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Interpreting Scriptures with Scriptures

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The rule “interpreting Scriptures with Scriptures” was something I heard for the first time from Fr. Jesus Merino, OP, the brilliant Bible professor we had at the University of Sto. Tomas, Manila.  He was of course referring to a procedure that St. Augustine records in the De Doctrina Christiana as a way to unravel a difficult exegetical thread (esp. involving passages that look “scandalous” to a reader).  This rule, however, was used by Protestants as their corrective against Tradition which for them was a deterrent to a personal understanding of the Bible.  It was for this reason, I think, that post-Tridentine Catholicism relegated the rule to oblivion.  It is only with John Paul II that a semblance of it once more reappears in the Magisterial pronouncements of the Church.

The Catholic suspicion towards ministers who claim to be interpreting Scriptures using Scriptures is well-founded when considering the examples of the Iglesya Ni Kristo and the Ang Dating Daan groups.  They make it look like they are using clear passages of Scriptures to explain obscure ones when in fact they are using several well placed passages of their own choosing to lead others to their way of thinking.  They are like lawyers, in effect, who make use of legal statements and pronouncements to build a case that they have plotted beforehand.  It makes me sick for example that Eliseo Soriano grapples with a clear text like Peter’s Confession in Matthew’s story to prove that the one saying:  “You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” is God and not Christ.  He was of course in polemics against the Iglesya Ni Kristo’s claim that the Church is the Church of Christ, and not “of God.”  And Soriano is at  pains to show that he is right because the Church he belongs to is called “The Church of God.”

I, too, use the rule “Interpret Scriptures using Scriptures” but sparingly.  During this evening’s Mass, we had for our first reading a selection from the first letter of John.

In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith

The passage puts together “Love” and “Faith” as characteristics of the children of God.  But “Love” and “Faith” both have concrete demands that John does not point out in his letter which deals with communion or the lack of communion that those who have left the community are showing.  Transposed to a situation that is dissimilar to that of John’s community how do we understand the passage?  So during the homily, I picked up the Bible (something I rarely do) and read from  James 2 in which the Brother of the Lord explains how Faith should be, that is, operative in Love.

To “interpret the Scriptures using Scriptures” when it is self-serving belittles the Scriptures.  Augustine wrote in the De Doctrina that one can verify the correctness of one’s understanding of Scriptures by the kind of love one develops as a result of it.  I just hope that my using the rule in this evening’s mass may result to greater fruitfulness in lives of my congregation.

Originally posted 2005-01-06 21:04:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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