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The Westminster Divines on the Interpretation of Holy Scripture


When reading the Bible, what is the best means by which we are to understand and interpret difficult passages of Scripture? For we recognize, as the Westminster Assembly observed, “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear to all.” The Westminster divines direct us very wisely back to Holy Scripture itself for the answer; as we read in chapter 1 and section 9 of the confession: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” God alone is the only infallible interpreter of His word.

One sees this rule of the Assembly applied in Holy Scripture itself; by Jesus on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:25-27, by James at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:13-17, and by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.

We see this principle, moreover, being practiced in the history of the early church. Consider the following examples: Basil of Caesarea wrote, “What seems to be said in an ambiguous and veiled way in certain passages of inspired Scripture is made plain by the obvious meaning of other passages.” In his commentary on the Psalms, Jerome urged his readers to “let Holy Writ be its own interpreter.” In his work on Christian Doctrine, the great Augustine calls our attention to the fact that “the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere.” Another example can be found in the practice of John Chrysostom who tells us, in one of his homilies on Genesis, “let us follow the direction of Sacred Scripture in the interpretation it gives of itself.”

As an additional thought, William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) reminds us of a very important principle of theology, in this respect, when he penned this last stanza to one of the hymns he wrote…

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

We, the staff at Christ Church, miss the “in person fellowship” with all of our members and visitors, and we look forward to the day when we can resume our normal worship and fellowship opportunities!