Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Yet another reason Catholics are careful interpreting the Bible... we must think like the author and the audience.

In previous posts we looked at all four gospel accounts and saw how different audiences made for differences in the text. This is particularly important when reading New Testament letters. Imagine in my RCIA class one person struggles with Catholic teaching on Eucharist, another on Reconciliation, and a third with the sex abuse scandal. If I wanted to address their concerns privately, would I discuss all three issues with all three people? Would I also discuss the Trinity just to be thorough? No, with each individual I would focus on the topic they needed help with.

St. Paul and the other letter-writers did the same. The danger of forgetting this comes to light clearly when reading Romans 3:28 which says “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” This passage is used by many non-Catholic Christians to support the notion that we’re saved by faith alone and not by works.

The difficulty of this reading (faith alone) is the same author, St. Paul, writes to the Philippians “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to the Galatians he writes “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6) and to the Corinthians he writes “if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2).

It would seem the Romans needed to hear that they’re not saved by “works of the law”, which is a phrase St. Paul often uses to refer to Judaic tradition. They’re not saved by circumcision, kosher foods, and so on; they’re saved by faith in Jesus and Catholics heartily agree! We also agree we cannot take our salvation for granted as the Philippians did. We also agree that we cannot make faith so important that we forget to love as the Corinthians did. Catholics don’t say we’re saved by faith alone but by faith working through love, which is the fullest expression by Paul to the Galatians.

We haven’t even mentioned James 2:24 which specifically says we’re saved by works; not faith alone.

Reading one letter to one of my RCIA candidates wouldn’t give you my full belief system and doing the same to a biblical author is just as fruitless. This is yet another reason Catholics are careful when interpreting the Bible.

(Image Credit:  ElementOfPersuasion)

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