"Private Interpretation" Question


#1

Hello. I’m a first-time poster, so I hope this post is proper and conforms with the ettiquette of this forum, etc. I am a relatively recent convert to Christianity, am not currently a Roman Catholic, but am very interested in sincerely learning more about the bases for Catholicism, wheter or not I am ever able to accept its doctrines.

My question is this, and I hope you’ll take it in the constructive and sincere attitude with which I ask it. If I understand right, the general Catholic view frowns on the “private” interpretation of the biblical texts. But how does one arrive at the truth of Catholicism as a threshold matter without engaging in such private interpretation? Many of the arguments for Catholicism that I have seen have relied, in part, on arguments based on biblical passasges. These are often interesting arguments, but they cannot (it seems to me) be accepted or rejected without “privately” evaluating them. In other words, in order to justify Catholicism for one who is not already a Catholic, that justification must rest, at some level, on private interpretations of scripture. But if that’s right, then it seems to me that the truth of Catholicism (if it is true) must rest, for each and every one of us, on the correctness of our private interpretations of scripture that led us to become Catholics (if we have become Catholics). We can only get to the point of accepting the validity of the Catholic Church by thinking and reasoning as individuals based on the historical evidence, including the Bible, yet this seems to be in tension with the idea that we cannot or should not engage in “private” interpretation.

Can Catholics see where I’m coming from on this? I’d appreciate any thoughts that Catholics in particular might have, and if I’m posting in the right place, etc., I hope you won’t mind if I have additional questions here in the future.

Best regards,

CThomas


#2

Hello and welcome,

Yes, you are quite right that each person must make a private judgement as to where the truth lies. That is unavoidable. I don’t think “interpretation” is quite the right word for that judgement, but that’s just a matter of vocabulary.

And I’ll grant that God could have used sola Scriptura with the attendent necessity of private interpretation to spread His revelation. But history and experience and psychology all argue against that approach.

History, because the early and medieval Church (right up until the Reformation) never taught it.

Experience, because private interpretation has been shown to yield multiple conflicting beliefs for every single “essential” in the bible.

Psychology, because no person can ever truly know if that “burning in the bosom” is the Holy Spirit, or a simple human feeling, or even the devil trying to deceive. It is unknowable.

The difference between sola Scriptura and the Church is that, while both require a private judgement about their validity, once a person makes that judgement, the results are very different. If one chooses the Church, there is no difficulty locating the Church (it is the bishops united with the Bishop of Rome - it is really a trivial matter to actually find the Catholic Church). And there is no difficulty in finding what the Church teaches (you can buy a Catholic Bible and the Catechism at any bookstore).

Contrast this with the situation of one who chooses sola Scriptura. That person still must wade through all the conflicting doctrines, each one having support in scripture, according to its proponents, to try each and every day to discern truth from error. And one never, ever can have confidence that they have discerned rightly. Every time that person comes to a new understanding of some doctrine they must wonder, “have I found the truth this time?”, and each time they know deep down that the answer is “not necessarily”.

If one wanted to disseminate a set of teachings and exercise an authority, the Church model simply works, and the sola Scriptura model simply doesn’t. And God knew that from before the world began.


#3

Hi CT,
I certainly can see where you’re coming from.

In my case it is a matter of who is closer to source. If the modern n-C teachings do not align with the New Testament and the earliest writings of the early church then that’s where I have a problem.

The other problem is one of authority. (You may have heard some form of teaching about being under spiritual authority…). Who has the authority to make the definitive decisions as to what is correct interpretations of any given passage relative to doctrines?

Here are some excellent (free) MP3 Bible studies that relate to this discussion.
One Church

Which Came First, the Church or the Bible?

[size=3]Catholics and the Bible

Many more can be found here.
Pax tecum,
[/size]


#4

Private Interpretation is not in regards to the individual looking at the evidence and coming to a conclusion, RATHER it is in regards to an unauthorized individual self-appointing themself to an office of teaching/authority and telling others to follow his interpretation. This is especially relevant when a individual doesnt want to obey his Bishop and due to his “itching ears” (as Paul would say, 2 Tim 4:3) that dissatisfied individual would set up their own self-appointed teachers.

The Catholic understanding of “salvation history” is that Jesus established ONE Church and thus one Gospel, this Gospel has been preserved throughout the ages. The individual who is looking to the find the Truth must recognize there is one Church and seek to track it down through their own “private investigation”…but NEVER does this give the individual the right to put them self in a position of church authority to be obeyed and followed. That is what we mean by “Private Interpretation”.


#5

Thanks very much for all these very interesting replies. The Catholic Dude’s response was particularly helpful to me, as it suggests a different and narrower prohibition against private interpretations than I had previously understood. If I’m understanding right, then a Catholic is free to evaluate biblical passages privately, but simply cannot accept a reading that contradicts a doctrine of the Catholic hierarchy. If that’s right, then I think that does probably reconcile the issue I raised.

Thanks again to all for responding.

CThomas


#6

Yes, you understand it correctly now.


#7

[quote=CThomas]Hello. I’m a first-time poster, so I hope this post is proper and conforms with the ettiquette of this forum, etc.
[/quote]

At the top of the thread list on this forum is a sticky on rules. I don’t remember the title. But in there you will find banned topics. Also on the main page of the forum you will find forum rules.

[quote=CThomas]If I understand right, the general Catholic view frowns on the “private” interpretation of the biblical texts.
[/quote]

It’s like anything else in the Church. There are prudential areas and areas which we are required to cede to the Magisterium. Here is a good resource for folks wanting to learn about Catholicism and here is one on our relationship to the Bible.

Oh I just found this link: Scripture Catholic: providing scriptural evidence for the teaching of the Catholic Faith

continued…


#8

[quote=CThomas]But how does one arrive at the truth of Catholicism as a threshold matter without engaging in such private interpretation?
[/quote]

Most of the time it isn’t about the Bible, I would venture to say. St Francis of Assisi said that we should preach the Gospel often and if necessary use words. That means that lives lived in faith are very powerful witnesses to the Truth of Jesus. Most of the time we are unaware that folks are watching us. Then there comes a time when someone says, “I want that.”

[quote=CThomas]Many of the arguments for Catholicism that I have seen have relied, in part, on arguments based on biblical passasges. These are often interesting arguments, but they cannot (it seems to me) be accepted or rejected without “privately” evaluating them.
[/quote]

Depends on the passage. There are some passages on which the Church has not yet made a decision. There are others which we are free to decide for ourselves. There are others which are the domain of Magisterial teaching.

[quote=CThomas] In other words, in order to justify Catholicism for one who is not already a Catholic, that justification must rest, at some level, on private interpretations of scripture.
[/quote]

Catch-22. You are assuming that I must behave in a non-Catholic way in order to communicate with you. But if I act in a non-Catholic way then what am I communicating? Catholicism? I doubt it.

Moreover you are assuming that the only meeting point is Scripture. That is not true. Probably the most effective means of ecumenical communication is works of faith shared among people of different faiths. Pro-life for instance.

Catholicism is about relationship not text. It’s personal. Read my signature and click on the link. I have rarely seen discussions on textual interpretation – sola scriptura, if you will – which account for the Real Presence. (Here is a good thread on John 6.)

continued…


#9

[quote=CThomas] But if that’s right, then it seems to me that the truth of Catholicism (if it is true) must rest, for each and every one of us, on the correctness of our private interpretations of scripture that led us to become Catholics (if we have become Catholics).
[/quote]

The link I gave you was to David MacDonald. David used to say that his babysitter had a cross in the house. But she never had a Cross in the house. A lot of other Catholic imagery but not a cross.

What was it that David saw that brought him to his knees thirty odd years later? It sure as hek wasn’t the Bible. It was a Cross. In fact he was not kneeling. He was lying face down with his arms outstretched and he was miserable.

[quote=CThomas]We can only get to the point of accepting the validity of the Catholic Church by thinking and reasoning as individuals based on the historical evidence, including the Bible, yet this seems to be in tension with the idea that we cannot or should not engage in “private” interpretation.
[/quote]

The most critical thing which folks need to interpret is love – not text. Bless their souls, for some of the greatest crimes have been committed in the name of love. How do folks come to heal their broken trust? Yet those with broken trust come to us all the time. With anger. With fear. And it’s all entangled in words.

We know they have put themselves in our path because they have seen something which draws them in. Those who truly hate us avoid us like the plague.

In reading Scripture, I take it in according to my experiences in life and according to the commentary in the margins. On the big questions I go to the Catechism and to my formidable list of Catholic references. If that doesn’t work I go to my spiritual director and I tussle with the question until it is resolved.

That is not a private experience. It is very much woven into the fabric of human relationship and trust.

Although the struggle with faith is inevitably with the human heart, it is also true that faith cannot be unreasonable. And that is a great comfort to those whose trust has been broken.

end of post


#10

Private Interpretation is not in regards to the individual looking at the evidence and coming to a conclusion, RATHER it is in regards to an unauthorized individual self-appointing themself to an office of teaching/authority and telling others to follow his interpretation.

This is a really good point…May I just add, that another thought on “private” interpretation, is that you can’t interpret one verse, to mean the opposite of a half-dozen (or half a hundred) verses, and build your whole theology on that.
That’s called cherry-picking, & if anybody starts doing that around me, I tune them right out…Because I know that Scripture is not a bunch of random words strung together. But a lot of people miss this thought here…They hear someone explain a single verse to mean what they want it to mean, and they go running after that, & leave the rest of the Bible in the dust. (I am thinking here especially, of some of the “name it & claim it” prosperity preachers who fill up our TVs…)


#11

A Catholic cannot accept a pesons interpritation of a passage that contradicts a doctrine of the hierarchy. Because there is no readings in the bible that contradicts the Church if interprited properly.


#12

Since Catholics maintain we have free will and reason, we of course expect that we each have our own interpration of something as complex and important as the teachings of the apostles.

However, punditry does not a Pope make. Where our current understanding conflicts with Catholic dogma, we are expected to trust the Church and pray that we will come to understand its wisdom in such matters.

I have yet to find a teaching of the Church, dogmatic or not, with which I have not come to agree upon more research and prayerful reflection. And it’s a BIG Catechism.


#13

Teflon93, thanks. Interesting points. Thanks very much. If your “private” readings generally coincide with the Catholic Church’s readings, it wouldn’t be much of an issue in practice (although there’s still the sort of chicken-and-egg issue as a theoretical matter in the point I made in posting the question). I’ve been renewing my efforts to deepen my understanding of Catholic readings of scripture (as well as extra-scriptural arguments) on a variety of issues, as well as my understanding of other readings of scripture (and the extra-scriptural issues), and I haven’t been able to get where you are on many of these issues, at least not yet. But that’s why I came here to look around.

Best regards,

CThomas


#14

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