The Church as the Interpreter of Scripture

I commend to all Fr. Haller’s thoughtful reflection on Scripture and its interpretation.

I have quite a lot to say on this topic that I cannot write now. Thus, let me leave you with just a few teaser thoughts:

  • The point of the Christian faith as I understand it is to participate within the community of those invited into the interior life of the Triune God. As a result, one of the key factors here is relationships. We as individuals are in a relationship with God and are also in a relationship with a community. The Scriptures are one record of one part of that relationship and the community as a whole has privileged them as an essential and sufficient record. A record is not a relationship, however.
  • At the root of the faith is the relationship between God and “his people”–variously identified as those God has called into relationship with himself. As a result, history itself is a key factor. However, we have no access to the history. We have a written record which means that what is normative amongst us is a document which describes, among other things, history which reveals the on-going character of the relationship between God and his people. A document, while it may be historical, is not a direct window into history.
  • I think it’s important to constantly remind ourselves what Scripture says about itself in one of its most beleaguered and put-upon sets of verses: 2 Timothy 3:14-17  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it  15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Hmmm. From this one might suspect that the purpose of the Scriptures is to reveal the character of the relationship between God and humanity and from there to direct what character a Christian ought to be forming.  And that seems to me to be both quite a bit more and quite a bit less than what others often use these verses to claim.

7 Replies to “The Church as the Interpreter of Scripture”

  1. Great post! I particularly appreciated your observation that “a record is not a relationship.” I almost gave up reading with your first sentence, though – you wrote, “The point of the Christian faith as I understand it is to participate within the community of those invited into the interior life of the Triune God.” Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the “point” is of the Christian life is that we become partakers of the divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4, and our participation within the community of those invited into the interior life of the Triune God is a means to that end? I don’t think you would even have to change the rest of the paragraph if you change the “point” sentence.

    BTW, great blog, and super breviary!! Thanks for the effort.

  2. And, of course, the “Scriptures” referred to in 2 Timothy is almost certainly the Hebrew Testament!

    It is fascinating to read the words “…the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” which might suggest that the Scripture leads one up to faith in Christ (which then takes over).

  3. Very nice post!

    I ended up writing my own thoughts about Fr. Haller’s excellent article in my own little mutter-spot, but I’ll summarize here.

    I agree with Bill that our relationship with the community is part of our relationship with the Divine. IMHO, scripture and history inform that relationship, but it is our own reason (as Hooker defines reason) which takes those general things and gives them personal and individual meaning.

    Thank you for the insights and keep up the great work.

    Pax,

    Tim

  4. Hi Bill,

    Most of my thinking about both salvation and ecclesiology come from the Pauline letters (particularly 1st Corinthians and Ephesians), 1 Peter, and Revelation (as read with the Fathers). What seems clear to me is that salvation in the biblical mind wasn’t an individual affair—communities get “saved” by virtue of their relationship with the deity. What makes Christianity different from, say, Israelite religion is that the connection to the saving community comes through voluntary association rather than just being born into it. I think we’re saying the same thing, I’m just wanting to accent it a little differently to play down the modern American predilection for a “Jesus & me” mentality.

    Yes, we as individuals are invited to become partakers of the divine nature, but the way that happens most clearly and perfectly is by Baptism into the Body of Christ which is both mystical and visible—hence, the community angle once again.

    Fr. J-J,

    Yes, “Scriptures” in the New Testament inevitably refers to the Old Testament. It’s not until 2 Peter (3:1; 15-16) and afterward that there is a sense of “New Testament.” (Although, some have wondered about the odd little coda in 2 Timothy 4:13 and what the “scroll and books” might be!)

    Thanks, Tim!

  5. I understand your goal, and I think that our difference was merely one of emphasis/degree and not in kind. One of my struggles living and working in an evangelical Anglican parish is working to overcome the “Jesus and me” or “me and my Bible” mentality that is endemic in the cultural DNA.

  6. I really like Fr. Haller’s simple and straightforward argument here! It seems so obvious once stated, but somehow I’d never actually thought the thought before….

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