Your Own Private Interpretation

A common criticism of Protestants from Roman Catholics is that any interpretation of Scripture we put forward that differs from Rome’s interpretation is “your own private interpretation.” The picture that comes to mind in most of these cases is, on the one hand, the weight of the entirety of church history on the side of the RC apologist, whereas the Protestant has only himself. This is really not that accurate of a picture. In my own case, for instance, I have only come up with one interpretation of a single verse that I have never seen before in the history of interpretation. I am not an original thinker when it comes to exegesis. I depend greatly on what other, smarter people have said on the passage before I came along. Calvin, as another example, was able to quote vast swaths of the early church fathers from memory. Calvin never claimed to be re-inventing the wheel. So, the real state of affairs here is not that the Protestant is all by himself, and the Tradition of the RCC is opposed. Many Protestants have written extensively on how the early church fathers had many different interpretations of doctrines, some of which are what Protestants believe today.

Now, a Roman Catholic would probably claim that, during the time of the ECF’s, very few doctrines had been established, and the multiplicity of views was therefore not a problem. Views that were not culpably blameworthy for holding in the time of the ECF would be blameworthy later on. I actually agree with that, to a certain extent, and other Protestants would, too. But the point I am making here is that many Protestants are not operating, in fact, on “their own private interpretation.” In fact, their views have antecedents all throughout church history. The question of whether the Roman Catholic Tradition is correct is a subject for another post.

I do want to ask formally this question: if the RCC has a monopoly on the interpretation of the Bible, how come they have not come out with an inerrant commentary on the Bible? They keep telling us that “our own private interpretations” are wrong when they run foul of the RCC. However, they don’t tell us what every verse in fact means. I would think this would be a rather high priority, seeing as how we are dealing with direct revelation from God. I want to know what God said to me in His Word. How can the Roman Catholic find that out? Would it not be vitally important that we have God’s Word all figured out by the church as to its meaning? If a RC apologist responds by saying that it is all interpreted in the Tradition, I would say that they are operating with a definition of Tradition that doesn’t really work. Tradition is basically what the current RCC teaches. Besides, very few verses have ever been definitely interpreted by the RCC as to their meaning. Where is the definitive interpretation of the Bible? In the Protestant tradition, we really don’t have to worry about that. We have and can learn from all the writers of the past, while not having to agree with any one or group of them, unless, say, we take a vow upholding a particular confessional standard.

One last point: to those RC apologists who have asked me about my authority, I would ask the question back: how can they speak for their Tradition? What gives them the authority to speak about what the RCC teaches? Every RC apologist seems to give off this air that the entirety of the RCC is behind them every single time they speak. I question that. According to the official RC teaching, only the Pope can do that. So, the authority of the RC apologist is quite a bit less than he usually (unconsciously!) arrogates to himself.