Is it Possible to Understand the Bible with any Degree of Certainty?

In literary and academic circles, it is not uncommon to encounter the claim that one can never be certain about the proper interpretation of a written text. According to their thinking, since no understanding of a written text can be held with certainty, all interpretation should be held at a provisional level (temporary and likely to be changed later).

Human Behavior Proves that We Know Better

However, if all interpretation is truly only temporary and likely to be changed later, it would hardly be worth the effort to state or defend such a reality. If what I mean by using terms such as interpretation, knowledge, and provisional are unreliable to carry meaning when competently and consistently used, it would be an entirely insane endeavor to attempt to communicate their unreliability with words.

One might concede that language is capable of reliably conveying meaning, but still insist all knowledge is provisional as people are incapable of reliably understanding or interpreting what is communicated to them. That lands us in the same spot: if people are truly incapable of reliably interpreting and understanding meaning, there is no use in talking about it. By communicating, one acts upon the assumption that they can not only adequately express meaning but also that others can, and are expected to, adequately understand what they communicate.

The fact that we can reliably and satisfactorily interpret and understand communication—not always without degrees of effort, of course—is assumed by all who communicate verbally or in writing. In the United States for example, we have diverse governing bodies contributing to a corpus of law that carries an expectation that the people subject to these governing bodies both understand and adhere to the expressed meaning of the legal codes. Ultimately, it is evident that we are convinced that communication (in a text or speech) effectively and reliably conveys meaning.

God Revealed His Word Through Human Authors in Order for Humans to Understand and Obey

Everyone may not agree on the significance of what Moses writes in Deuteronomy 13:1-4, but it is clear that he expects the reader (the immediate Hebrew reader of the Old Testament, at the very least) to understand and act upon a specific directive relating to idolatry.

In Ephesians 3 and Galatians 1, Paul expects the readers to even understand the underlying detail summarized by “the gospel.” Deuteronomy 6 carries an expectation that the readers can understand the commandments of God and are universally capable of teaching them to their children. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul assumes that those at Corinth will agree that he previously described the gospel as he presents it in verses 1-4. Even 2 Peter 3:16, which admits the difficulty in understanding Paul’s letters, proposes that those letters have a definite meaning which can be misunderstood and incorrectly twisted. Peter’s point in stating the difficulty is not a call to abandon attempts at understanding clear meaning, but a charge to invest effort in knowledge from all of Scripture (of which he counts Paul’s letters, it seems) to escape error and instability.

We can understand the Bible. It might take some work. Some things in the Bible might be more quickly understood than others. However, God has revealed His Word to humanity so that we would read it, understand it, and live it out.

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