Thursday, April 30, 2009

Picking and choosing in the Bible...

In response to my blogpost on the "Jugde not" verse, a commenter by the name of Susan responded:

Your interpretation of this important and beautiful bible verse is just that---your interpretation. Your opinion, not fact. If you are a bible believer you do not pick and choose which verses to take literally and which to take subjectively. It is what it is.

Your language about people with different views than yours offends me, but you know what? I'm going to turn the other cheek and not sink to your level of name calling and not judge you for it. Because that's what MY bible says.

As someone who minored in English and has come up with this "that's your interpretation" non-sense, I think that sometimes that is bunk.

It is true that sometimes a textual passage is ambiguous or can be taken to mean more than one thing.

But that is not always true. Sometimes an interpretation can be incorrect.

That is the case with the liberal interpretation of the "Judge not" verse.

And sometimes you can find the objectively correct intpretation.

In university, I majored in history. One of the things a historian does when confronted with a text whose meaning is not obvious is eliminate all false interpretations, and come up with the correct interpretation through logical inference.

I think I eminently did that by showing that Jesus did want us to judge and that the Early Church understood his words in that sense.

Besides, it's only common sense that you do not eliminate all possibility of judging in your life.

I therefore presented the correct interpretation. It is the truth, not an opinion.

It's the correct interpretation regardless of my personal convictions. Anyone who objectively examines the Gospels in that light will come to that same conclusion.

Texts can transmit thought and intention, and the Gospels have done so to anyone who opens their eyes.

But this brings me to my second point.

She brought the notion that

If you are a bible believer you do not pick and choose which verses to take literally and which to take subjectively.

Well, guess what?

She has it wrong again, on so many points. And this gives me the opportunity to expound on them.

In order to understand to contextualize my beef with Susan's response, let me explain a few things.

When Jesus preached, he did so with the idea that he was God. (And no I don't think that proves he was God).

There are several passages in the Gospels that point to this. For instance he said

I and the Father are one (...) The Father is in me, and I in the Father." John 10:30,38

He also said.

"Before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58)

"I AM" may not mean anything to you, but "I Am" is the name of God, the name that He revealed to Moses when He commissioned him to deliver the Jews from slavery.

Jesus also intended for his words to be taken seriously: not as arguments, suggestions or as a philosophy, but as a truth. For instance, after expounding on the nature of the Eucharist, and many took offense at his teaching, he said

The words that I have spoken are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Spirit and Life. They're not just propositions. They are spirit and life.

So Jesus' words are equivalent to Divine Revelation. Jesus does not use doctrinal definitions to make his points. He uses everyday conversational language that would have been current in his day.

The fact that his language is colloquial and not academically precise can sometimes leave them open to interpretation, that is, their meaning is not completely obvious to the reader.

So an interpretation must be derived from the text.

But as Jesus' words are Divine, and as God he cannot deceive or be deceived, his words cannot contradict one another.

There is then no question then of "MY Bible" and "YOUR Bible." By that, I mean, there is no question of contradictory versions of what Jesus intended to impart to the public.

Interpretation of Revelation is not a solely individual undertaking.(Note bold emphasis!)

Revelation was not intended to be "personalized" in the sense of being "made to measure", the way you would tailor a suit to fit your personal philosophy.

Jesus entrusted his divine Revelation to the Church so that he would be able to communicate what he meant. Jesus speaks to us individually through our own understanding, but that individual understanding has to be in line with the collective understanding of the Church, because that this is the society that he founded for the purpose making his thought clear to everyone.

Let me explain.

I am a bible believer, but I do not believe in Sola Scriptura-- which is what the typical Evangelical "Bible Only" Christian believes. That is, I do not understand the Bible to be a self-interpreting text that acts as an ersatz catechism to tell believers the truths of the faith.

Divine Revelation is contained in The Bible. But it is not the Bible that is the arbiter, per se, of Revelation. It is a means of transmitting Revelation. It has no ability, of itself, to understand.

That's why Jesus did not entrust his Revelation to ink and vellum, as it were.

Jesus entrusted his Revelation to people, that is, to the Church.

I will once again refer to the Epistle of Jude:

I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

This shows that the Early Church understood the faith to be entrusted to a body of people, not to a book.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20:)

Again, in the "Great Commission", Jesus instructs the apostles to baptize and teach all that Jesus has commanded them-- and he adds that he would be with them to the end of the age-- in other words, for all time.

Another verse shows that Jesus intended for the people to teach the faith...

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Jesus did not command them to write a book. Jesus formed the Church to preach his word. It is this body of people that is responsible for preserving and transmitting Divine Revelation. And this was not some ad hoc committee. The apostles understood Jesus' formation of their group as something permanent. That is why when Judas Iscariot died, the apostles took it upon themselves to find a replacement:

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.(Acts 1:23-26

It was later on that the Evangelists took it upon themselves to write the Gospels-- not as a treatise or a catechism, but as a book that was intended to lead to a relationship and faith in Jesus Christ.

The Early Christians looked to the Church to understand what Jesus had preached, since the Gospels did not exist. As St. Paul writes to Timothy:

I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

The Church is then the source of what we know about Jesus and is guided by the Holy Spirit, as indicated above.

Scripture is the product of the Church.

The authority of Scripture doesn't come from itself. It comes from the Church. The Church is what Jesus founded to teach

The point of this being that interpreting Divine Revelation authoritatively is not an individual task. It is a Church task. It is a collective task. Individuals can be correct. But Jesus did not entrust his Revelation to individuals. Jesus Christ entrusted the Church to be his witness, his interpreter (or more accurately, his messenger) of the things he said.

And it has been understood since the beginning of the Church that "Judge not, lest ye be judged" does not preclude all judgements.

And that is not my individual opinion. It is the consensus of the Church, the body Jesus founded to be the authority on his Revelation, and which he said he would be with until the end of the age.

One's individual interpretation is a fallible opinion. A universal belief of the Church since the apostolic age has Jesus' stamp of approval, so to speak.

(And I would love to go on another tangent about Sacred Tradition, but that would make this post even longer. Just read up!)

There is no "pick and choose" when it comes to the Church's understanding of Revelation. Because Revelation must be understood in its totality. Sometimes a verse is meant to be understood literally, and sometimes it is not. It is through the same textual analysis that I used above that the Church is able to make the distinction.

Liberals do as much "picking choosing" as uneducated literalist Christians do. Quoting Scripture is fine to make a point, as I've done. But quoting a Scripture verse as if it were a doctrinal statement, while it is taken out of context and considered in isolation from all other verses, is a misuse of the Bible.

That is what the liberal interpretation of "Judge not lest ye be judged" is: a misuse of the Bible.

Not to mention some of her other statements. But that's the subject of another blogpost. :)

(And yes, I do anticipate your next objection).