Private Interpretation of Scripture

30 April 2009 Thursday of the 3rd Week of Easter
Acts 8, 26-40; Psalm 66; John 6, 44-51

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles is interesting. It is the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who was converted to Christianity. The eunuch was on his way home. He came from Jerusalem to worship. He belongs to the “God-fearers” --- those who were attracted to the Jewish religion because of their high morality and their belief in one God. The God-fearers will not become full Jews because they were unwilling or cannot completely convert. As belonging to the officials of the Queen of the Ethiopians, in-charge of her treasury, he probably could not be a full Jew. Besides, those who were castrated were considered an outcast; they were blocked from entering the “assembly of God” (Deuteronomy 23, 1-2). Later on, Peter would have a vision: “What God has purified you are not to call unclean” (Acts 10, 15), that is, unfit to associate with. Christianity does not reject anyone.

Two short points. First, private interpretation is NOT ALWAYS sufficient. The eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. Luke insisted that Scripture needs to be explained. The groups from Jerusalem and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, needed Jesus to explain the Scripture to them. The Jews in Jerusalem, according to Acts, failed to understand the prophets they read every Sabbath. Thus, Philip have to explain that Isaiah 53, 7-8 was about Jesus, and not about Isaiah. In Acts 2, Psalms 16 and 110 will also be explained as not referring to David but to Jesus.

Second, Luke who wrote Acts, wanted to emphasize that the spread of Christianity is God’s will and initiative. In Acts, we see that God’s will is often directed by an angel (Acts 12, 7), a vision or dream (Acts 16, 9-10) or the Holy Spirit (Acts 8, 39). Thus it is God who guides the spread of Christianity.

Putting these two points together, we see that we too can interpret Scripture and reflect on it. We read passages from the bible, whether to prepare ourselves for mass or to derive inspiration for our prayer. And then we reflect on our lives and apply what we read in Scripture. We are able to do so because the Holy Spirit is with us. However, our private interpretation is not enough. We know that to interpret Scripture correctly, we are to know the context in which it was written. For example, we cannot interpret Revelations literally because we have to understand the hidden meaning of the images, the way the early Christians did during the Roman persecutions. The Church provides us with the correct way of interpreting them. If you are really interested, you can check a book called, “The Jerome Biblical Commentary” which many of us, priests, use to understand passages in the bible. The commentaries in each passage come from scholars and experts in the Church. The Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, checks whether what we read and teach are correct.

No comments: