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