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question about bible interpretation

Discussion in 'Bibliology & Hermeneutics' started by PrinceJeff, Apr 12, 2002.

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  1. PrinceJeff

    PrinceJeff Well-Known Member

    i hope you dont mind another question from me but here goes!

    I remember a poster in another thread saying something to the effect that protestants concentrate on what scripture means while Catholics concentrate on what it says, which then supports literal interpretation of Jesus saying, "this is my body and my blood, eat and drink it" (paraphrase mine) and "you are Peter and on this rock I build my church". Fundamentalism is defined (in webster's dictionary anyway) as a movement in 20th century protestantism emphasizing lietral interpretation of scripture and scripture being the sole guide for Christian life and teaching. how does literally taking the 2 passages I mentioned differ from being a fundamentalist approach? i always thought literally reading scripture was frowned upon by the Catholic church. i could be wrong though. thanks for tolerating my curiosity folks! :)

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  2. Wolseley

    Wolseley Beaucoup-Diên-Cai-Dāu

    United States
    There are two factors at work here. One is that the Catholic Church recognizes that Holy Scripture is made up of many, many types of literature, some of which is meant to be literal, and others not. Half of Exodus and all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are religious legal texts. Parts of Genesis are didactic myth. Samuel, Kings, Acts, and the Gospels are straight history. The Epistles are explanatory exhortations. Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach are advice listings. Daniel and Revelation are symbolic apocalyptic literature. Job, Judith, and Jonah are religious novels. The Psalms are acrostic poetry.

    In order to understand which type of literature is which, and how it's supposed to be interpreted, you have to look at the context, at the religious and cultural milieu in which the author was writing; whom he was writing to; what his purpose was in writing what he did, at the historical period in which he was writing, etc., etc., etc. You can't just simply take the whole schmeer at one shot and say, "It's all literal". If you do that, then you end up with questions like, "All those beasts you read about in Daniel and Revelation---is there a zoo where I can go see them?" The reply will be, "Oh, no, those are symbols!", to which you then reply, "But you said it was all literal!" Yadda, yadda, yadda. :)

    You also find that sometimes people take symbolic books like Daniel and Revelation, and interpret them literally, while they take literal passages like Matthew 16:18 and John 6:55-56 and interpret them symbolically. The reason behind this switcheroo usually has to do with making the passage fit your preconceived theological viewpoint, rather than on the hermeneutic or philologic expansion of the text.

    The second dynamic here is that Catholics interpret Scripture in light of Apostolic Tradition, which we belive is also Divinely Inspired, and equally the Word of God, while Protestants interpret Scripture in light of itself. Ergo, we end up with dichotomies such as 1 Peter 1:6-7, which Catholics interpret as referring to Purgatory, while Protestants interpret as suffering in the world. It stands to reason that if you have one person translating evidence from Source A and Source B together, whicle another person is translating evidence from Source A alone, you are inevitably going to end up with differing interpretations.

    Does this help? :)
  3. nyj

    nyj Goodbye, my puppy

    Well Jeff, in many instances the Bible should be taken literally.

    This quote from Dei Verbum : Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965), shows that in order to have a proper understanding of Scripture, the reader needs to take into acccount many variables. That is why we do take John 6 literally, because study of John's Gospel, and Jesus' verbiage in that particular dialogue (as opposed to His "I am the door" parable) it is obvious that Jesus was speaking literally here. Likewise, given the nature of Genesis, there is the possibility that the hebrew word for 'day' used in the creation account can mean an 'extended period of time' and so the Catholic Church understands that the possibility exists that the creation story may be symbolic in nature rather than an exact "blow by blow" account of the first week of creation.

    So, Catholics focus on both what Scripture says and what it means, in addition to who wrote it, why they wrote it, when they wrote it, who they were writing it to, how they wrote... et cetera.
  4. VOW

    VOW Moderator

    To Jeff:

    A point I try to make on the Boards about Catholics relying on the Church for Biblical interpretation is usually dismissed as a snotty remark, instead of looking for the truth to what I have said.

    The Church has had brilliant scholars researching and studying the Bible for 1700 years now. I consider myself to be "smarter than the average bear," but I can't even BEGIN to match the brain power that has been invested by the Church, nor do I have access to the wealth of reference materials that the Church has available.

    How can this possibly, POSSIBLY be matched by a single person who claims "the power of the Holy Spirit" in interpreting the Bible?

    Peace be with you,
  5. PrinceJeff

    PrinceJeff Well-Known Member

    thanks all for your help :)
  6. seebs

    seebs God Made Me A Skeptic

    Well, if the Holy Spirit really did help, I'll back the Holy Spirit against anything. ;) In practice, though, it seems the Holy Spirit helps you a lot more if you make an honest effort to find out how people have interpreted something, and what context they have interpreted it in.
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