the weblog of Alan Knox

When God Communicates: Subjective or Objective?

Posted by on Jul 2, 2008 in discipleship, scripture, spirit/holy spirit | 7 comments

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read something similar to this a few times: Scripture is objective; but any other communication from God is subjective. This post is not directed at anyone in particular. Instead, as I’ve read the above comment a few times, I’ve been thinking about the objectivity and subjectivity of God’s communication.

By the way, I like to say “God communicates” instead of “God speaks”. Usually, the verb “speak” assumes something (audible communication) that is not always present when God communicates. So, when I say, “God communicates”, I mean many different types of communications, including but not limited to Scripture, dreams, visions, impressions, other people.

When God communicates to us, he always communicates objectively. His communication is never subjective. However, our interpretation of God’s communications is always subjective. This includes our interpretation of Scripture – it is always subjective. It is true that some interpretations are less subjective than others, but all interpretations are subjective.

It would be incorrect to say that interpretations of Scripture are always less subjective than interpretations of other communications from God. For example, when God told Abram to leave Haran, Abram did not consider that communication to be subjective. When God communicated with Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul did not consider that communication to be subjective. When God communicated to Peter while Peter was on the roof of Simon’s house in Joppa (the dream with the sheet and animals), Peter did not consider that communication to be subjective. Notice that all of these acts of communication are now part of Scripture, but they were not part of Scripture when they occurred.

(Interestingly, Peter’s dream became normative for everyone. I wonder what would have happened if Peter had thought his dream was more subjective than Scripture and had compared his dream to Scripture. But, this is another issue altogether.)

I am not questioning the importance of Scripture. I do believe that Scripture is extremely important. I believe that Scripture is inspired by God, and I believe that Scripture is inerrant in the original autographs. I believe that Scripture is authoritative. However, there are times when I’ve felt that Scripture has been placed in a position above the living presence of God Himself – and not just Scripture, but our (individual or corporate) interpretation of Scripture.

Our goal should not be to relate properly to Scripture. Our goal should be to relate properly to God. Some may suggest that studying Scripture brings one into a right relationship with God, but remember that the scribes and Pharisees studied Scripture meticulously, as do many scholars today. Studying Scripture does not guarantee that we are hearing God.

God always communicates to us objectively. Perhaps we have not heard him – as others have heard him in the past and as has been recorded for us – because we are not listening to him. Instead, we have replaced him with something else. We have made our interpretation of Scripture objective, and we’ve made God subjective.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-2-2008

    I had this conversation the other day (you worded it better). The woman I was talking to acted as if I were trying to kill Jesus. She was of course assured that her pastor, church, and denomination did not have a subjective interpretation of the Bible. She seemed to think they had a directive to explain the correct interpretation to all others.

  2. 7-2-2008


    I think you have explained the difference between subjectivity and objectivity in an amazing way.

    As you know, I don’t believe subjectivity exists – at least in the way it is normally used. I do however, believe in it the way that you are using it. What can easily be taken from your post is this fact. There is only one right answer… either you’ve got it or your don’t.

    Great post.

    God’s Glory,

    P.S. when we talk today, remind me to tell you about another blog post (I keep forgetting).

    The Pursuit Online Store

  3. 7-2-2008

    The Trinity in the West is:

    Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures!

    Because I came from an extreme Charsimatic background and now am in a 100% cessasionist church, my pendelum swung from East to West completely. Now through my “own” study of scripture I have begun to swing back east (the charsima) a bit faster than I anticipated. With that said, I am scared for God to communicate with me any other way than scriptures. Part of my testimony is rooted in this communication but after that I have supressed anything close to that for the sake of not looking to Charismatic.

    Pray for me that I would try to hide behind scripture but follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and be able to discern His voice. This usually makes for some scarey stuff because if this communication is a-biblical it can make for some funny looks in the circles I run in

  4. 7-2-2008


    Interesting post. I think you are right to say that we must understand all interpretation to be inherently subjective. The problem with stopping there, however, is that it leaves open the conclusion that all interpretations are equally valid.

    They are not. An interpretation is either true or false depending on the extent to which it conforms to the objective meaning in the text. Interpretation moves from the subjective to the objective (though never fully) as it is measured against the context of the whole of Scripture, all possible internal and external clues pointing to authorial intent, and the enduring witness of the church.

    Certainly exhaustive study of the Scriptures will never guarantee 100% accuracy in hearing from God. However, failure to study the Scriptures will result in 100% failure in hearing from God apart from any experiential revelation (which, though possible, is unlikely given God’s intent to reveal himself in Scripture–cf. Luke 16, 2 Peter 1:19ff).

    Saying our goal should not be to relate properly to Scripture, but to God runs the risk of falling in the neo-orthodox pit. Is this not a false choice? Can we relate properly to God without relating properly to Scripture? Shouldn’t our goal be to do both? Sure the Pharisees studied Scripture exhaustively, but the record shows that they did not study it properly. They do not provide a helpful example for the point being made, I think.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Thanks for getting me thinking early on a Tuesday morning and for providing the opportunity to engage.

  5. 7-2-2008


    Almost every believer, church, and denomination think that they do not have a subjective interpretation of the Bible, but that everyone else does.


    Its a good thing that God does not save us based upon our “rightness” or “wrongness”. I would not be saved.


    Thanks for sharing a little of your story. I have run across what you called “Trinity in the West”, but it is usually in this order: Scripture (as I or my group interprets it), Father, Son.


    Yes, God reveals himself to us through Scripture. I’ve never claimed otherwise. However, Scripture itself does not claim to be the only way that God reveals himself, nor does Scripture claim to be the primary way that God reveals himself. If anything, Heb 1:1-4 seems to indicate that Jesus Christ is the penultimate revelation of God. When God reveals himself to us “experientially”, that revelation is just as objective as any other, and our interpretation is subjective as is our interpretation of any revelaion including Scripture. It is a false dichotomy – and not found in Scripture – to say that God reveals himself more objectively in Scripture.

    As I said, God always communicates objectively. Therefore, all interpretations are NOT equally valid. In fact, I would suggest (as you implied in your comment) that all of our human interpretations are invalid. Let me explain…

    You said, “Interpretation moves from the subjective to the objective (though never fully)…” Yes. Exactly. Which means that our interpretation is never fully objective nor never fully valid.

    You also said, “An interpretation is either true or false depending on the extent to which it conforms to the objective meaning in the text”. Thus, since an interpretation is never fully objective – or fully true – every human interpretation is false at some point. What point? Well, if we knew that then we’d change our interpretations, wouldn’t we?

    The point is, even the Pharisees thought their interpretations were proper and valid – just as we think today. The Pharisees, however, seemed to have relied on their interpretations, not on God. Which one do we rely on?

    As Paul told us, today we see only through a dark glass. One day we will know as we are known. Until then, we rely on God. As Solomon wrote, we are to trust God and not our own understanding (Prov 3:5-6).


  6. 7-5-2008

    Yes, Alan, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).

  7. 7-6-2008

    Michael, the 2 Peter reference that you gave does not seem to support the point you’re trying to make. In light of Hebrews 1:1-2, not to mention the verses preceding verse 19 in 2 Peter 1, the “more sure” word that Peter is talking about is the revelation of the Father through Jesus.

    Sure the Pharisees studied Scripture exhaustively, but the record shows that they did not study it properly.

    Except that Jesus actually told us what the application was, and he said nothing about whether or not they studied them “properly”. His point was that the scriptures point to him. They are not an end in themselves.

    Jesus could not have been more clear about the purpose of scripture vis a vis our relationship with him.