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October 6, 2007 / Daniel

Interpretation

Dennis brought up a couple really good questions in the comment section of my previous post on the canon.  He said, “In Scripture, there really is only one correct interpretation. Right? How do we know whose interpretation is correct?”

First, I agree with Dennis that the text only has one correct interpretation.  If two different folks disagree on the meaning of a text, at least one of them is wrong.  And maybe both of them!  Today’s culture tempts us to say that all interpretations are equally true.   That just can’t work.  

Secondly, I have to insist that the meaning of the text resides with the inspired human author.  Check out my previous post on inspiration.  Once we start looking for meanings that are foreign to the human author then the text can mean anything.  This is just the way that communication works.  Good listeners seek to understand the speaker.  Good readers seek to understand the writer.    The same thing is true of the Bible.

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2 Comments

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  1. Bryan L / Oct 6 2007 7:08 pm

    You know I’m torn on this because I do believe the original intent of the author is most important meaing however it seems like the people of God (starting with Israel then the church) have always found way to hear the scriptures in fresh new way so that it continued to speak to the community in their time and addressing their needs. And in fact Lee Martin MacDonald argues that those scriptures which were not able to speak to the people of God in fresh new ways were the ones that fell out of use and did not become part of the cannon. He gives the example of Song of Songs and how it was allegorized and that is what kept it in use. And as scholars have started arguing for the original intent of it instead of it as an allegory for Christ and the church it has sort of practically been uncanonized (as it’s fallen more out of use). I think even within scripture we can find this interpreting older scripture in fresh new ways that the original author wouldn’t have intended. At the same time I also think the exegetical methods of some of the NT writers in their use of the OT is a lot more complicated than they are given credit for.

    All that to say that even though I do subscribe to the original intent of the author it seems the early church may have been guided by the Holy Spirit to hear those scriptures in different, fresh new way and so I’m not sure that it is a clear one or the other choice.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  2. Dennis / Oct 8 2007 2:30 pm

    Daniel,

    I should probably clarify my statement. I do believe that there can be multiple meanings to a Bible passage (i.e. one passage can have deeper meanings) but that the meanings should not conflict with each other. So, Bryan L. is right that as Scripture is read in different generations, it can be interpreted differently which does not take away from (or conflict with) previous interpretations.

    But regarding the original intent of the author, yes, I agree with you there as well. But, how do we know—especially in the New Testament—what the original intent was?

    In the Catholic Church, we have three pillars: Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and Magisterium. All three work together to better understand our faith. The Apostolic Tradition gives us the mindset–the “original intent of the inspired author.” With that, we view Sacred Scripture through the “lens” of Apostolic Tradition as taught by the Bishops/Pope (Magisterium). All three are equally important. If one of the three elements were missing, then our Church would not be valid and would fall in to error.

    That doesn’t mean (as many people believe) that Catholics shouldn’t read Scripture. By all means, all Catholics are encouraged to read Scripture. Saint Jerome is quoted as saying “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” However, when it’s read, the interpretation by the individual cannot conflict with teachings of the Catholic Church. If so, then the individual’s interpretation is incorrect.

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