Sunday, July 20, 2008

Private Interpretation - From the Scriptures

Somehow I forgot about a verse that overwhelmingly began my journey to the Catholic Church, made me question what I believed, and eventually, I believe, led me to Christ in His Fullness. I totally forgot about this verse during my immediate conversion to Catholicism. As a matter of fact, I havn't even read it since my studies almost 2 years ago (a year before I made the journey to Rome). It was tonight's Liturgy of the Hours reading. The verse:
I Peter 1:
Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation,
for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.
Now, we know that this verse is talking about prophecy, but notice what Peter says. This type of personal interpretation is the wrong way to go about our lives. When we go in this direction it leads to, in the words of St. Paul "wrangling over words". The New American Bible has a very good footnote on this text: "[20-21] Often cited, along with 2 Tim 3:16, on the "inspiration" of scripture or against private interpretation, these verses in context are directed against the false teachers of 2 Peter 2 and clever tales (2 Peter 1:16). The prophetic word in scripture comes admittedly through human beings (2 Peter 1:21), but moved by the holy Spirit, not from their own interpretation, and is a matter of what the author and Spirit intended, not the personal interpretation of false teachers. Instead of under the influence of God, some manuscripts read "holy ones of God."

Notice the point here. False teachers use "personal interpretation" as a way to get their points across. Hence the fallacy of Sola Scriptura.


mel said...

Not exactly.
This is an example of Scripture interpreting Scripture. Where one verse confirms that all Scripture is God-breathed and another says that all comes through the Holy Spirit, they agree. Man didn't write any of Holy Scripture according to his own feelings or experiences or "interpretation" of the moment. God wrote it. Thanks for your blog; nothing is on par with what's written from God. They (oral teachings, councils, deuterocanical books) may all be used of God but not inspired by the breath of His Spirit, that same breath that said let there be light. The doctrine stands.

~Joseph the Worker said...

Just a couple questions for you:

1) How do you think the Holy Spirit guides interpretation of the scriptures?

2) What makes you think Sacred Tradition is not "inspired by the breath of His Spirit"?

3) I'm not sure what your belief is, but do you believe that every single word that the writers used in the Bible was like a "direct quote" of sorts?

Thanks for writing, I was just looking for a little clarification on your comments.

Anonymous said...

As you seem to acknowledge, this is talking about the inspired prophets. And I agree that Scripture doesn't change according to one's private interpretation, not that this verse really says anything to that. However, people must use their own minds to interpret Scripture. The problem with Catholic teaching (as well as that of any other denomination) is that Scripture changes according to one's tradition, instead of the other way around. It seems to me that tradition is what causes division, not the use of one's own ability to interpret what he sees.

This goes along with something I was recently thinking about. Let's say one day a light bulb goes off in my head while reading your blog, and I am convinced through plain and simple history that the Roman Catholic Church was the one established by Jesus. So I go off and convert to Catholicism, (while my mother shoots herself, of course). Then, some time later, I'm reading the Catechism or listening to my priest or watching the pope speak, and suddenly I find there's something I don't agree with.

Of course, this happens with anybody in any faith. An authority says something, and you do more studying because you don't really think it's true. You may find out you were wrong all along and they were right. Who knows?

The point is, if I were a Catholic, I have to believe this teaching I don't think I agree with, and I have to believe in it immediately. No time for further studying. No time even to try to prove it to myself if I wanted to. If the pope declares a formal doctrine, I have to believe it, even if I'm one of those anti-Vatican 2 Catholics. How can this be possible? I am going to believe what I believe no matter what, even if I don't want to believe it.

You see, in my church, there is no formal, binding tradition. I don't have to be all that concerned about my interpretation of Scripture being halted by my tradition. Instead, if my Sunday school teacher declares something I don't agree with to be true, I am not expected to believe it right away. I can study the issue first, make an informed decision, and then probably change my mind about the issue and go with what I've been taught, which was the truth all along as it happens.

In this respect, my tradition is truly guiding me. The Catholic Tradition (with all honest respect) doesn't guide; it asserts. I don't mean that in a harsh or negative way. I'm just being honest.

...Now, after writing that, I feel I know what you're going to say. You're going to say Tradition is infallible just like the Bible. Therefore, my example shoots itself because you could use the same example with the Bible, as in, I may see something in the Bible I don't agree with right away, but I know the Bible is infallible.

Crap. It's pretty much meaningless for me to post this now. Just like any other topic we've discussed, it all comes down to whether tradition is infallible or not. Our conversations are always the same. See, I can predict them!

Anyway, I'm writing too spontaneously in this box now, and probably freaking you out.

~Joseph the Worker said...

Just a couple things Matt (since you pretty much know how our discussion is going to go anyway! :)) First, how would you define an "inspired prophet"? Just Old Testament prophets? In the context of what Peter is saying, it refers to how people interpreted the nature of Christ, it seems to me, a very doctrinal issue. Also, don't forget that the Church was founded on the Apostles and the Prophets (not OT I don't think, but prophets in the early Church). These prophets overlapped with the Apostles, as Peter says here, he "possesses the prophetic message". I think maybe it goes beyond simply what we normally think of as "prophecy" and extends to doctrine as well (A point I think we would agree on, that you can't personally interpret doctrine and your personal interpretation is pretty much meaningless if it is wrong.) You also used verses from Deuteronomy (specifically about the Old Law) and Revelation (specifically about the "prophecies contained in that book") to show (perhaps accurately) that you cannot add or take away from any of the scripture, not just what it was talking about in the context there.

Secondly, and maybe I am out of my league a little to bring this up, but everyone is going to have doubts and questions about scripture and tradition, even if they are infallible in their lifetimes. As a Catholic, I'm not so sure that it is accurate to say "you have to believe in it immediately". There is growth in spiritual knowledge and understanding. I would almost argue that "immediately" you would only have to confess the Nicene Creed. The sin enters in when you deliberately doubt a doctrine of the Church without trying to understand it in light of scripture and tradition. Does that make sense? I think a whole lot of people have doubts about the Eucharist from time to time which they must work through. Now, they aren't to partake of it with those doubts, but if they are honestly seeking and studying and not hardening their hearts against the truth, then there is a difference. Make sense?

St. Gregory said...

Very interesting dialogue! Thanks again guys for sharing your thoughts and for challenging each other!

I hope you two don’t mind, but I’d like build on what Joseph stated and to share a few thoughts I had as I was reading this discussion.

First Joseph, when you mentioned the verse from Peter, it reminded me of a presentation by Marcus Grodi I heard not too long ago. Here were some verses that shook his Protestant foundation and lead to his deeper exploration of the Catholic faith:

And some commentary on each verse:

Second, there obviously is the very strong belief among Protestants that the bible alone provides all the truth that one needs. While I agree that it does provide objective truth to help guide folks and lead to growth, scripture itself states that it is not the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.” Instead, scripture says that the church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15) In addition, scripture never says to follow it alone, but instead says to follow it (the written word) IN ADDITION to what was taught orally (BOTH are regarded by scripture to be inspired). (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Third, Matt, I do agree with you in a sense that many Catholics have grown complacent with their faith and have chosen not to study and continue to grow (although I bet I could prove that many Protestants do this too). However, I disagree that it is because they have a Church that teaches with authority. Moses, the prophets, Christ Himself, and all of the apostles taught with authority, but not all people listened and chose to continue to learn. This does not diminish the importance of objective truth that was taught, either by written letter or by verbal proclamation. Objective truth is objective truth, period. We can choose to accept it or not. Jews and Christians throughout the centuries have been and are bound to obey certain objective truths. Even though many may disagree with them, this does not mean they have the choice to disobey (i.e. I may disagree with the Ten Commandments, but I’m still bound to obey them). Same with the teachings of the Catholic Church on faith and morals. I may personally disagree, but I’m still bound to obey. Many Protestants and Catholics alike may disagree with the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexual marriage, etc., but that doesn’t make the teachings wrong just because people disagree. My wife and I personally like having a Church that can help us to KNOW what is right and wrong, so that we don’t always have to figure it out ourselves.

I do agree with you Matt, that Protestants and Catholics BOTH need to study scripture to continue our personal growth and relationship with Christ. The Catholic Church encourages this and teaches this with authority. There are still many, many mysteries of God that the Church cannot rationally explain, but are matters of faith. I think the theology and teachings of the Church are beautiful (even though sometimes hard to understand – sort of like scriptures!), and really SHOULD inspire Catholics to further explore the mysteries of God and the riches of His Grace!

Of course the Catechism teaches quite “forcefully” that we should read scripture faithfully:

2653 The Church "forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For 'we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles."'4
2654 The spiritual writers, paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, summarize in this way the dispositions of the heart nourished by the word of God in prayer "Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation."5

And finally Matt, I think you misunderstand Catholic teaching. Scripture NEVER changes according to one’s tradition, nor does the Church teach this. It is one’s “interpretation” of scripture that changes, and is what creates many, many new traditions. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (capital letters) always complement each other, can NEVER contradict each other, and along with the teaching authority of the Magisterium, will always be preserved and will never change (never has in 2000 years). One’s interpretation can change with the ebb and flow of tides, and with the ever changing winds of time. Same scriptures – thousands upon thousands of denominations.

Thanks again guys!

Oh, by the way Mel, if God did not "inspire by the breath of his Spirit" the Councils, especially those that defined the Trinity and the canon of scripture, how can you be sure that the teachings of the Trinity are correct (never explicitly found in scripture), and how can you believe that your bible does indeed contain the correct inspired writings (lots of writings claimed to be inspired in the early church)?

~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks for the thoughts Greg. Very insightful, and all the Journey Home guests (including the host you have there) will have similar findings in their own journeys. They are a good thing to listen to when people wonder about personal interpretation and sola scriptura. Specifically for Matt, listening to Bruce Sullivan on the Journey Home or reading his book "Christ in his Fullness" would probably be a good way to proceed, since he was a Church of Christ minister who went to one of their schools of preaching.

St. Gregory said...

Thanks Joseph! I agree, the Journey Home is an excellent program for those exploring the Catholic faith, and quite good for Catholics as well to help them better understand their faith.

By the way, it appears that one of the links I provided did not show up in full (the "commentary on the verses" link). Here it is again:

St. Gregory said...

Hmm, strange. I'll try one last time:

~Joseph the Worker said...

It worked for me. I just copied and pasted.

mel said...

Good dialogue. Sola Scriptura isn't just me and my Bible on a deserted island and all is well. But it is what has been left to us to know about God and His work in the world, the plan of salvation, and how the prophecies of old are all fulfilled in the Messiah. I love using creeds and confessions and catechisms because they help organize theology into the way a finite mind can understand what's being taught in Sacred Scripture. What I do not believe nor do I trust in is the Sacred Tradition and Magesterium as carried out by humans. I do not believe them to be inspired by God in the same level of authority as Sacred Scripture is. I have to trust that what God wants us to have in the Bible is what is there. He wrote it. He can interpret it.

I'd be pleased to read Scripture or recite the Nicene Creed or pray the Lord's Prayer with any of you - without any differences or preferences getting in the way.. That's the kind of unity He prayed for in John 17. I do not believe He was talking about everyone being in the same building under the same style or doctrines on Sunday morning. He basically asked the question, "Who do you say that I am?" If we all answer, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," then that should be enough. God's Church was built on that answer.

Thanks for the conversations!!

St. Gregory said...


Thank you as well! I've seen where these disagreements can get quite nasty. This has not, and I hope it stays on this cordial level. We are afterall brothers and sisters in the same Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ!

I do have a couple of questions for you.

If you do not beileve that the Holy Spirit can inspire Sacred Tradition and Magesterial teachings, then how do you know for sure that all the books within your bible are inspired and authoritative? You say that it is the only thing written by God. From my understanding, other than the Ten Commandments which of course were indeed written by the Hand of God Himself, all of the books of the bible were written by men. If God can inspire men to write books, can He not also inspire them in other ways as well?

And you say that the bible "is what has been left to us to know about God and His work in the world, the plan of salvation, and how the prophecies of old are all fulfilled in the Messiah." I do agree with this, but it was left to us by whom?

God bless, and thanks again!

~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks for everything Mel. I'll leave you to answer Gregory's comments. I've added your blog to my list.

mel said...

Wow. Thanks!

For the record, I'm a mom of five, wife to a soldier, leader and Bible teacher in a Protestant ministry. I have studied theologies since I was a child, and I am beyond thankful for God's grace in my life -- and for forums with intelligent people.

If God says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Body of Christ, then it won't. We all know the Spirit has unified us when it comes to our salvation; now it's just time for His people to act like it and look like it. Well, it's a start....thanks again!

~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks Mel. I think the name threw me off, but it's wonderful to hear about you. I added you because I think it is important to show all sides of issues. When I meet a Protestant who can discuss without things becoming angry or a mud-flinging contest, they deserve to be heard!

Greg said...

Wow, it is interesting that the verse from Matthew was just mentioned, regarding the gates of the netherworld not prevailing against the Church. I was just thinking about this verse last night while in prayer! Not just that verse, but the surrounding verses as well, which we as Catholics understand as Christ giving authority to the Church. I’d like to share something I recently learned about these verses.

First, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt: 16 18-19)

Keys to the kingdom of heaven? What can this mean? Surely Jesus is not giving any sort of spiritual authority to Peter, is He? To “bind and loose”? What kind of authority is this? I can understand how “Sola Scriptura” theologians would have great difficulty with this passage.

I learned of another passage from scripture – the Old Testament actually – where “keys” are given. Check this out…

“On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” (Isaiah 22: 20-22)

Food for thought.