So we have confirmation of the words of the prophets; and you will be right to pay attention to it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark, until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds. At the same time, we must recognise that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual. For no prophecy ever came from human initiative. When people spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them (2 Peter 1:19-21, NJB).1Outline
-Principle #1: The Bible Is God's Book
-Principle #2: The Bible Is The Church's Book
-Principle #3: The Bible Is An Ancient Book
-Principle #4: The Bible Is One Book
Written between 3500 and 1900 years ago, by over 50 different authors from all walks of life, from the richest of kings to the poorest of peasants, recounting fantastical and miraculous stories in ancient languages according to the customs and traditions of ancient cultures, ultimately compiled about 300 years after the last portion had been written, the Bible nevertheless holds a universal appeal to scholars and laypersons alike. It is, of course, the religious text for the more than two billion Christians throughout the world (as well as the first part being the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews, and the entirety being revered as sacred by the world's Muslims as well as other pseudo-Christian religions). The Bible's enduring popularity as a work of devotional literature as well as a literary text to be studied academically is understandable in light of this. For those who hold the Bible to be a sacred religious text, this study of the Scriptures seeks to understand God's own self-revelation to humanity, so that humanity may then respond to Him in order to know, love, and serve Him as He desires.
This desire to know God, and to understand His revelation to humanity, necessitates that the Scriptures be studied with the intent of ascertaining what they truly mean. If the Bible is God's self-revelation, what, exactly, was He revealing about Himself? This task of understanding is further complicated by the reality of the languages, the cultures, and the times in which the Bible was written, and how distant those languages, cultures, and times are from contemporary North American society. One cannot, in light of this, easily pick up the Scriptures and expect to fully comprehend everything correctly or immediately. Various principles must be practised in order to effectively discern from the text of Scripture the true revelation of God. In order to derive the greatest fruit from the study of Sacred Scripture, one must a) recognise its ultimately divine authorship and seek God's own help in reading and understanding, b) read the Scriptures in union with the context of Sacred Tradition, c) seek to understand the text based on literary principles, and d) interpret each part in connection with the whole of the revelation.
Principle #1: The Bible Is God's Book
For the believing community, the Church, the Bible is recognised as divinely inspired. Scripture itself attests to this in 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, "All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people's lives and teaching them to be upright." While it is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a suitable apologetic for the inspiration of Scripture, briefly it can be summed up thus: that Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, founded His Church and gave it the gifts of His authority, indefectibility, and infallibility. As an exercise of His divine authority, that same Church compiled the documents that became the Canon of Scripture, declaring that these had been written under the direction of the Holy Spirit by the prophets and the Apostles. As such, those who read and study the Scriptures must approach them as divine writings (albeit in human language), or they will fall short of the full and correct interpretation of the text. The first principle of Biblical Interpretation, then, is to approach Scripture with a "hermeneutic of faith",2 that is, prayerfully and with full and active participation in the community of faith.
1. All Scripture quotations are taken from The New Jerusalem Bible, Henry Wansbrough, gen. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
2. Benedict XVI, Pope. Verbum Domini. (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010), accessed November 28, 2012, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20100930_verbum-domini_en.html, 1, 31.
(Category: The Scriptures: Scriptural Authority)