Originally posted by josephw
...and so is virtually every Christian I've ever spoken to. That includes folks from any and every denomination, cult or classification you can think of.
So what is it we do you ask? Simple, we say the Word of God, which is contained in a book we call the Bible, means what we think it means to us as individuals. Sure, there are a lot of overlaps, but that ...[text shortened]... re must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.
I’m just thinking out loud, as it were, but my recollection is that the first schisms in the post-apostolic church were over collective (ecclesial) interpretations, not private ones—or, indeed, the question of whether there could be such. I am thinking of the trinitarians (Greek Orthodox/Nicean) versus the non-trinitarians (e.g., the Syriac church). Each side believed that scripture was clear, and the other side just wrong-headed.
The “Great Schism” of 1054—between the Greek east and the Latin west—was mainly over two issues, one theological and one ecclesial. The theological one was the addition of the filioque
(the phrase “and the son” in the Nicene creed) by the Latin west, a change that the Greek theologians thought (and think) was unfounded and wrong. However, the Greek church did not hold that the change was heretical, just bad theology; Rome, on the other hand, declared keeping the original Nicene creed (sans the filioque
) to be heretical. This raised the ecclesial issue—that of papal supremacy. The Greek church held that the patriarch of Rome had the primacy of “first among equals”, but not any kind of dictatorial (in their view) supremacy.
Luther’s sola scriptura
innovation in the 16th century raised the issue of “scripture versus tradition”. Although I grew up Lutheran (and remained so until about the age of 40, when I became an Episcopalian), I think that is a false issue. Luther (and then Zwingli and Calvin, etc.) were, in fact, starting a new tradition, with its own scriptural hermeneutics. Nevertheless, I would say that it is out of the ground of the Protestant Reformation that the question of authority for (“proper” ) interpretation really gains traction, with all the subsequent denominational splits.
—Note: In all this, it should be recalled that Luther’s reformation was vis-à-vis the Roman Chruch; and it could be taken that his rejection of tradition was pretty strictly Roman tradition. (Though it’s been a long time since I read any of the history of this stuff.)
There are three foundations of faith in the Anglican (Episcopal) Communion: scripture, tradition and reason. I think that sets up an interesting dialectic, as opposed to dogmatic (in the “technical” sense of that word) authority with regard to scriptural interpretation.* Generally, one might say that Protestantism brought with it a certain “dialectical” movement toward “democratization” –and this shows up in ecclesiastical matters as well, in terms of, for example, the more “episcopal” (small “e” ) churches versus the more congregational churches. And this is why I think the Anglican (an “episcopal”, small “e” church) dialectic is so interesting.
Any appeal for the meaning of the biblical texts to some exegetical authority, is no less “tradition”—or at least “tradition-making”—than appeal to ecumenical councils or the Roman magisterium or the Lutheran Book of Concord or the “elders” of one’s chosen denomination. Of course, some people are wont to claim “inspiration of the Holy Spirit” for whatever understanding of the biblical texts they
believe is “clear or obvious”.
At bottom, dogmatic insistence on “what scripture ‘really’ means” can lead all-too-easily to a kind of “thought righteousness”. When the English word “believe” was used to translate the Greek word pisteo
, it did not mean “what I think is true” (and, I think, was not a bad, if a bit poetic, translation choice). And so, “what I believe”, in common discourse comes to mean “what I regard as true” or “what I hold as an opinion”. That is not the only word that has changed meaning since the KJV translation of 1611—and I would argue that failure to pay attention to some of those changes, as well as the original languages, has led to actual changes in doctrinal “beliefs”.**
As you know, when I have taken part in debates about scriptural exegesis (Hebrew or Greek, though I am perhaps more proficient—or at least have had, in the past, better resources—in the former), I almost always use a phrase such as “I think” or “it seems to me” or, at most “it seems clear that”—even based on my best effort at study and research.
It’s interesting that, in your quote from Peter, that he seems to be appealing to some tradition—likely early rabbinical tradition, since there was no other tradition established yet, as modified in an ongoing way
by some sort of apostolic consensus. And that becomes
church tradition. And the churches today are all heirs to changes in that tradition—even among those who deny they are involved in tradition, but rely strictly on scripture.
And so, at bottom, I don’t see it as a tendency toward “private interpretation” that has caused denominational ruptures (whether they are a good thing or a bad thing). I think, rather, it has been disagreements among collective ecclesial bodies as to both the nature of, and the source of, dogmatic authority—a dogmatic authority that each group thinks ought to be binding in order to arrive at some univocal, invariate “divine truth”. It seems to occur to few that “divine truth” might be radically multi-vocal, and hence multifaceted.
* And, as I have noted often on here in the past, Jewish tradition is very open hermeneutically, and that openness is supported (some would say demanded) by the nature of the biblical Hebrew itself.
** Blackbeetle has given us some good lessons in the vagaries of the Koine Greek, such that I would be as careful about dogmatizing based on that as I would based on the Hebrew. Perhaps in all such interpretive matters, we should err on the side of “grace” as opposed to “judgment”.