The Gift of Interpretation
Philip the Deacon
11 October 2017
In Scripture God reveals all that is necessary for faith and right living in plain and simple words. Thus, the child is able to be made wise unto salvation by Holy Scripture. However, pastors and theological professors often leave lay people with the mistaken impression that the Bible is full of obscure teachings that are hard to grasp. They do so because like all professions, they want to keep their guild closed to those who are not in the know. Doctors use Latin names for common diseases to cloak diagnosis in the aura of mystery, "It's all so difficult to understand." They are the keepers of the mysteries of medicine. Clergy are no different, they tend to cloak the simple truth in difficult and high-flown language. Even though they may not do this intentionally; through their arcane study, all very important in itself, the average Christian believer is bullied into a full nelson of ignorance.
Certainly, there are passages of Scripture that are obscure to us at first reading because either they are theologically too deep for our present understanding, or we do not comprehend the context in which they were written. For these difficult texts we need church leaders who have the gift of interpretation and who can unfold their fullness to us in books, sermons, and articles. We should pray for leaders in our churches who have this gift from God the Holy Spirit.
All of us have had the experience of hearing the interpretation of a text that has been obscure to us, which cleared away the obscuring clouds of our own weak perception and brought a laser beam of understanding into our hearts. One of the reasons this laser beam enlightens the heart is that it rings the sympathetic understanding of the simple faith of the Christian Church which already resides there. The simple catechetical faith of the church always recognizes a faithful interpretation. How delightful it is for the believer to be built up in that simple understanding by a deeper interpretation given by a teacher of the church.
This gift of interpretation does not come without a price. It comes with cross bearing. It comes with much prayer. It comes with endless hours of study. It comes with deep meditation on the Word of God. Therefore, we should not begrudge our church leaders that time of study and reflection, but encourage them in that sacrifice of time, that there might be a full sacrifice of praise to the God who reveals Himself in the Word. We should thank our pastors and teachers who have committed their lives to these living words of God, that we might have the Life revealed by them. What a gift a gifted interpretation is.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Chemnitz

"According to Hilary of Poitiers, you do not have the Scriptures by merely reading, but by understanding them. It is therefore certain the teaching of Scripture and its salutary use does not consist in words which are not understood, but in its true meaning and sound understanding, as the parable says: 'What was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit' (Mt 13:23). Many passages in Scripture are set forth in plain and clear words which require no far-fetched interpretation but explain themselves. To these the doors open both for the learned and the unlearned, to use Augustine's words. And in these passages which are stated clearly and plainly in the Scripture all those things are found which define the faith and morals for living. However, there are many difficult and obscure statements in Scripture, whose sense cannot be grasped by anyone at the first glance. Yet lest they should have been put into the Scripture in vain or should give occasion for error, God wanted the gift of interpretation to be present in the church. This, like the gift of healing, of miracles, and of tongues is not common to all, as Paul says, 'To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 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.' (1Co 12:8-10).
"God does not want this gift either despised or rejected, but used reverently as a tool and aid for discovering and understanding the true and sound meaning of Scripture as the eunuch of Queen Candace says, 'How can I understand, unless someone guides me' (Acts 8:31)? And when he understood that Philip, who had the gift of interpretation, had been sent to him by God, he gratefully received him into his chariot and conferred with him about the meaning of the passage in Isaiah. Of this kind of interpretation Augustine beautifully says in The Customs of the Church: 'The greater the difficulty with which the Scriptures are opened up where they are closed, the sweeter we find them to be after they have been opened to interpretation.'
"However, this gift of interpretation is not found outside of the church in the unregenerate, for the light of the Holy Spirit is kindled in the hearts of the godly. Concerning the unregenerate, Paul says, 'The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things' (1Co 2:14-15). And 'And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God' (2Co 4:3-4). But in the church the Son of God sitting at the right hand of the Father, bestows such gifts for the edification of His body" (Eph 4:11-14). 

Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent
2 Corinthians 4
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You are the captain of God's armies. Keep sending faithful pastors and teachers to Your church, that she might ever and only hear Your divine Word. Keep us from the hard-heartedness and unbelief that would lead us to doubt the importance of the study of God's Word. Keep us always in the Word of God that we too might recognize the divine truth whenever it is proclaimed. Free us from the tyranny of false teaching by the teaching of the simple truth about You. Amen.
For Ed Jutzi, that the holy angels would keep watch over him in all his ways
For all pastors and teachers, that they might always support the childlike faith of the bride of Christ
For President Brian Friedrich and all the faculty and staff of Concordia University Nebraska, that they might be faithful teachers of the gifts of God
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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