When you look at the picture to the left, what do you see? Do you see a vase or do you see two faces? If you see a vase, but your friend sees two faces, are you right and he's wrong?
On a related issue, why do two different people read the same bible but come to two different interpretations about what it is saying?
Here is a hypothetical, but reasonable, situation: two friends are reading the same bible. They are both Christians - they have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior based upon the orthodox, biblical meaning of the gospel (see I Cor. 15:3-4, II Cor. 5:21, and Rom. 10:9). Thus, they are both indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who assists them in interpreting the meaning of the scriptures.
We also must realize that any scripture has one true meaning: what the original author meant when he wrote it. For example, when John wrote (in John 1:1), "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," he meant one thing. The real, objective meaning of this verse is not open for discussion; it means what God says it means.
However, that does not mean that we always get it right when we try to interpret any verse or passage. Now let's return to the two friends. They both have the Holy Spirit helping them interpret a verse, passage, chapter, or book of scripture. They both believe that the bible is literally true. They both honestly want to interpret a passage correctly.
However, when they read a passage of scripture, they continue to come to different conclusions. Maybe they speak about a particular issue for hours or even days, but they cannot come to agreement. Why is this?
If you have spent any time in church, you know about some of the different disagreements. I'm sure you have experienced some differences of interpretation when it comes to the bible. Some that come to mind are infant baptism versus believer's baptism, Calvinism versus Arminianism, complementarianism versus egalitarianism, and Premillennialism versus Postmillennialism verses Amillennialism.
When the two friends disagree, three options are possible: friend #1 is correct and friend #2 is incorrect, friend #1 is incorrect and friend #2 is correct, or they are both incorrect. They cannot both be correct about an interpretation of a passage if they think it actually means two different things.
So we return to our question. Why do they disagree? Why don't these Christian brothers or sisters come to exactly the same conclusions?
I know what I believe on these issues mentioned above (in case you are curious, I hold to believer's baptism, Calvinism, complementarianism, and Premillenialism). However, I know of people far wiser than I am who disagree with me on some of these issues. We must also keep in mind that most of these issues are not black-and-white. For example, a Christian does not have to be either a Calvinist or an Arminian.
So why do Christians with good intentions of determining the truth come to different conclusions about the meaning of scripture? The answer must be that we are fallen creatures. Even if we are redeemed sons and daughters of King Jesus, we are still affected by sin. This sin impacts not only our moral judgments, but also our intellect. We do not interpret perfectly. In fact, we don't do anything perfectly. We are created in the image of God, but marred by original sin and our continued sins. When we come to Christ, we are somewhat restored, but not completely. That will only come when we die and go to be with Christ. Then we will no longer "see in a mirror dimly" (I Cor. 13:12).
Our remaining sin ought to make us humble when we take certain positions based on what we think scripture says. We should realize that our Christian brother or sister may be correct, and we may be incorrect. Let it be clear: I am not arguing here for relativism; I am in no way suggesting that we cannot know what is true. For example, I think the Holy Spirit testifies to us about the truth of the gospel (see here). What I am saying is that on issues that are secondary to the gospel, we should be humble in our positions.
Sin causes faulty judgments. Let's be careful in thinking that we interpret scripture perfectly. May we take pause and humbly assert what we believe, understanding that we may be incorrect.
For a great discussion of what factors affect what we believe, click here.