Question: If the Holy Spirit indwells and guides us into all truth, why are there so many different interpretations of the Bible?
Answer: The passage which the questioner seems to be alluding to is John 16:12, in which Jesus tells the disciples:
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…”The question is, if this is true, why are there so many differences of opinion about the Bible’s meaning?
I have a couple of things to say about this. First, it’s important, when we read the Bible, to consider to whom the passage in question is addressed.
In this particular passage, Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples, and we have to ask ourselves the question, “Is he speaking to them merely as believers or is he speaking to them in their unique capacity as apostles?” because there’s a big difference.
Some of the things Jesus says to his disciples he says to them as believers—and those things can be broadly applied to believers in general. But there are other things he says to them as apostles that apply uniquely to them. This is one of those passages. He is telling them that as his apostles, who were charged with the work of laying the foundation of the Church through the preaching of the gospel, they were to be specially gifted with the Holy Spirit, who would guide them into all truth. He’s referring to the special revelations God would give them through the Spirit—much like what Paul mentions in Ephesians 3, when he speaks of the mystery of the gospel which in previous generations had not been known, “but which now,” he says, “has been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
It’s a promise of infallible guidance through divine inspiration—a promise Jesus made, not to all believers, but only to the apostles. And the promise, I should say, bears directly upon the confidence we may have in the New Testament.
Let me say, secondly, with regard to the many different interpretations of the Bible, that it’s inevitable that it should be so. Some differences are intentional perversions or twisting of the Scriptures. But even among honest people who are sincerely seeking to know the truth, it’s inevitable that there will be differences. Honest, but fallible human-beings will have honest differences of opinion. We all approach the Scriptures with different biases, different life-experiences, different backgrounds, and all these things influence how we go about interpreting the Bible.
This should cause us to be somewhat patient and humble with people we disagree with. We ought to hold fast to the essential articles of the Christian faith, but there is considerable room for differences of opinion on secondary issues. If there is an obvious love of Christ and a commitment to grow in grace and a desire to submit to the authority of Scripture, then we ought not allow secondary issues to divide us by causing us to have hard feelings toward one another. Paul tells us that we ought to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).