gift from the Bridegroom.
These four passages are often used to justify the ability to be led by the Holy Spirit into accurate, personal interpretation of Scripture.
Is 28:8-9 For all tables are full of vomit, no place is without filthiness. 9 "Whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast?
Isaiah emphasizes that no person is qualified to receive the message of God - it actually denies personal interpretation.
1 Jn 2:27 but the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.
It is the anointing, i.e., the joining into the Body of Christ, which imparts wisdom. It is through the sacraments and the teaching authority of the Church that knowledge of God comes, not through anything man does.
Mt 13:10-11 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."
Though the passage says "disciples," Christ is talking to the Apostles - this is clear in Matthew 13:36, when Christ dismisses the crowds and enters the house. The "disciples" follow and ask for further explanation of the parables - a house would not be large enough to house all of his disciples. Thus, this passage actually provides support for the idea that it is only the Apostles who are given the ability to fully comprehend Scripture.
Lk 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
Luke confirms this - it describes what the risen Christ did for the Apostles in the upper room. Note that Christ explains all of Scripture to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) yet - although their hearts burned within them - they fail to understand or recognize Christ until the breaking of the bread. However, here in Luke 24:44, the Apostles' minds are opened to the understanding which the simple, non-Apostolic disciples in the previous passage were unable to grasp.
Jude 8 Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones.
The rejection of authority is a sin against God. This applies also to the rejection of the authoritative interpretation of Scripture.
Prov 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
2 Pet 1:20-21 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
2 Pet 3:15-16 And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
1 Cor 1:10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
The following five passages list the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Is 11:1-3 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
Note that "his delight" is not knowledge, wisdom, or understanding, but fear of the Lord.
Rom 12:3-8 For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
If gifts of grace differ, why should we think that everyone has an equal gift at Scripture interpretation? Is salvation denied to those who cannot read? Or to those who do not have the gift of interpreting Scripture correctly?
1 Cor 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
1 Cor 12:28-30 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
Eph 4:8-12 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." 9 (In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
Not one of these passages asserts that the interpretation of Scripture or the ability to discern the correct canon of Scripture is a gift of the Spirit. On the contrary, the fact that three out of four New Testament passages mention teaching as a gift of the Spirit implies that most will not be able to interpret Scripture sufficiently well on their own - they will need an infallibly led teacher.
Jn 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Jn 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Remember that Jesus' words in the Gospel of John were spoken to the Apostles alone, while they were all gathered at the Last Supper. Only the Apostles were promised the gift of the infallible leadership of the Spirit. The gift was that they would always be reminded of what Christ TOLD them - in other words, the oral transmission of knowledge is safeguarded. According to Scripture, both Christ and the Holy Spirit speak - they do not write. Scripture does not promise the written deposit will be safeguarded, it promises only that the oral deposit will be safeguarded. The Church took it upon herself, in her authority as the Bride of Christ, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to write down and safeguard the deposit of Scripture, the gift of God.
Lk 24:42-49 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
44 Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high."
The gifts of Scriptural interpretation, i.e., the promise of the Father to be led into all truth, is not listed as a separate gift of the Spirit because it is already bound up within a gift of the Spirit, specifically, the gift of apostleship. It was the Apostles, or disciples under the close direction of the Apostles, who wrote out the knowledge of God which those same Apostles preached every day, the written knowledge we now call Holy Scripture. It is not the case that all Christians have the gift of interpreting Scripture - that gift will not come to all Christians "until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13)
Early Christians' comments on Private Revelation