29 July 2007

Interpreting the scriptures vs. likening them to ourselves

Over here, I asserted a difference between interpreting the scriptures and likening them to ourselves. I wanted to explore it a little more deeply in this post.

When we liken the scriptures, we are searching for a practical application of scriptural principles to our daily lives. (how many times have we heard this is SS?) Therefore, likening the scriptures ought to be a matter of purely personal interpretation. The Spirit guides an individual in their reading of the scriptures. Because we are looking for a present and modern application, there is no need to introduce details of language/culture/context et cetera into the study of the scriptures. All such readings are on equal footing. Because of this, one should not attempt to elevate his/her understanding to "doctrine"/"testimony"/"the one true and living meaning of X scripture". Any sharing of that understanding should be done with humility and a spirit of charity rather than of authority.

Interpreting the scriptures is another matter entirely. When we interpret, we want to know what the scripture says, if indeed a scripture can say or mean anything. Though some may discount its usefulness, I personally believe that their is a scriptural injunction to perform such analysis when Christ says to "Search the scriptures; for in them ye believe ye have eternal life" (paraphrased). Jesus was not asking them to find a practical application of the scriptures; rather he wanted them to know more about the doctrinal foundation of his role as the Messiah and Son of God. The authority to interpret the scriptures is much more narrow. The question of this authority is a vexed one, as I will explore in a future post about BYU. What is clear is that the prophets and apostles have it. What is not clear is who else might have it. Also, knowing what scriptures mean for those who are not prophets and apostles ought to be a matter of consulting context, culture, language, archaelogy, etc. If we want to teach an interpretation to others, it needs to have a solid rational footing in evidence, or either be the inspired pronouncement of one of the members of the highest quorums of the Church. I know that this sounds undemocratic and elitist (because few have the resources or education to pursue this kind of study) but I think that what most people call interpreting the scriptures is really likening them to ourselves, which is open to all. Most members are satisfied with this (whether or not they should be is another question).

Any opinions out there?

1 comment:

  1. How can one truly "liken" without any background to a scripture? The problem of "likening scripture" without taking into account background or context is easily seen in the beliefs of some "born-again Christians." They read some of the words of Paul, that through faith they are saved, etc. By this they reason that baptism isn't a neccessary ordinance. What they fail to take into their interpretation is the fact Paul was addressing the saints, the baptised members of the Church. By not looking at the audience Paul is addressing, "many do eer," a great many do "stumble."

    I can't fully "liken" a scripture without dissecting it. It's easy to take a verse aty face-value and apply it to our lives; but if we "search" as you pointed out Jesus instructing us to do, we will find treasures, even the "hidden treasures of knowledge."

    There's so much more out there for us to know, and once in a while I feel a little alone in wanting to find the greater things.