That’s just your opinion

When discussing biblical matters, how often have do you hear the common refrain, “Well, that’s just your opinion”? So what are the often unstated assertions behind this seemingly innocuous statement? Perhaps, that capturing truth is as difficult as nailing jello to a tree? And, only those overcome with arrogance and self-delusion are audacious enough to claim they’ve discovered the doctrinal Holy Grail?

So, are we hopelessly constrained to the land of opinion with no prayer of certainty about anything? Is there anything that can be known?

Is it possible to develop sound doctrinal conclusions? 
Those of us committed to biblical inspiration (2 Tim 3:16) agree that objective truth exists, but the $64,000 question is, how can we KNOW when we’ve found it? To those who believe that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, it’s not just a matter of opinion that Lazarus was raised from the dead or that Saul (the Apostle Paul) was struck by a blinding light before his conversion. But aside from these historical facts, is doctrine relegated to the land of the subjective where it’s always just a matter of opinion?
Considering the following divergence of views, and given the fact that honorable, intelligent believers rest on both sides, developing a degree of conviction may seem daunting and perhaps imprudent. Arminianism vs. Calvinism; premillennialism vs preterism; trinitarianism vs. oneness; infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism; immersion vs. pouring vs. no baptism at all; charismatic gifts are for today vs. the frozen chosen cessantionists…and the list goes on into perpetuity.
Clearly, there are Scriptural issues that, because of complexity, may not warrant dogmatism, but the question remains: Are there bedrock issues which are at least in part, not confined to the land of ethereal subjectivity? In other words, are there building blocks of truth which may ultimately lead one to sound conclusions, or is this the wishful thinking of an arrogant dreamer? 
If theological positions are simply matters of opinion, and firm conclusions are merely the fabric of one’s presuppositional persuasions, what inherent value is there in spending countless hours studying the Bible? Reading it, yes. Hiding it in our heart, yes. But why bother with the in-depth study if at best, we can merely develop what amounts to another opinion that may or may not be true? So, if beyond the historical accounts (and some who say they hold to biblical inspiration even spiritualize them e.g. Genesis 1-11 being considered allegorical), we can’t KNOW anything?  If not, then why bother? 

Seriously, if my conclusions are nothing but a byproduct of my own proclivities,  preferences, and presuppositions, and the Bible is as malleable as Silly Putty (which some seem to think), why toil in endless hours of futility? 
For example, if I state a doctrinal belief and someone disagrees, are we at an impenetrable impasse with no hope of resolution? Or are there objective methods whereby we can determine if our views are errant? 

Let me pause for a moment and offer this disclaimer. I am not talking about the acquisition of truth to either puff one up or to lord over others. There is plenty of mean-spiritedness being passed as a pursuit for doctrinal purity to go around the world twice over. And this makes all of us uneasy. However, regardless how irresponsible and un-Christlike some people act, I do not believe this overrides the fact that, not only does TRUTH exist, but we are exhorted to search for it like a buried treasure.  

Is truth possible to approximate?

I recently heard a famous person (billionaire, actually) speak about “your own truth” as if truth is completely subjective. 
The Greek word translated truth, altheia, is used 98 times in the New Testament and means “objectively, in reality, certainty and in fact.” Consider a few of the 98:
  • Luke 1:3-4 (NASB) 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact TRUTH about the things you have been taught.
  • John 4:23-24 (NASB) “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the TRUE worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and TRUTH; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and TRUTH.”
    John 14:6 (ESV) Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  • John 8:31-32 (NASB) So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will KNOW the TRUTH, and the TRUTH will make you free.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of TRUTH.
If Jesus exhorted us to worship God in truth, isn’t it implied that we should be able to find it? So how can we KNOW THE TRUTH and be set free by it, if all doctrines are simply matters of personal preference? “Accurately handling the word of truth” is the task of all workmen! God apparently wants us to dig and actually find it!
Given these exhortations, there must be objective standards whereby we can know the truth. And further, by following certain objective methods of discovery (hermeneutics), we can make judgments as to what is and is not true. So, how again do we know when we’ve attained even a small portion of truth?
An unhealthy reliance on the experts
A few years ago, excited after undergoing a rather significant eschatological paradigm shift (which revitalized my spiritual life), I presented my findings to numerous people. Instead of the responses I anticipated like, “That’s amazing, let me check it out more thoroughly” or “I’ve never heard that before but it sounds interesting,” many inevitably said, “Who else believes this?” Admittedly, I was dumbfounded. However, I shouldn’t have been, because this is often how many of us determine what to believe. We find those who we believe are eminently more qualified than us and follow them. And it was no different in the first century. 
11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: Individuals among you are saying, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?… (1 Cor 1:11-13)
So, if Paul, an inspired Apostle who was personally visited by the living Christ was exhorting the Corinthians to stop this kind of authority worship, should we not heed his poignant words? 
Let’s break down this “Who else believe this?” question which is founded on two beliefs:

1. We don’t believe we have the intellectual capacity and/or educational tools necessary to discover the truth on our own.  

2. There are trusted theological gurus to whom we must rely upon. So we must rely on others who we presume are more gifted. 
I have no problem not being the “go to” Bible answer man. 🙂  The truth is that we don’t need more gurus but rather more Christian who can confidently rightfully divide the Word. The problem is that most Christians don’t have the confidence to search the Scriptures to “see if these things are so”. (Acts 17:11)  They are forced by either laziness or a lack of confidence (I think it’s more often the latter) to rely too heavily upon the opinions of others. And since they haven’t attempted to diligently divide the word of God, there’s not the kind of sincere conviction there ought to be. And one becomes tossed by the winds of the “experts”. So when they find a different guru, their views change. And this fluidity ultimately produces an unhealthy ambivalence.  

But don’t misunderstand me at this point. I believe seeking the counsel of trusted advisers is a must. Matter of fact, it’s only prudent to have trusted advisors. So, I’m not in the least suggesting that should avoid consulting those gifted in a particular field or discipline. I regularly listen to the broadcasts of a wide array of preachers and Bible teachers and I have quite a few mature believers whom I consult on a regular basis. Being influenced by those holding various perspectives is healthy and prudent. However, blindly following strong personalities can be unhealthy. This is a very delicate balancing act. 

So what I am painstakingly trying to point out, is that too many of us may be relying almost entirely on “experts” (pastors, apologists, theologians, and well-known church figures). If we depend on someone else to do our groundwork (I realize we can’t be the master of all trades), the conclusions we acquire never fully become our own. And therefore, instead of becoming convictions these beliefs are easily shattered by our next Bible answer man.
So it’s often not all that apparent to us that we have become conviction-less followers. Sure, we may vehemently defend a particular view as if that view is closely held. But it all should become obvious when we realize how easily we adopt new views when we change allegiances. That’s why I think it’s of vital importance for us to do the work necessary to develop sound conclusions on our own.  

As it currently stands, most of us are content with absorbing the doctrines of those stalwarts of the faith we’ve come to respect. And thus, it most often comes down to credibility. Instead of confidently saying, “Let me study the Scriptures to ‘see if these things are so’”, we tend to line up behind our beloved Bible teacher. I’m of Beth Moore, and I’m of R.C. Sproul and I’m of Charles Stanley or I’m of David Jeremiah. So, with repetitive redundancy let me share this verse once more. 
I have a friend, Ed Ferner (, who, every time I ask him a question, instead of immediately going to the Bible commentaries and/or consulting someone of “stature”, he’s confident enough to fly solo. And he invariably returns with a very well thought-out answer. And this has always impressed me. 

Like Ed, we must begin attempting to ferret these things out with the tools God has given us. Never in the history of Christianity have we had so many Bible tools at our disposal. Never have we had this much access and we don’t even need to leave our computer screen to access a goldmine of resources.

So, how can we learn to more effectively utilize Bible tools to develop truth convictions even if they may deviate from the views of our pastor or our favorite Bible teacher? 
The experts have their biases too
Recognizing that no one is void of potentially faulty preconceptions which may derail their conclusions, should spur us to study on our own. And it should be a warning sign that we must not rely solely on them.
What may come as a surprise is that there’s not a living soul among us great or small who is immune from presuppositions and biases that may shield them from the truth. And that includes giants of the faith like Luther, Zwingli, and Spurgeon. These men are no less objectively-challenged than we are. J.I. Packer made that very case in Fundamentalism and the Word of God.
We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books and established patterns of church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. . . . It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has molded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition, or “critical” tradition, or “ecumenical” tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures. 
And so it is that we all suffer to some extent from false premises that can subliminally derail our objectivity. The first step is coming to that realization. Recognizing that we and those leaders we respect have blind spots allow the Holy Spirit to speak clearly through the Bible. Yes, easier said than done but nonetheless necessary. Truth must not be viewed as illusory.  
So, to the degree any of us are able to circumvent and/or mute our “already formed minds” and extract the truth from God’s Word, we will move ever closer to sound doctrine. Intelligence, training, and expertise can be valuable assets in this endeavor, but they can also become nooses around the neck of truth if one isn’t careful.
Seminary training, for example, can be an invaluable tool, but if the indoctrination that most always occurs, is not recognized, it can be a blinding influence. In my many conversations with seminarians, one thing has been clear; by design, the schools are more interested in graduating students that agree with a specific set of tenets than they are producing free-thinking Bereans. So, although there’s nothing inherently wrong with following one’s past, it must be recognized that former training can hamstring one’s ability to consider another point of view. 
We can be successful Bereans
At this point, I believe we must shed the typical defeatist mindset (which in many cases we’re not cognizant of), which has reached epidemic proportions. So taken are we with our pastor or favorite Bible expositor, that we automatically and immediately assimilate whatever conclusions they reach and make them our own. Rarely is anyone in authority questioned. After all, since they have the training, expertise and the intellect that most of us lack, there’s no wonder why we follow blindly. And, there’s nothing wrong with following. It’s the “blindly” part that is disconcerting. 
Even though we are endowed with the same Holy Spirit as those in positions of influence, there’s an unwritten and unstated policy that we must not rock the boat…lest we become censured or worse. The quest for peace is a very necessary goal. Too many churches have been split over non-essential doctrines. However, shouldn’t it be possible to share competing views while maintaining Christ-like attitudes? Must we maintain the status quo at all costs? At too many churches the subtle overtone if one doesn’t espouse the party line, is there other other churches that may find your views palatable, so please don’t make waves here. This is at least part of the reason things never change and errors are propagated in perpetuity. 

And to be clear, I’m not in the least suggesting anyone be argumentative, condescending or purposefully disruptive. That is simply not God-honoring behavior. However, if challenges are always discouraged because the quest for peace and unity trumps our passion for sound doctrine, truth WILL be sacrificed. I believe respectful dialogue should be encouraged and instead of short-circuiting the debate process, those incapable of maintaining a spirit of love and respect ought to be the ones encouraged to get an attitude adjustment. So, instead of silencing opposing views, it seems better to allow respectful discourse while helping those ill-equipped to handle disagreement. Learning how to dialogue when differences arise, should be part of the maturation process. But, unfortunately, since dissent is rarely tolerated, people don’t learn how to love one another in disagreement. In so doing, both truth and maturity are sacrificed.
As a case in point, consider the various eschatological positions. Although “end times” viewpoints are not considered foundational, premillennialism (the dominant position of our day) has been woven so thoroughly into the fabric of our faith, that to deviate from it is considered heterodox. So daring to espouse another eschatological system, not only puts one at serious risk of being disfellowshiped but if uncovering eschatological truth is perceived as nearly impossible, the risk/reward relationship is simply too great. So at this juncture, most people determine that the benefit (truth) is not worth ostracization. 
Sound interpretation principles
But here’s the good news. There are in fact objective tools of interpretation that will point us to the truth (if we let them). The truth is not only attainable but the Bible exhorts us to find it. And when we do, it must not be expressed in a manner of arrogance or condescension, but with all humility and love. The Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest theologian who ever lived, said love must be at the epicenter of all our doctrinal pursuits. So with that as a backdrop, never forgetting this mindset, let me share some foundational hermeneutical (science of interpretation) tools that I believe are as dependable as mathematical laws.
1.   The Bible is inspired / God-breathed – it has divine origin and is not subject to the whims of man. We need not go outside the Bible to obtain truth. Extra-Biblical sources, though at times beneficial, only enhance that which can be gleaned from Scripture. If those sources are used to override Scripture, they, not Scripture, become the supreme authority.
2.  God cannot lie (He occasionally conceals, but He does not mislead). The implications of this truth are taken for granted, but the fact remains, this fact must not be taken for granted. This is inherent in God’s prophetic word. As He stated through Ezekiel, “and whatever word I speak will be performed. It will no longer be delayed, for in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it,” declares the Lord GOD.'” We simply must not accept any theology that assumes God to be less than truthful.
Titus 1:2 (NASB) in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,
Hebrews 6:18 (NASB) so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
3. The Bible never contradicts itselfThis is the law of non-contradiction. Contradictory Biblical statements cannot be true in the same sense at the same time. In other words, if A=B, then A and B are mutually exclusive. God operates within the bounds of pure logic. Since there are no contradictions in the Bible, the apparent contradictions must be rectified. The following verse is often used to justify circumvention of this law, but only because it has been seriously misinterpreted. How often have you heard someone use “My thoughts are not your thoughts” to argue that God operates outside the bounds of logic or time? This is not in the least what was being conveyed. Go back and read the below verse in context. You will find that God is telling us simply that He is Holy and righteous and we are not.  
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
So the above verses are not an indictment against logic. Though God’s attributes and His supreme purposes are clearly not shared by His creatures, this in no way means that God operates in violation of the principles of logic or the chronology of time. The law of non-contradiction must not be violated. Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts” makes the intent clear. It has everything to do with the contrast between God’s righteousness and our inherent sinfulness.
4.  Context is king – We must read the Bible through the lens of the author, not through our 21st-century glasses. The Bible cannot mean what it never meant. The recent attempt to read modern day events into the Bible must be nixed. Word meanings are always defined by context. Often verses are excised and cherry-picked from a passage and manipulated to conform to a predetermined paradigm. How often when you come across “you” in the Bible, is it our natural inclination to think we are the “you” to whom the Biblical author is speaking of. We must always remember that, though the Bible was written and preserved FOR us, it was not written directly TO us. Ignoring this fact may be one of the biggest impediments to discovering truth. 

For example, consider the following from Matthew’s Gospel. Notice the number of times YOU is referred to by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. Not recognizing that the “you” are His disciples, but instead wrongly assuming that the “you” is some sort of generic multi-generational “you”, will make certain you won’t understand this prophetic section of the Bible. 

  • Do YOU see all these things? (verse 2)
  • Truly I tell YOU (verse 2)
  • Watch out that no one deceives YOU (4)
  • ?YOU will hear of wars and rumors of wars (6)
  • but see to it that YOU are not alarmed (6)?
  • ?Then YOU will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death (9)
  • YOU will be hated by all nations because of me (9)
  • “So when YOU see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation (15)
  • Pray that YOUR flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath (20)
  •  At that time if anyone says to YOU, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. (23)
  • See, I have told YOU ahead of time. (25?)
  • So if anyone tells YOU, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. (26)
  • As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, YOU know that summer is near. (32)
  • Even so, when YOU see all these things (33)
  • YOU know that it is near, right at the door (33)
  • Truly I tell YOU, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (34)
  • Therefore keep watch, because YOU do not know on what day your Lord will come (42)
  • So YOU also must be ready (44)
  • because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (44)
5.  Time is like clockwork – It is never allegorized. In understanding Bible prophecy, time is absolutely pivotal. Not only must the events prophesied take place, but they must occur within the timing specified by the prophet, lest he is labeled a false prophet. Notice the contrast between the next two verses, one from the OT and other from the NT. 
Daniel 8:26 (NKJV) “And the vision of the evenings and mornings Which was told is true; Therefore seal up the vision, For it refers to many days in the future.”
Among other reasons, the vision was sealed because the prophetic fulfillment wouldn’t be confirmed for hundreds of years. Look at the contrast of the next verse. 
Revelation 22:10 (NKJV) And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.
Contrary to what God told Daniel, John’s vision was to remain unsealed because the time was at hand. “At hand” simply cannot be stretched thousands of years. I dealt with this issue extensively HERE. Any eschatological system that disregards this principle is doomed to misinterpretation.
When something was predicted “shortly”, if it did not take place “shortly”, the prophet was found wanting. Perhaps this is the most glaring problem in most eschatological models. If this principle is abused in order to make an eschatological system work, that system must be rejected.
6.  Interpret the unclear through the lens of the clear – Ignoring this principle has created the many cults that proliferate today. The Bible is self-interpreting.
7. Understanding genres of literature within Scripture – Poetic, apocalyptic historical, doctrinal, metaphorical, prophecy and law. Confusing these will cause serious misinterpretation.
Isaiah 13:9-10 (NKJV) Behold, the day of the Lord comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine… 13 Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, In the wrath of the Lord of hosts And in the day of His fierce anger.
If this was interpreted literally and not apocalyptically, Isaiah would have been charged with false prophecy since neither the heavens nor earth were dislodged from their orbits. God’s wrath was literally poured out against the Babylonians in their destruction at the hands of the Medes but not in the astrological ways it was couched.  
Isaiah 34:3-4 (NKJV) 3 Also their slain shall be thrown out; Their stench shall rise from their corpses, And the mountains shall be melted with their blood. 4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree.
Again, if even one star collided with planet earth we would have ceased to exist. There are many similar examples of forms of speech, and they too must be interpreted within the confines of their genre. Jesus was not literally a loaf of bread or a door and He wasn’t telling them to literally drink His blood and eat His flesh. These are figures of speech. Failure to recognize the way God used apocalyptic language has become a major stumbling block to many Christians especially those living in the past 100 years. 
As we consider these things, I’d like to appeal to Jesus as He stood before Pilate. “Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 
Jesus came into the world to testify to THE TRUTH. He was the embodiment of truth.

In closing let me offer one objective lesson that applies some of these principles.
Revelation 1:1 (NASB) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,

The things that follow verse 1 simply must have taken place a couple thousand years ago. How do we KNOW this to be true and how do we know that others who disagree are in conflict with Scripture? By applying the below rules which I covered in greater detail. 

1. The Bible is inspired. 

2. God is incapable of lying.
3 The Bible is never contradictory.
4. We must consider the context.
5. Time is NEVER allegorized.
6. We must interpret the unclear through the clear.
7. We must consider the type of literature.

So, next time someone says, “That’s just your opinion”, don’t let it ride if your conclusion is based on these objective principles. If they want to argue with Jesus, then that’s their prerogative. It is not a matter of opinion that Jesus, after His ascension while sitting at the right hand of the Father, said, “Thing which MUST TAKE PLACE SOON.” This is not up for debate. If someone says, “Well, you have your verses and I have mine,” challenge them to put “their verses” to the test. Since we know that the Bible is not contradictory, and we must interpret the unclear through the clear, is Revelation 1:1 not supremely clear? 

In my view, we simply cannot allow people to continue to get away with violating rules of interpretation without being challenged. 

We may not like the implication of the above because it might disturb what we’ve been taught and it might throw our paradigm into a tizzy, but we have a choice to make. Are we going to ignore the rules and the referees or are we going to play the game within the confines of the rules? I think it’s time to challenge those who aren’t playing by the rules. Truth matters and the integrity of the Bible weighs in the balance. It’s not a matter of opinion. 
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