Orthodox View of Scripture

I was reading a new blog post by Fr. Stephen that is challenging the way I view Scripture. If you’re really interested, you can read the whole post HERE . But let me give you a quote:

The Scriptures, as used in the Orthodox Church, are decidedly the Church’s Scriptures, and cannot be rightly read apart from the liturgical and ascetic life of the Church.“Literalism is a false means of interpretation (hermenuetic) and is a vain attempt to democratize the Holy writings. If they can be read on a literal level, then everyone has equal access to them and everybody has equal authority to interpret them. Thus certain forms of Protestantism, caught up in the various modern theories of the Reformation, sought to do to the Scriptures what many sought to do with their governments. Kill the princes! Kill the priests! Everyone can be his own king, his own priest. Smash the images and any claim to authority. Of course these extreme forms always failed quickly, to be replaced by some version of moderation.“Thus the Scriptures are not purely democratic – some interpreters are more equal than others.”

Fr. Stephen’s post causes a “Yeah!… Hey, wait a minute!” reaction in me. One of the things I have struggled with as a Protestant is how anyone with a Bible can interpret it and make it say whatever they want it to say. I’ve lost count of how many small group discussions I have attended where I have inwardly cringed when someone said, “Well, what this means to me is…”And a similar dynamic occurs at the academic level, where attempts to discover the author’s original intent based on critical study can be incredibly diverse and even contradictory.The legacy of Sola Scriptura in western Protestantism is tragic. Anyone can believe Scripture says what they want it to say and then find someone to validate that belief. I mean, just watch any National Geographic or History Channel special around Easter or Christmas. All it takes are a few talking heads with letters behind their names to concoct some ridiculous theory to explain the biblical stories. Or skim the titles at any Christian books store and you’ll find Scripture being used to support basically any topic.So, I find myself agreeing with Fr. Stephen’s idea, “Thus the Scriptures are not purely democratic – some interpreters are more equal than others.”But I also find myself reacting to his ideas. As one who has spent my entire adult life learning to interpret and teach Scripture, the idea that “The Scriptures, as used in the Orthodox Church, are decidedly the Church’s Scriptures, and cannot be rightly read apart from the liturgical and ascetic life of the Church” is a very foreign, and quite frankly, frightening concept to me. Or, his statement later in his post, “The authority to speak about Christ is given to those whom He has chosen and ordained” really stirred up some reaction in me.Now I’ve learned that when I react strongly to something, the first questions I need to ask are “Why am I reacting so strongly to this? What is this exposing in me?” In this case, the answer is very obvious: Pride. I don’t like to be told what to believe. I like the fact that I have learned the skills to interpret Scripture and wrestle with Scripture to yield interpretations different than the popular versions of Christianity.Now it’s not all pride. Part of it is a response to having been taught false ideas by well-meaning Bible teachers in the past. Part of it is having been trained in seminary to approach theology with a critical and even a skeptical eye. But a good part of it is pride — my interpretations are the result of my hard work, my study and my skill.So I know I need to do several things: First, I know Fr. Stephen’s post rings true. Scripture must be read, studied and lived in the liturgical and ascetic life of the Church. So probably the most important action our family must take is finding a parish in which to immerse our lives and to begin experiencing Scripture.Second, I need to seek some counsel about whether it is possible to merge both a liturgical life in Scripture with a “critical” study of Scripture. Or to come to grips with the fact that they may be diametrically opposed to each other.Third, I need to bring my exposed pride before my Lord so that he may save me from it. I need to deal with the possibility that not everybody, including myself, has the equal authority to interpret Scripture and that I may need to yield to those whom God has ordained to teach me. This scares me more than I want to admit. And once again, I find myself praying, “Lord, have mercy.”

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6 thoughts on “Orthodox View of Scripture

  1. Jason,

    As odd as it might sound coming from a long time “protestant” pastor, I think Father Stephen’s thoughts have a lot of truth in them. Even Stanley Hauerwas raises similar issues. In his book, “Unleashing the Scriptures: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America”, Hauerwas writes, “the primary contention of this book: The Bible is not and should not be accessible to to merely anyone, but rather it should only be made available to those who have undergone the hard discipline of existing as part of God’s people” (pg.9). He also talks about the authority of the “church” in correctly interpreting and understanding scripture. His book is stimulating and makes us face up to the rampant individualism and disdain for “authority” that is present in many churches.

    I love your journey!!


  2. Jason –

    This is certainly a thought-provoking view of Scripture. While I am certainly not ready to say that the Orthodox Church has the complete and true understanding of the Scripture, Fr. Stephen’s words bring out something I’ve felt for quite awhile…

    Understanding of the Bible can only happen through experience of the Bible’s content. Thus, as the Church universal lives out the Scriptures, understanding comes. Understanding does not come from so-called objective study and dissecting of the text apart from lives engaged with the Scriptures as a way of life.

  3. Hi Everyone, thanks for the comments. Steve, your comment reminded me that I had read some of Hauerwas’ comments about Scripture before. When I first heard them, I thought they were too far out there. But now, they make sense. But the question that surfaces in me is “How is this lived out practically?” Many in the emerging church have argued for the local faith-community as the center of theological reflection and life. But my experiences over the past several years have left me feeling disconnected from anything larger or historical. I feel my attempts have contributed to splintering further Christ’s Body. In many ways, it’s simply been hyper-individualism in a small group form.

    Alan, while I am wrestling with some of the Orthodox Church’s claims, your comment raises the question for me about the practical nature of living and experiencing the Bible’s content. If the Scriptures are the Church’s Scriptures, then experiencing and living the Scriptures must be the Church’s reality as a community, not as individuals. The more I think about it, while there is definitely a personal (not necessarily an individual) aspect of living Scripture, it must be in the greater context of the Church’s reality with Scripture. And this has to be more than just a local church’s or denomination’s reading, studying and interpretation of Scripture. And yet, the idea of the Church universal is too vague. The Church universal is too fractured to provide any real context for life in the Scritpures.

    David, thanks for lending me your book. I’ve decided to blog about its material as I process through my understanding of Scripture and the Church.

  4. I have been reading your blog and Alan’s, and I have been thinking a lot of this stuff myself. I began reading “The Orthodox Way” by Kallistos Ware and have found his views on the mystery of God quite interesting. I agree that emphasis on individuality in protestant churches can deter from reading the Bible from a united perspective (and can fracture the church), but I also have some reservations about this view of scripture as well.

  5. Hi Danny. Thanks for your comment. I’m also an APU alum and live just down the street from the school. It’s great to hear a voice from my old school. I’m curious, what are your specific reservations about the Orthodox view of Scripture?

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