Scripture is Not the Text, but the Reading by God’s People

This is the 7th blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means to be Human, and the immediately preceding blog is Florovsky: The Church, the New Testament, & Christ.  In this blog and the next, I am looking at the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky on the meaning of revelation, Scriptures, the Church and Tradition, as well as the relationship of these terms to each other.   The quotes from Fr. Florovsky come either from his book BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (from now on referred to as BCT:AEOV) or from his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”, THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932) (referred to as TWHSIR). 

The Christian and Jewish Scriptures are written within human history by humans and for humans. 

“Scripture is a God-inspired scheme or image (eikon) of truth, but not truth itself.” (BCT:AEOV,   p 48)

Sts. Peter & Paul

The Scriptures did not exist before God created humans; they were not written from all eternity before the world existed (that is what some claim of the Q’uran – there is an eternal copy somehow existing in the divine eternity with the earthly ones being merely copies of the eternal one).  The history of mankind was not pre-written by God before anything existed – a divine script in which humans are mere automatons, reading their lines of the script and acting according to the direction already determined by the Author and Director, God.   Christians clearly believe in human free will – the Scriptures record from a human point of view but inspired by God the interaction between God and His creatures.

“God speaks to man through His Spirit; and only in the measure in which man abides in the Spirit does he hear and understand this voice…”  (TWHSIR)

The story of creation in Genesis 1-3 was written after the fact, not before.  Only long after the creation came into existence was the narrative of the Creation story created and then written down.  The story itself was conceived for humans, as revelation, so that humans could understand their origins, so humans could understand their role in creation, and to know their Creator.  The creation accounts in Genesis were not written before the events happened, nor even as the events happened, but only much later when there were people to write them down and they were written for humanity, not for God.   The creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 obviously weren’t written from all eternity, for they describe the existence of the world only once time existed and had elapsed.  The only eternal Word is Jesus, Son of God, who became incarnate for the salvation of the world.

“At any rate the Scriptures demand that they should be expounded and explained. … When the Church expounds Scripture it bears witness to that of which the Scriptures testify. … man is called not only to receive Truth attentively, but also to witness to it. … God’s Word must become evident in the reality of human thought.”  (TWHSIR)

Humans are the apex of the creation story, its goal and crescendo.  Scriptures were written after humans existed to record for posterity and to bring to all generations the revelation God.  The Scriptures require not only humans inspired by God to record them, but also humans inspired by God’s Spirit to read and interpret them.

St. Hilary put it emphatically… Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding…” (BCT:AEOV,  p 17)

So what is necessary for all believers is not simply to possess the text of the Bible, but to hear the text with the community of believers and within the people of God in order to come to the proper understanding.  The Bible was not written with individualism in mind, and the interpretation of Scripture is not done by any one person alone. 

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”   (2 Peter 1:20-21)

For St. Irenaeus,

“’Tradition’ was…a living tradition… entrusted to the Church as a new breath of life, just as breath was bestowed upon the first man.   …. Scripture without interpretation is not Scripture at all; the moment it is used and becomes alive it is always interpreted Scripture.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p80)

Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation because by itself it remains a text, consider the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:2-8 (NRSV):

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  … our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.   Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory … how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?”

Note St. Paul’s downplaying of the written word/scriptures.  It is the people of the church at Corinth who are really his scriptures, written not with ink but with the Spirit, not on tablets of stone but on human hearts.  The real scriptures are a living personal witness.   God has chosen disciples to be ministers of a new covenant, but again not of written letters/scripture, but of the spirit – the scripture kills!   And finally the 10 Commandments written by God on stone are called the “ministry of death”!  The written word alone is not sufficient for salvation in the mind of St. Paul the Apostle to the nations.

. Next:  A Few Final Thoughts from Fr. Florovsky

3 thoughts on “Scripture is Not the Text, but the Reading by God’s People

  1. Pingback: Florovsky: The Church, the New Testament & Christ « Fr. Ted’s Blog

  2. Pingback: A Few Final Thoughts from Fr. Florovsky « Fr. Ted’s Blog

  3. Pingback: Interpreting Scriptures | Fr. Ted’s Blog

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