By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
Yes, it can still be our guide to truth. The fact that students may give different answers to a question on a test does not mean that there is no correct answer. In like fashion, the reality of many competing interpretations of the Bible does not mean there is no correct interpretation, nor does it mean that the correct interpretation is impossible to attain.
The fact that there are different interpretations of the Bible does not necessarily speak to the ambiguity of the Bible per-say. The Bible says what it says. The variable is not the Bible but the numerous interpreters of the Bible . This is not to say that the Bible is always easy to interpret. For sure, there are difficult portions of the Bible to understand. However, in regards to the essentials of the faith, the Bible is clear and there is general agreement between Christians over the “essentials”.
Those who disagree over the essentials of the Christian faith as grounded in scripture, are not truly Christians and so such would not be a valid example of “Christians” disagreeing over essential features of the Christian faith. In regards to the essentials there is agreement. Where there are disagreements between genuine Christians, these pertain to “non-essential” doctrines. Teachings that pertain to eschatology (end-times), mode of baptism (sprinkling vs. Immersion), or young earth creationism vs. old earth creationism. While all important topics, these are not definitional of what it means to be a true Christian.
An important question at this point is to ask how one even determines or differentiates between “essential” and “non-essential” doctrines in the first place. Very briefly then, an essential doctrine is determined by a qualifier in scripture. In other words, when scripture teaches something and what is attached to the teaching is a condemnation for rejecting or affirming it, then it is definitional. A quick example can be seen in the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Christianity holds that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh (John 1:1, 14, Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus says that “unless you believe that “I AM”, you will die in your sins. “I AM” is a reference to Exodus 3:14 where God tells Moses that “I AM that I AM. Jesus applies this divine title to himself and says that if one does not believe this they will die in their sins. Notice the qualifier: If one does NOT believe this, they will die in their sins. This highlights that the affirmation of the deity of Christ is foundational and essential.
All this being said, to summarize our initial question. The Bible is indeed an adequate guide to truth because it is the Word of God. The fact that people differ over interpretation does not mean that therefore, there is no correct interpretation or that the correct interpretation of the text is impossible. Lastly, while there are indeed disagreements over the interpretation of various texts, Christians are in general agreement over the essentials of the Christian faith.