Friday, February 5, 2010

Configuring Scripture, Criterion #9

9. The Criterion of Character
The scriptures are about the formation of holy communities and holy persons as members of such communities. There is a symbiotic relationship between the scriptures forming holiness and the necessity of a degree of holy living in order to understand the scriptures. The character of any given interpreter or community is inseparable from their ability to reliably discern the Spirit in the scriptures and thus configure them faithfully. It is not so much that we need to configure scripture such that it is relevant to our lives as it is that we need to configure our lives such that they are relevant to the message of scripture.

Does this community exhibit the kind of character and practices that enable it to discern faithful interpretations? Can it name its own sin? Does it practice truthfulness? Repentance? Reconciliation? Prayerfulness? Care for the poor? Are the fruit of the Spirit evident?

The same goes for any particular interpreter. Does an interpreter exhibit a Christ-shaped life? Can we hear humility, charity, and generosity in the voice of the interpreter?

Athanasius (293 - 373) affirms this in his treatise, On the Incarnation:
But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect, guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modeling of the life after the saints a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. (par. 57)



Bryan Owen said...

This reminds me of a passage in Christopher Hall's Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers:

The fathers affirmed a deep connection between the spiritual health of biblical interpreters and their ability to read the Bible well. For the fathers, the Scripture was to be studied, pondered and exegeted within the context of worship, reverence and holiness. The fathers considered the Bible a holy book that opened itself to those who themselves were progressing in holiness through grace and power of the Spirit. The character of the exegete would determine in many ways what was seen or heard in the text itself. Character and exegesis were intimately related. ...

Neither Athanasius nor Gregory [of Nazianzus] envisioned exegesis or theology as the academic activity of biblical scholars or theologians divorced from the life of the church or personal spiritual formation. Rather, the fathers believed, the best exegesis occurs within the community of the church. The Scriptures have been given to the church, are read, preached, heard and comprehended within the community of the church, and are safely interpreted only by those whose character is continually being formed by prayer, worship, meditation, self-examination, confession and other means by which Christ's grace is communicated to his body. That is to say, the fathers argue that any divorce between personal character, Christian community and the study of scripture will be fatal for any attempt to understand the Bible.

Matt Gunter said...

Yes. Scripture rightly read leads to greater holiness and growth in holiness leads to better reading of scripture. The church fathers, and, for that matter, pretty much the whole of the premodern church understood this.