Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Is Scripture Self-Interpreting?: Part 1

"C-dero" asked the following question in the HCR forum, and I think it is an important one, especially within the Protestant community. The division and contradiction that sola scriptura creates is the big pink elephant in the living room of Protestantism. I can't tell you how many Protestants I've heard who either utterly deny that there is a problem, or who actually praise denominationalism as "diversity."

However, it seems to me that C-dero is a person who is not afraid to confront the problem areas in Protestantism and to search out a solution, instead of just pretending that these problems don't exist. This is not the first time that he has asked a question that attempts to take a bold and honest look at his faith. I respect that and I think it is refreshing.

You may have heard this before, "the best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself."

How meaningful is this catch phrase? Is it not true that the one who asserts such a concept is the Bible's interpreter? Does he/she not interpret scripture? Or, is it that one thinks that his/her interpreting process is scripture's interpreting process?

Whats the deal with this catch phrase?
Well, context is definitely important when you're interpreting Scripture. It's also good to view the Bible as having an interconnectedness, and ultimately, one Supreme Author, even though, historically speaking, the Bible is a collection of many works written by many individuals over a span of many years. This understanding of the Bible will definitely effect your interpretation of it, b/c now you're using Daniel to interpret the Book of Revelations, whereas someone who viewed the Bible as a collection of disparate works with no common relation would not even bother using Daniel.

All that said, it is true that, even when you utilize this context, you're still interpreting the Bible yourself. Even the context needs to be properly understood before it can truly come to bear upon a passage. And, since the Bible is such an expansive work, it is easy to misunderstand it, even with all of this context available. Of course, we all try our best, and there's nothing inherently wrong with individuals interpreting the Bible. After all, we interpret when we read. It's unavoidable.

But --and this is a BIG "but"-- it's when you make that act of self-interpretation your rule of faith that you get into trouble. I simply do not believe that God left us to try and figure this all out on our own. He couldn't have! I mean, it leads to chaos and division, which should be readily apparent. But, at the same time, you can't say that self-interpretation is flat out wrong b/c we can't help but interpret what we read. So, it seems like a problem with no solution.

But, I think there is one. If God were to make one person, or one group of persons', self-interpretation more authoritative than anyone elses, then this would solve the dilemma. It's really the only solution that I can think of. Ultimately, using the context of Scripture doesn't solve the problem b/c even this can be misunderstood. Inspiration by the Holy Spirit doesn't work either b/c men can feel as though they have been inspired when they really haven't, and we see all the time how two people "inspired by the Holy Spirit" can come to contradictory conclusions about Scripture.

Of course, the contention is usually made that, if self-interpretation so often leads to error, how do you know that you're not in error about your conclusion that God gave a certain group of people the authority to interpret Scripture? Well, I think you can come to the conclusion that I have drawn w/o interpreting Scripture. For one, I think it follows from logic, seeing that it's the only conclusion that works. Secondly, historical evidence shows that the Christian community was always goverened in this way. These two reasons make the Scriptural evidence all the more compelling and grants a certitude to my conclusion.

Anyway, that was probably more than what you were asking for, but I think it bears upon the topic of this thread. I hope it helps.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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