"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why Don't We All Agree? (Interpretation Part I)

From Whence the Question Comes

After our Tuesday night Bible Study two or three weeks ago, when we were sitting around discussing whatever was on our minds, someone asked why there are so many different interpretations of Scripture? We discussed it a little, but I must admit I was not overly satisfied with our answers.

Last week, Dan Phillips posted Of Strawmen and Slippery Slopes (part two). In the comments of that discussion I responded to Luke (Luke & Rachel) about Dan's statement about inerrancy. Luke offerred the following counter-response on the significance (or lack thereof) to the doctrine of inerrancy:
I guess I just don't see how it makes much difference. It's all well-and-good to say that we don't need anything other than Scripture; but when it comes down to actually interpreting Scripture, we're going to need the help of some hermeneutic principles. And I can't tell how to extract those principles straight-up from Scripture; there's just not enough to go on. Sure, our hermeneutic principles can and should be plausible on Scripture; they should be supported by Scripture in some way. But they're might still be room for honest and thoughtful Christians to disagree.

It was a busy week and I did not see this in time to provide a decent answer Luke (the thread was basically dead at this point). So I tucked the statement away somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

Further Thought Provokers

Then yesterday (Sunday), Justin Taylor posted the following quote from Michael Horton:
"The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider 'communion of saints' down through the age."

Later in the evening, I was listening to Dr. David Calhoun lecture on modern Roman Catholicism (lecture 36 on the linked page). In this lecture, he spends some time discussing why some Protestants have joined the Roman Catholic church. He cites three reasons that are consistently given by those who make this change, but the significant one for this discussion is "dogmatic certainty." That is, to paraphrase Dr. Calhoun, the proposition that Roman Catholicism offers not only an infallible record, but an infallible interpreter. Now, anyone who has studied the shifts that take place in Roman Catholic doctrine over the centuries (is Augustine in or out of favor this month?) would realize "infallible interpreter" is a stretch, but the Roman Catholic church does hold that out as a truth claim. And if true, the question with which I began would be a non-issue. What Rome teaches is the truth. Any other teaching is false and should be rejected.

So, What Now?

Rome is not, however, an infallible interpreter. Many Roman Catholics today would not embrace the infallibility of Rome's teaching, and, as I mentioned above, history does not bear out this doctrine. So for most of us, that is not an option in how we are to interpret Scripture and to reconcile our differences. How then do we interpret Scripture? And does inerrancy really matter if we cannot agree on interpretation? I've given a piece of the solution in the post above, but rather than a huge long post today, I'm going to come back to the other points in the near future (stall tactic). Same Bat time, Same Bat channel.


Blogger Luke said...

Hi Taliesin,

That quote from Horton is refreshing; I think it holds the key. (But I'll look forward to your next entry before starting a discussion on this).

It seems to me that many--perhaps even most--contemporary defenders of Sola Scriptura don't understand it in the same way as the Reformers. The feeling I get among these people--including the folks over at Pyromaniacs--is that affirming Sola Scriptura entails that we need nothing other than Scripture itself to make sense of Scripture.

But, as Horton points out, the Reformers themselves saw the need to anchor their reading of Scripture in community and tradition; they saw themselves as bringing the people of God back into line with the true tradition, exhibited first-and-foremost in the Scriptures but also in at least some of the Church fathers as well. For them, Sola Scriptura means (among other things) that we don't need a pope to get the Gospel right; that ordinary people can sit down with the Scriptures and obtain a sufficient understanding of Jesus Christ. It doesn't mean that the text is always plain, or that we won't need some exegetical tips and guidelines from the tradition itself.

Anyways, I think Calvin and Luther would have been puzzled by the way Sola Scriptura is bandied about nowadays. Not to mention the fathers: their whole strategy in dealing with Gnosticism (for example) was to appeal to a "rule of faith", basically, a hermeneutic principle supported by Scripture but not expressed verbatim therein; they also appealed to the fact that they were the inhereitors of the *true* tradition, passed from Christ to the Apostles. They didn't just think everything could be solved with proof-texts. Anyways, sorry to rant so. Great post. luke

4:29 PM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...

Thanks for dropping by Luke, and for the comments. Mid-weeks are typically tough for me, so I may not get to finish (continue?) this until Friday, but you're already pointing out some of the things I want to look at in more detail.

Some of this I've blogged on before but I'm hoping to expand the argument a little.

7:59 PM EDT  

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