Friday, June 8, 2012

One Problem with Personal Scriptural Interpretation

Yesterday I heard a Protestant theologian claim that Catholics read scripture anachronistically in that they try and cram their doctrines back into the texts of scripture rather than let scripture speak plainly for itself. As an example he gave some of the Marian dogmas about her perpetual virginity and her sinlessness.

"Come on," the Protestant theologian gave a little good-natured jibe to the Catholic, "you really, honestly think Luke was aware when he recorded the angel calling Mary 'full of grace' that the angel was referring to her sinlessness?" 

This got me to thinking. Did the authors of scripture, even if they were utterly inspired to write down the infallible words of God--did they know what they were writing exactly meant? Were they given the perfect and full understanding of the inspired words? I don't think so. 

Look at the prophet Daniel. There were all kinds of strange dreams and visions that he admits he didn't fully understand. There were layers of meaning for both his own day and for a time when the Messiah would come. The same with King David. Do you think when he wrote, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" that he knew he was not only writings from the pain of his own heart but that he was also giving a prophecy of what Christ would say at the Cross? Probably not. My guess is that St. John didn't understand all the images he wrote down in the book of Revelation/Apocalypse either. God doesn't give the writer the fullest understanding of scripture. Sometimes it has to develop. 

It hit me like a huge theological anvil dropping from heaven. Only God understands the fullest meaning of His words. We don't. 

Look at the development of Israel's understanding of the Messiah. Moses wrote that a prophet greater than he would arise. Then the prophets wrote of a King taking the throne of David. Some wrote of a suffering servant. Others a military leader. Then very slowly all this combined to get the idea of a Messiah. Then later, a savior and only when He showed up, we found out that He was God with us.

The word of God is infused with many temporal and spiritual dimensions that only He fully understands and reveals bit by bit, bite by bite, century after century. 

If we were able to go back and ask Daniel if he were writing of a Messiah--I don't know what he would say. I am not sure God wants us to read the Bible with the idea that only the understanding of the human writer is what counts. Perhaps the Heavenly Author is the one who understand the fullness of meaning from the alpha to the omega. Perhaps He has some really fabulous plans for those words that the writer never envisioned. 

When God gave the keys of the Kingdom to Peter and began a church, His plan seems to have been to slowly reveal the deepest meanings  of scripture over time--the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the canon of scripture, the papacy, even Marian dogmas. If we go back to the scriptures and assume the writers understood the fullness of the huge oak tree just by giving us the tiniest of seeds, we are really missing God's power to reveal His mysteries. 

And if it is possible that the writers of scripture themselves were not given the fullness and deepest meaning of what they were writings, how can we assume that our interpretation can discover the depths and fullness of the scripture? We only know in part, but God knows the end of the story. He is revealing the full meaning of His written words through His church in His time. And our individual attempts at interpreting the meaning of scripture is like saying we know the fullness of the thoughts of God. Let's let Him give the entire and total meaning to scripture through His church, our perception is only the quickest of snapshots in history and will always be lacking. 

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