Monday, February 20, 2012

reading the Bible with Augustine

I wonder about how Christians should read and interpret the Bible more than just about anything else.

It might seem straightforward enough at a glance, but only at a glance. Why do we tend to take Jesus so seriously on, say, praying the Lord's Prayer, but not so seriously on 'hate your father and mother'? Who gets to decide that he 'doesn't really mean' the one but not the other? How is 1 Chronicles 1-9 useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness? I mean, really. What do you do with Genesis 1-2, when so many people want you to read it in so many different ways? The list could go on and on.

I thought I'd share one of my favorite words from Saint Augustine of Hippo--something that has proven true in all of this, no matter what else might trip me up.
This comes from his classic work On Christian Doctrine, which is, for the most part, an exploration of the methods of interpreting scripture. While there's much more to Augustine's interpretive practices, I've always thought this was a particularly beautiful comment, and it is, if not comprehensive, certainly important to this Church Father.

From On Christian Doctrine, I. 40:
Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.

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