The Nature of Scripture and Revelation

How should scripture be interpreted? Is it all infallible and absolutely true? Is it all literal, or is it all metaphorical? Or is it somewhere in between?

My personal feeling is that scripture is a little bit of all that, but I'm trying to iron it all out, so any input you have is very very welcome.

There's a radio station in the Bay Area (where I live) that has an adverstisement for their home Bible study course, and they say bluntly that scripture should interpret scripture.

I can hang with that. But then they go on to say that, accordingly, we don't need to consider the initial intentions, meanings, cultures, or circumstances surrounding the Bible. Something there sounds a little fishy to me. I don't see the Bible making that claim for itself--though in II Timothy, Paul says that all scripture is indeed profitable for many things. Why, if the Bible is infallible, would we need to make the ADDITIONAL claim ON BEHALF of the Bible that it is indeed infallible--would an infallible book not make that claim for itself?

So how should we, as followers of Jesus, approach scripture? Sometimes, I think I see Jesus revering the scriptures he had, the Law of Moses--like during his wilderness temptations. Other times, though, it seems like he dismisses the Mosaic Law--particularly those scriptures regarding the Sabbath, the purity scriptures, and the scripture on divorce. Lots of people I know like to say that because Jesus was God he could do whatever he wanted in regard to the Word--but if God never changes, why did He change his eternal Word?

And, if we must then conclude that the law is just a temporary expression of an eternal Word, and then apply it to the New Testament canon, we have something of a loose standard for interpreting scripture. So, uh, that's where I'm at--how SHOULD we approach interpreting the Bible?

michael_legna's picture

Scripture is inerrant and should be used to interpret itself.

Scripture is inerrant and should be used to interpret itself. We should use our interpretations of scripture to check our interpretations of other verses of scripture. But that leads the individual reader of scripture to two immediate problems. The first is what comes first, the interpretation of one scripture or the other? But a second even bigger problem exists. Even if we decide which needs to be interpreted first (among the ones we are considering) what about those we might not be thinking of at the moment. If we must be certain that no scripture exists which may contradict an interpretation we apply we need to consider all scripture before we settle permanently on an interpretation of any verse. Well since we don't want to based doctrine on interpretations that may change (and thus be tossed about on the winds of changing doctrine), we need to know the correct interpretation of all verses of scripture before we can reliably interpret any verse of scripture. This is just beyond the individual reader.

Fortunately there is another approach. We have to remember there was someone on earth who once understood all of the Scriptures perfectly. Fortunately He trained others in the correct doctrines of the Church. The Apostles were taught correct doctrine. So even though they never knew the correct interpretation of every verse, they had this foundation of knowledge they knew was correct. That is why the Church was made the ground and pillar of truth. They passed this foundation on to their disciples - Ireneaus, Ignatius, Clement etc. They wrote these understandings down and this knowledge was passed on to us as the writings of the Early Chruch Fathers. Catholics refer to this as the Sacred Tradition, the joint consensus of understanding of doctrine by the ECF. It is a powerful tool to help us understand the Scriptures. And since one individual cannot interpret the scriptures reliably on their own to the point of establishing doctrine from scratch, it is our only real approach.