Private Interpretation – Faith and Politics

by Frank Muller

This discussion is about the danger of private interpretation. That is, when we have no guiding authority upon which to rely when it comes to interpretation of any kind we eventually disintegrate into our own truth, and not an absolute Truth.

Think about the Constitution of the United States and its’ division of power amongst the states and within the federal governments three branches. The Judicial branch is charged with determining whether the laws of the land are consistent with the meaning of the Constitution as drafted and intended by its’ authors.

This branch of government was established precisely to keep executives and legislators from selectively reinterpreting the Constitution to meet their legislative and executive priorities regardless of whether the authors of the Constitution (and all the States that ratified it) actually intended for those latest priorities to have the power of the Constitution behind them.

The Supreme Court therefore protects and defends that deposit of Constitutional faith by referring to the original intent of the authors based on the Constitution itself and non-Constitutional documents like the Federalists papers, private papers of the authors, case law that arbitrated constitutional questions, debate notes from the process of writing the Constitution and other historical documents that encompass the interpretative Tradition of the Constitution and communicates what the authors intended to create.

This brilliant system of attempting to protect the deposit of faith has helped (albeit imperfectly) be a check against private interpretation. Clearly, where things go off the rail is when the Judiciary begins to assert private interpretations unsupported by any proof of the original intent of the authors of the Constitution.

We can well imagine the chaos that occurs within a country or any culture when the governing interpretative authority is left to individuals when it comes to law and order and the common good. This private interpretation leads to such horrors as the French Revolution when the madness of the mob unfettered by any obedience to the rule of just law simply do what they want to do within their own private rationalization.

Or, just as badly when all interpretative authority lies in the hands of an autocrat and dictator.

Transitioning to matters of a spiritual nature, from the earliest days of the Church, we find that the Church through the Apostles taught that the Old Testament (OT) prefigures and shows Christ himself in the New Testament.  At its’ most basic level, if we read the Word of the OT in the Person of Jesus Christ and seek to understand that all things referenced there are referencing Himself as the Word and Will of God then Scripture becomes unified and illuminating. Therefore, it is impossible to understand the Faith and right worship if we are ignoring all the Tradition and original intent of God’s will as expressed in the totality of the evidence as maintained by the Church’s deposit of Faith.

Once this step is taken, then all of Jesus’s parables and teachings and even His emotions become remarkably clear; that He in fact is the Word of the OT just as much as the NT.  No matter the allegory, the parable, the symbolism, the type of writing style used, or the specific writers involved all somehow and incredibly speak to our Savior and His relationship with us.  His real presence is reinforced at so many astonishing levels.

As the disciples are walking from Jerusalem after His crucifixion our Lord accompanies them and begins to show these devout Jews how the entirety of the OT Scripture should be read and interpreted in the light of Christ and their hearts began to burst in joy at the Revelation.  From the beginning the Faith is revealed by this authoritative interpretive lens. His real presence became known to them through the interpretation of OT Scripture AND by the breaking of the bread (His Body).  In some way, he never actually left the room, he simply became wholly present in the Eucharist, and he accompanied them back to Jerusalem (and us all).   Christ was present in the OT, he was present there on the road, and HE is present today through the Body of His Church and His body is also present today in the Blessed Sacrament.

When we go back to the beginning and understand that from the earliest moments of the Church this sacramental understanding of our Lord (and the nature of the OT worship of the same Lord that He commanded and instituted) we begin to see that our Lord did not come to get rid of the OT, he came to fulfill it perfectly so that His Will and His right worship would be done here on Earth as it is in heaven. 

Having said all that, the lens by which we interpret Scripture not only can unify but also divide.  One cannot have a real dialogue about any point if two parties disagree on the interpretation methodology.  Thus, we have tens of thousands (or more) of personal views.  This topic therefore should be of primal importance to us all and it is in my view vital that we carefully understand the methodology behind what we are taught BEFORE we accept what is being taught.  Much is at stake before even the first page is turned.

Whether it is question of Faith or Politics or Business or Family – over and over is the tug of war between personal and often subjective interpretations and the root of rejecting authority is pride. In matters of Faith, our Creator speaks of eternal truths and leaves behind a Church to guide and preserve the original intent of the Author.

So, may the Holy Spirit be with us all as we watch, listen and read about Patristic exegesis and ponder with the Spirit what it may be saying to us.

1. Dr. Hans Boersma – Christ in Scripture – YouTube

Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church – Kindle edition by Boersma, Hans. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

MIPodcast #35: How early Christians interpreted the Bible, with Peter Martens – YouTube

Peace be with us all.

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2 thoughts on “Private Interpretation – Faith and Politics

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