...is 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)