I have over the past couple of years written several blog series on various Biblical themes related to interpreting the Scriptures. The longest of these was God Questions His Creation: Genesis 4-11 (links to all of those blogs available in PDF can be found at https://frted.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/god-questions-his-creation-genesis-11-as-one-pdf-document/ ). More recently I wrote Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury and Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics and Typology.
In this new series, I will look at three scriptural themes, this time mostly related to the Christian Old Testament, also known as the Jewish Bible or Tanakh: the Old Testament, Prophecy and Torah.
These are not scholarly researched blogs, though they will consist mostly of quoting scriptural scholars or patristic writers on these topics. My method in writing these various scriptural blog series is not to research the topic, but rather to use quotes that I have tagged in my readings over the past several years. Basically when I read a book I highlight passages of interest to me. When I’ve finished reading the book I go back through the book and look at the passages I’ve highlighted and assign a tag (a theme) to each one, and then record the tag, the book and page number in a Microsoft Excel file that I created years ago. I alphabetize the list by the tags. I will say this idea occurred to me when I first began using a computer and is probably the only really creative use I’ve made of all the marvelous things a computer can do. I instantly grasped how the computer made saving these quotes easy, possible and readily accessible. Being an avid reader, the database has grown rapidly. When I have the time and like the material, I easily read a book a week. Of course if I had the time and energy I could type in each quote into a database and have a much more useable database of actual quotes rather than just tags, which would allow me to search for many words rather than limiting a quote to one theme. However, I find simply having the tags, books & page numbers works for me in compiling and using the quotes (currently I have about 5500 such tags in my Excel Books File). Originally I tagged the quotes for use in the weekly parish bulletin, but now use them in my blogs and the weekly bulletin.
So I am not doing research as such – picking a theme and then trying to find quotes and information. Rather, when I see one of my tags/themes has a number of quotes, I can then compose a blog series around it and I pull together the quotes which may have nothing to do with each other, being linked only because I imposed a tag/theme on them. Sometimes this means discovering quotes around a theme which have very diverse or even conflicting views. When it comes to reading Scripture, however, because I do accept the Patristic notion that the Scriptures are a treasury whose riches are to be discovered, I find the diversity in ideas about approaching the Bible to be enriching and adding depth to my own understanding of the Word of God.
I’m going to venture a guess about the development of the canonical Scripture of the Christians and biblical interpretation. St. Paul mentions in his writings that in the Christian assemblies, several people moved by the Holy Spirit might speak God’s word (prophecy) to those gathered together (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). St. Paul argues for order in the assemblies: perhaps at first anyone could speak about any topic which they believed the Spirit was inspiring them. Fairly early on this brought about too much chaos as people spoke whatever came to mind without discerning anything. So then the Spirit had to be tested, and only those that declared that Jesus Christ was Lord were thought to be truly moved by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). My guess is that over time, to curtail people saying aloud with no spiritual discernment anything that came to mind, the communities began to insist that those speaking the Word – prophesying or preaching – must be tested and shown to be saying things that conformed to what the Christian communities already accepted as true. As the Church became more organized this could be readily done by studying the canonical writings of the Church and using them to evaluate the prophet or preacher. Thus Scripture was given a prominent role in the Christian assemblies, and those speaking were expected to speak/prophesy things conforming to if not related to those ideas contained in the authoritative Scriptures.
Eventually as the Church continued its growth and thus the diversity of its membership, the Christian communities further tested those speaking, prophesying, preaching, or teaching and began to allow only recognized teachers to speak in the assemblies. This corresponded in the Church to the rising historical need to oppose heresies – twisting the truth or narrowly focusing on only certain aspects of the truth at the expense of the fullness of the faith. The acceptance by the Church as a whole of the canonical Scriptures and also of a recognized leadership – the apostolic succession – was thus part of the organic development of the Church to remain faithful to its core message and apostolic truth. In each individual community this initially meant expanding the number of writings they could rely on as authoritative (those communities which read only one Gospel, came to accept that the Gospel is authoritatively recorded according to four different evangelists). This evolving history also helped insure adherence to the core truth of Christianity, a recognized means to determine false or distorted teachings (heresies), and faithfulness to the same message that the Apostles had proclaimed. By the time of St. John Chrysostom (4th Century), there still were several speakers who spoke/preached at each assembly (as there had been in the more charismatic stage of Pauline Christian communities), but in his day, the speakers were the priests and bishops of the community and their message was based on the readings from the canonical Scriptures. The prophetic message was now coming through the correct interpretation of the accepted and authoritative texts. Thus we can see how what Paul describes in his day as several people moved by the Spirit prophesying or preaching in each community’s assembly was changed to combat spiritual abuses by individuals in the communities (moved by spirits that did not claim Jesus is Lord for example) to help the Church remain faithful to the Apostolic proclamation of the Gospel of Truth and to help distinguish between true and false teachings. The Church continued to rely on the Holy Spirit, but now accepted that the Holy Spirit worked through the laying on of hands and through an ordained clergy to help maintain faithfulness and order in the Christian congregations.