Classwork: My Interpretation of Scripture

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I don’t like writing something I cannot post, so you’ll just have to allow me the freedom to post what I write for my Seminary classes. This is from New Testament 1. The question was –

Describe a core value of your tradition and then write about how this impacts the way you interpret Scripture?

The requirements were essentially nothing –

Growing up King James Version Only (the myth of this was centered on the 1611 version, but we soon discovered that we were all lost as we had been using the Oxford 1769 version), I become attentive to the value of Scripture and the role in which it must play in the life of a Christian. While, certainly, several things have changed, namely that I am a member of the United Methodist Church, and I regularly use the New Living Translation as my primary translation, Scripture itself plays no less of a role in my journey than before. While the UMC purports to consider Scripture first, using the (foreign to )Wesley Quadrilateral, Scripture in my life is first, which of course still enables me to consider myself a theological conservative. If Scripture speaks to the issue, then we must decipher how and to what extent the issue is answered.

There is the very real chance that Scripture alone becomes the driving force for my interpretative stance; however, I believe that the first tool in discovering Scripture is not Scripture, but the context of Scripture. While certain theological developments are allowed, as it must be or we simply do not have a canon, we still must endeavor to get to the root of Scripture. Yes, we have the canon, and that provides its own interpretative stances, especially when we are dealing with the various canonical lists; however, before there was a canon, there existed the individual works, and sometimes, before those books, individual pericopes. Further, my goal is not to understand Scripture first by my culture and previous use, but by the original audience. While the original writer may be known, rarely do we know about him or her; therefore, my focus is on the original audience, which is forever etched in stone, and brought to life by historical reconstructions made available to us by archeologists, anthropologists, and biblical scholars. Furthermore, even with all of this, my interpretation of Scripture begins and ends with simply, ‘This is my understanding, but it may change.’

What is generally associated with Fundamentalism, and not found among the Mainlines, is a straight, woodenly literal, reading of the text and purposely without original context. While, notably, the Creation story found in Genesis 1 is the one which we usually tend to use to trumpet this type of reading, we find such literal readings also in the book of Revelation and, of course, Leviticus. Not only that, but we tend to validate our readings by limiting interpretative tools to Scripture itself. What must occur in many instances is the reinforcement that scholarship of any level is somehow ‘of the devil’ forcing us to eschew anything that is counter to our ‘always has been’ reading. This type of reading regularly ignores all of Church History, higher and lower criticism, and logic moving us from the Reformation era notion of the priesthood of all believers to the solo scriptura notion of the papacy of all believers. This, in my opinion, does great damage to Scripture. If we are to take Scripture serious, we must be willing to accept these things and other tools such as science, but most importantly that the fact that our interpretation may in fact be wrong.

While I prefer the Antiochian method to the Alexandrian method of interpretation, I believe that for modern application, limited allegorization may be in order. In reading the text, my first goal is to understand what it meant to the first audience. What is their context and their social situation? Next, I try to see how others used it. For Old Testament Scripture, my examination begins with the New Testament and always through the lens of Christ. I also see how the earliest Church Fathers used it. Finally, I seek to understand how it is applicable today, without straying too far into situational ethics.

One the largest revelation which I encountered was the notion that prophecy wasn’t what I thought it was.

For a recent discussion on the seriousness of the text, see here.

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