Sunday, December 7, 2008

An Aside on Biblical Interpretation and the Nature of Revelation

Before going too much further it might be worthwhile to say a few words about biblical interpretation and the nature of revelation. Let me divide that into a few steps:

Step 1: Definition of Revelation — I am defining revelation (here understood as Divine Revelation) as a communication between God and man. Now God is the primary agent in such a communication. God has all the properties of God which make everything he says certainly true and so forth. But communication has two side and the other side is human. Human beings are fallible. There are plenty of occasions in the bible where God is not understood by the human side of the equation. So step one is a communication from a perfect God to an imperfect human or humans.

Step 2: The Communication of the Revelation to Succeeding Generations — requires that it be written down or remembered as an oral tradition. This requires a chain of accuracy to be maintained if the communication is not to be distorted. In Christian circles it is assumed that the revelation is preserved in accuracy by the action of the Holy Spirit. Exactly how this happens is a matter of theoretical concern and one has to overcome the existence of an awful lot of variants in the texts to take it too literally. This is particularly true of whole passages which appear in some manuscripts and do not appear at all in others.

Step 3: The Interpretation of the Revelation by Each Generation — is where the rubber meets the road. We can't even interpret William Shakespeare with perfection, English has changed so much. Why do we think we can interpret scripture which comes to us from ancient Hebrew or koine Greek or Aramatic over a span of many millenia?

I only raise these issues because they are real ones. One can't always wave one's hands and say "It's a miracle!" The divisions of the churches over iota's is a history of tragedy and suffering. A bit less hubris seems called for. Since this blog is not just for Christians, nor even just for believers, I am taking a rather low road. My definition of scripture will be books held by the Judeo-Christian tradition as inspired. This only selects the books. Then I will treat them as one might treat any other books giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are what they claim to be, insofar as they make any claims at all. It is appropriate to point out that scripture typically doesn't identify itself as scripture. Moreover, many books not in the canon are quoted within the canon as if they are authoritative, ex. the book of Enoch.

Here is a link to a site that presents a Catholic view of revelation. Click Here I don't know anything about it as I just stumbled upon so my link is not a recommendation. I add more links as I stumble upon them.

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