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Navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of Biblical Interpretation
Posted By Eric Sammons On May 27, 2011 @ 10:33 am In Scripture | Comments Disabled
Today we live in a biblically illiterate culture. Vast numbers of people think that all Jesus taught about was “tolerance” and they couldn’t tell you if Moses or David lived first. Yet at the same time our culture still highly respects the Bible. We recognize it as a holy book, and believe that it contains the answers to many of life’s most difficult questions. In many ways this is a schizophrenic attitude: if we respect the book, why don’t we read and study it more? Or, alternatively, if we can’t bother to take the time to read and study the Bible, why treat it with respect?
The most serious danger of these contradictory attitudes is the power of Biblical “experts.” Anyone who has a semblance of knowledge of the Bible is exalted as an expert and people flock to them to find out what the Bible “really says.” In today’s world, there are two extremes of these “experts”: skeptical scholars and Biblical fundamentalists.
Skeptical scholars are those who hold everything in the Bible in suspicion. Everything from who wrote the various books of the Bible to when they were written to what they contain is attacked and the assumption is that the traditional answers to these questions are most likely wrong. Skeptical scholars flaunt their knowledge of the Bible to lure unsuspecting students and readers of their books to question everything the Bible says, until finally their followers dismiss even the most basic details of the Biblical accounts.
An example of this type of scholar is Bart Ehrman, who I profiled recently  on this blog. Ehrman claims that the Bible is full of errors, lies, and forgeries. Nothing in its pages can be trusted. And as a skeptical scholar, Ehrman gets plenty of air time from a fawning press. The media knows that many people are Biblically illiterate yet respect the Bible, so skeptical scholars like Ehrman are great at generating ratings.
The other extreme of Biblical “experts” are the Biblical fundamentalists. These are the Protestant Christians who can quote chapter and verse at the drop of a hat, yet have interpretations which often seriously contradict Catholic teaching. Biblical fundamentalists can amass a large following of people who are Biblically illiterate yet respect the Bible. These followers know the Bible is important, and fundamentalists give them answers that appear clear and simple.
We’ve seen an example of this type of Bible “expert” in the news recently with the failed predictions of Harold Camping, who famously thought the Rapture would happen on May 21st, 2011. Camping attracted many who realized how important the Bible is, yet didn’t know how to properly interpret it.
It is in this environment today that the Church must navigate between the Scylla of skeptical scholarship and the Charybdis of Biblical fundamentalism. On the one hand, the Church recognizes the importance of true scholarship. Pope Benedict has been leading the way for years in criticizing the skeptical presuppositions of many Biblical scholars – accepting many of the historical critical methods employed but rejecting the anthropomorphic and anti-supernatural assumptions that many scholars bring to their studies. On the other hand, the Church also recognizes and accepts the deep reverence Biblical fundamentalists have for the written Word of God, and the importance of it for leading people closer to our Lord. Yet the Church rejects the literalistic methods most fundamentalists employ.
The biggest fallacy both sets of “experts” fall into is separating the Scriptures from the context of the Church. The Bible is a book of the Church, written by the Church for the Church. When we remove it from that context, we are prone to flights of fancy, whether it be rejecting all stories of the supernatural as “myths” or forcing the text to fit our preconceived theological theories. Either way, we become our own magisterium, authoritatively determining what the Scriptures say, instead of letting Christ’s Church – which has the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit – interpret it within the living tradition of the Church.
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 profiled recently: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2011/05/19/new-testament-full-of-forgeries-some-things-are-so-silly-you-need-a-phd-to-believe-them/
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