Monday, November 04, 2002

Hermeneutics, Shermeneutics

Locdog has published a treatise on biblical interpretation, and for the most part his Eight Rules are fine. However, there is a difficulty with Rule Six: Precedent. Locdog thinks that the Bible must be interpreted according to the Bible. In other words, one passage should be interpreted in light of other passages. So far, so good. Now we get to the difficulty: the "explicit" sense of scripture trumps any sort of doctrinal precedent. In other words, even though the Church has taught for two thousand years that Mary is ever-virgin, since the text says "brothers", it must mean "brothers," even though the word could mean "cousins." Locdog says if there is ever confusion of the sort where an implied teaching appears to contradict an explicit teaching, deference is shown to the explicit.

According to Locdog's rules, he is required to accept the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist: "This is my body" (Matt 26:26)and "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not have life within you" (John 6:53) are pretty obviously explicitly teaching exactly what Catholics believe. It takes hermeneutical gymnastics to make the text mean what Protestants generally take it to mean, that the bread and wine are some sort of symbols or memorial. No. The text is clear: we are called to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. Follow your own principles, and accept what Jesus explicitly says.

There is a further difficulty in his assertion that the text trumps doctrine. Not all doctrines are created equal. Certainly if some sect claims that the bible says something it doesn't say, the bible should rule. But the Catholic Church is not a sect. It is the historical Church, and the bible is the Church's book. The collection of the books of the old and new testaments was done by the Catholic Church, which therefore precedes the bible. If the Church teaches something, and the text of the bible appears to contradict Church teaching, deference should be paid to the Church, since the bible comes to us from the action of the Holy Spirit in that Church. We all read the bible from within a community of interpretation, and this colors what we think the "explicit" meaning of the text is. If you are a Protestant, you likely think Matthew 26:26 is explicitly metaphorical, because your community of believers thinks that way. But what if another group thinks differently? How can we adjudicate different readings of the explicit meaning of the text? Here is the answer: find out which Church Christ founded, and then read the bible in the light of Christ's Church.

One must be Catholic to read the bible correctly.

No comments: