Acts 17:11 - Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the word with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 - For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to ear. They will turn their ears away from the truth...
Mark 7:13 - You nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.
Galatians 1:8 - But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
"Pride and Prejudice" is not just the title of a well-known historical novel. Pride and prejudice are two problems at the root of many areas of human conflict--even in the Christian community! One place where we would least expect pride and prejudice to rear their ugly heads is in biblical interpretation. Because the interpretation of Scripture follows well-established rules and principles, one would think that there would be no room for pride and prejudice. Unfortunately, this is not the case! Pride and prejudice make their insidious way even into the area of biblical studies and interpretation. In fact, the intrusion of pride and prejudice here can be so subtle that an additional principle of biblical hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture) must always be kept in mind--"Beware of Pride and Prejudice"!
Perils of Pre-Judging
As we read the book of Acts we see that the apostle Paul confronted the pride and prejudice of the Jewish interpreters of Scripture. The missionary strategy of the great apostle usually involved starting with the Jewish synagogues in the various cities he hoped to evangelize. (See Acts 17:1-3, for example). In the synagogues, the Jews and the Gentile proselytes were both familiar with the Scriptures, and this was a starting point from which to preach the gospel of Christ. Sadly, most of the Jews did not respond positively to Paul's interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. (See Acts 17:5-8, for example.) Why? They rejected the message because of pride and prejudice! They had already made up their minds! They had pre-judged the Scriptures. They had preconceived ideas of the Messiah and His coming, and in their pride they were not open to reconsidering the Scriptures and evaluating the true interpretation.
Is it possible that we too, because of pride and prejudice, are blinded to the proper interpretation of some Scriptures? Have we pre-judged any Scripture because of a traditional interpretation? Have we been "pressured" into an improper interpretation of some Scriptures? Have we refused to reconsider any of our particular "set-in-stone" interpretations of certain Scriptures because our pride in our knowledge of Scripture would be threatened? Have we the audacity to behave as though we are 100% failure-free in all of our interpretations?! Let us beware of pride and prejudice--even in our interpretation of Scripture. We need to be constantly reminded of the Bereans, who "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul taught was true." The Jews of Thessalonica were filled with pride because of their Jewish background and heritage. They were blinded by their prejudice against any interpretation other than the "tradition which was handed down" (Mark 7:13). This not only closed their minds to proper interpretation of Scripture, but actually drove them to do whatever they could to undermine the ministry of the one who had the right interpretation of Scripture! (See Acts 17:13.) As growing Christians, we must make sure that this same sinful spirit does not affect any of us! The best safeguard against pride and prejudice in interpretation is the Berean mindset: honest and open-minded examination of the Scriptures. Let's beware of pride and prejudice!
Our Pleasant Interpretations
Let's look at a few areas where Christians are vulnerable. First, pride and prejudice affect our interpretation of Scripture when we choose to believe the more pleasant interpretation. Of course it's easier to go with the more pleasant interpretation of any Scripture, but unfortunately that "pleasant" interpretation could be the wrong interpretation! The false doctrines of the universal salvation of all mankind and no eternal punishment for the unbeliever are obvious examples of "more pleasant" interpretations which have been improperly forced upon the clear text of Scripture.
But some cases are not so clear-cut! Many Christians, for example, believe that all true believers will be taken home to heaven by the Lord Himself before the Tribulation, or the "hour that is to try the earth" (Revelation 3:10). Why do we believe this doctrine? Let's make sure we believe it because we have interpreted Scripture carefully, and not because it is more "pleasant" to believe that believers will escape the wrath of God that is to come on this earth!
What is the destiny of babies who die before they have a chance to respond to the Lord? Are they part of the "elect company of believers"? It is certainly more "pleasant" to believe that these "innocent" children will be forever in heaven. But have we who believe this more pleasant doctrine been prejudiced in our interpretation of Scripture simply because this doctrine is more "pleasant"? Few Scriptures, if any, touch directly on the subject of babies or children who die before an "age of responsibility," that is, a time when they are able to understand and respond to God's offer of salvation. (See 2 Samuel 12:23, Matthew 18:10, and Mark 10:14, for example.) We know for sure from Scripture that babies are not born "innocent"! (See Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12, for example.) We also know for sure, however, that God is a loving and gracious God (2 Peter 3:9), and that our Lord Jesus demonstrated a particular love for children. (See Matthew 18:2-6 and Mark 10:14-16.)
In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read, "If we are faithless He will remain faithful, because He cannot disown Himself." How should we interpret this verse, which is addressed to believers? Is this a promise of eternal security for all believers, whether or not a believer lives a faithful life? Or is it an unpleasant warning to the believer that God must be faithful to His principles, and the unfaithful believer will not receive much reward? For God to reward an unfaithful believer would be to deny His own character! When we interpret this text, we must be careful not to choose the more "pleasant" interpretation. The Bible certainly teaches the eternal security of the believer, but this text is not necessarily dealing with that subject. In fact, the context seems to indicate that the "unpleasant" interpretation is probably the correct interpretation in this case! And when the proper interpretation is not especially "pleasant," we must accept and endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3).
Our Traditional Interpretations
Pride and prejudice can influence our interpretation when we choose to believe the more traditional interpretation. The traditional interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20, for example, is that between Christ's death and resurrection He descended into Hades and proclaimed His victory over sin and Satan. This is the view that is included in the Apostle's Creed. But this traditional interpretation may not be the proper interpretation--in fact, it's difficult to support this interpretation from the rest of Scripture! Another interpretation of this passage is that the Lord Himself spoke through Noah to the disobedient and unbelieving people of Noah's day. Because of their unbelief and rejection of the way of salvation, their spirits are now in prison awaiting the final judgment. This interpretation, while not the traditional interpretation, is more hermeneutically sound because it fits what the gospel record apparently indicates--that the Lord went directly into the Father's presence when He died (see Luke 23:46). And very little scriptural support can be found for the "traditional" interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20.
Another example where tradition may easily affect our interpretation of Scripture is the manner and mode of baptism. Most of us simply go along with the teaching and tradition of baptism of the church in which we were raised, rather than reaching a personal conviction of baptism through a honest and careful study of Scripture. Beware of pride and prejudice here! Decisions regarding infant versus adult baptism, and decisions concerning immersion or sprinkling as the mode of baptism should be based on Scripture alone, and not on tradition. Can you back up your position on baptism, including the mode, on sound biblical hermeneutics? Or has your church tradition determined your position? Remember, our Lord Jesus denounced the Pharisees for their pride and prejudice in making their traditions more important than the Word of God (Mark 7:13)!
Our Favorite Interpretations
Another dangerous area, where pride and prejudice affect our interpretation, is when we always believe "our favorite" interpretation. There is always a tendency for us to pre-judge the interpretation of some passage based on what our favoritepreacher or writer says, or what our favorite church or denomination teaches. For example, take the "Lordship Salvation" debate. Our favorite preacher or writer may teach that a person's salvation is in question, because "if Jesus isn't Lord of all, then He isn't Lord at all." On the other hand, our favorite preacher or writer may teach that making Christ Lord of all is certainly a desirable goal but is not necessary for salvation. After all, there are many examples in Scripture of believers who were not 100% committed! Well, what's the answer? The answer is: Don't assume that your favorite preacher or writer has the last word! That would be letting prejudice affect your interpretation! Don't form your opinion until you dig out all the facts--from Scripture! Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), and search the Scriptures for yourself. Examine God's Word, especially on controversial subjects, and be convinced from Scripture, apart from your favorite speakers or authors!
What about the whole premillennial versus amillennial debate as another example? Is it possible that your interpretation of the Scriptures on this subject has been affected by pride or prejudice? Do you believe what your favorite church or denomination teaches, or have you based your conclusions on your own careful and honest study of Scripture?
The apostle Paul told the Galatians that they should not believe him--or even an angel from heaven--if either one of them should give a "different interpretation" of the gospel of Christ! That's pretty strong language, but it shows the importance of this principle. Remember that most cults are based on the teachings of a favorite preacher! Even true believers can be sucked into dangerous interpretational waters when they blindly follow the teachings of a favorite Christian personality--and there are plenty of them around these days! Let's be very careful in our selection of favorite preachers and teachers! Don't be gullible! Beware of pride and prejudice when listening to the teachings of your most favorite preachers, Christian music or sports "personalities," television ministries, "TV churches" or favorite authors!
We could mention other areas where pride and prejudice could subtly creep in and influence our interpretation of Scripture. The examples we have mentioned should motivate us to be like the believers in the town of Berea, who "examined the Scriptures every day" to see whether Paul's teachings were true. Let's remember the intransigence of the Jews who wouldn't listen to the apostle Paul, and beware--be aware--of how our pride in traditions or background can influence our interpretation of Scripture! Let's not allow our own personal prejudices to comfortably lead us to believe what's more pleasant, or to blithely accept what a favorite preacher or writer says without carefully examining the Scriptures. And let's make up our minds that nothing will prevent us from reconsidering our interpretations and correcting possible errors! Let's determine what we believe by careful and honest personal examination and study of God's Word!