One contributor, writing to me, has mentioned the overuse of Scripture on the Blog as causing confusion. I do not disagree. As we would all expect, it is common in the discussions which appear in this Blog that Scripture should be employed to make a point or to reinforce a line of argument. So it may be profitable to consider how best Scripture might be used, and the traps into which we may fall.
The first point to bear in mind is that Scripture is not an absolute authority in its own right. Scripture is ‘owned’ by the Church. The belief that Scripture is a convenient way of demonstrating that the Church (or anyone else) is wrong on some issue is Protestant in origin, not Catholic. It is the Church which confirms the validity of the Old Testament (including the books which are properly a part), and the New Testament was actually written from within the Church, and similarly validated. Of course the interpretations of aspects of Scripture can well be loyally disputed but, in the end, it is the Church’s book, under the Church’s authority.
The second point concerns the inspiration of Scripture. Unlike, say, the Koran, Scripture is not claimed to be dictated by God. It was written by human beings in their language and in terms of the concepts and knowledge of the time. We may presume that the writers did not even know that they were inspired. An important aspect of interpretation is to distinguish the real significance of Scripture from the apparent significance lent by the context in which it was written. Many of the conflicts which have surrounded aspects of Scripture have arisen from forgetting this.
While we may immediately think of issues such as the six days of creation or the treatment of Galileo, we can find this problem also in the New Testament. The gospel accounts are sometimes inconsistent and necessarily selective, and we must, for instance, understand St Paul in the light of his own character and personal history. Even Jesus’ metaphors of hell (outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth etc) are framed in the concepts of the time.
So how do we use Scripture in debate? The answer is, sparingly. The use of a phrase or a verse as a cudgel to prove a point is not helpful. Of course there are key phrases, or incidents, to which we need to refer – but only if they are sufficiently well known in their context for the reader to be able to appreciate their relevance to the matter in hand. Debating through fusillades of quotes does not advance truth.
So let us as far as possible rely on our own reason and our personal understanding in our debates. There will or course be a few occasions where looking at Scripture, in its appropriate context, deepens our understanding. But we give it all the more significance by reserving it for occasions when it is strictly needed.
Having said that, we must remember that we are People of the Book. Historically of course the laity were not free to use Scripture for their own understanding; the Church reserved its presentation to its officials. Perhaps as a result many members of the of the Reformation denominations(and their offshoots) are more familiar with the texts than we are. Shame on us!
I am far from being an expert but I see Scripture as quasi-sacramental. That is, the reading and contemplation of Scripture gives us, through the Spirit, a direct way of relating to God. It is not a benefit to be overlooked lightly. So we would value hearing how all of you use Scripture in your lives (or find it hard to use). We can learn from each other.