Christ is risen!
So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30-31)
The Scriptures are not self-interpreting as some think. Some of the texts are straightforward, but many require knowledge of how to interpret them. This we see in the above quote from the Acts of the Apostles – the Ethiopian man asks the Apostle Philip to help him understand the text of the Prophet Isaiah which he was reading. The Apostles knew from personal experience that the Scriptures required someone to interpret them, as we read in Luke 24:27 when the two disciples are downtrodden by Christ’s death and puzzled by stories of His resurrection. “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” The Apostles did not understand the Scriptures about the Messiah and the Resurrection. Jesus must interpret the Old Testament to them. Then when Jesus meets with all of the 11 Apostles together,”He opened their minds to understand the scriptures…” (Luke 24:45) They were not able to understand the biblical texts on their own for those texts are not self-interpreting. The Apostles needed to be taught the meaning of the Scriptures as we all do. We have to learn not only what the text says, but what it means which often requires us getting beyond a literal reading of the text. The text might be interpreted in many ways but not all of the interpretations are true. Origen, the great 3rd Century biblical interpreter, points out one error we can make in reading the Scriptures – reading it only literally (in his words, ‘according to the flesh’). We have to be trained in how to read the Bible spiritually in order to come to the spiritual meaning which God has placed within the words of the text.
“The law turns into an Old Testament only for those who insist on understanding it according to the flesh; and for them it has necessarily become old and feeble because it is separated from its source of life. But for us, who understand and interpret it spiritually and according to the gospel, it is always new; indeed, both testaments are new for us not because of age, but because of newness of understanding.” (SPIRIT AND FIRE, pp 111-112)
The Patristic Fathers point out that another error that afflicts us and prevents us from coming to the spiritual meaning of the text – we must purify our hearts and minds of passions and sins in order to see what meaning God has placed in the text. Theodoret of Cyrus, writing in the 5th Century, says:
“The explanation of the divine sayings requires, on the one hand, a purified soul that is also rid of every uncleanness; on the other hand, it requires as well a mind that has wings, capable of discerning divine things and prepared to enter the precincts of the Spirit. There is need, too, of a tongue responsive to the mind, and worthily interpreting its vision.” (COMMENTARY ON THE SONG OF SONGS, p 21)
Reading the Bible properly requires us to use our soul, mind and tongue in a holy fashion in come to the right interpretation of the text. And that right interpretation itself may apply only to the moment or to a particular person and may not be the one and only meaning or use of the text. “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 the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).