Authorship and Interpretation of the Scriptures

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The following was a college essay written by Mary Grace Raddell. It has been edited and approved by Aidan McIntosh. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Mary Grace Raddell, Catholic University of America

The followers of Jesus went out and made “disciples of all nations” as they were told. With a growing church came many decisions on what the Church believed on certain issues that arose. Councils like that of Nicea and Trent convened to address such issues as the nature of Jesus and the nature of the sacraments. The most recent ecumenical council, Vatican II, focused on restating practices and dogmas of the church. One matter the council focused on was divine revelation in its dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum. Specifically, the council explains that Sacred Scripture is essentially written by God Himself through inspiration of the Holy Spirit and should be read given the whole context of the Bible, sacred tradition, and author’s intent. The clarification of the authority and interpretation of the Bible are crucial to understanding God and His will: the unification of all souls to Himself.

The Old and New Testament were written by a collection of human authors. The words they wrote are regarded as the Word of God because they were written “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” as the Second Vatican Council explains in Dei Verbum (no. 11). Thus, all the words of the Bible are holy and sacred. However, a correct approach to the texts in the Bible exposes the true Word of God. Attention needs to be paid to both human and divine authorship.

An interpreter of Sacred Scripture should “investigate that which the sacred writers really intended to signify” through study of the literary forms and the author’s time and culture (Dei Verbum, no.12). Salvation history is built upon the covenants and relationship with God in the Old Testament which fully manifested with Jesus Christ who is God made flesh, the fullness of Divine Revelation. Knowing what was going on and what was important to the people and culture at the time of authorship uncovers the meaning of the Scripture passages. Along with understanding of the human authors’ situation, the tradition of the Church adds to the richness (fullness) of the truth in Scripture. The exegetes, textual interpreters of scripture, have the responsibility of “guarding and interpreting the word of God” in these ways to guide the faithful in knowledge of God (Dei Verbum, no. 12). Reading Sacred Scripture with the knowledge that God is the true author through the human authors along with knowledge of the background and situation of the authors contributes to the recognition of God and His plan for all souls: salvation.

God speaks to us through human words. Without God stooping to us, we would not be able to understand Him. The Sacred Scripture, read with correct context, is regarded as “teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into Sacred Writings for the sake of our salvation” (Dei Verbum, no. 11). God meets us where we are. He reveals Himself to us through our own language for the sake of our souls; He wants us to be united with Him. Just as we needed Jesus to become man in order to break down the barrier into eternal life, so we need God’s word to be interspersed through human discourse for our enlightenment of His love for us. In Dei Verbum, Sacred Scripture helps us to “learn the gentle kindness of God” and how He adapts “His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature” (no.13). God reveals Himself to us in ways we can comprehend given that we take into account the Spirit with which the books of the Bible were written.

The Sacred Scriptures are the Word of God. Since it is impossible for us to fully understand who God is and what He is like through our clouded human intellect, God reveals Himself and His will to us through human writings and the history of His relationship with humanity. We, believers, are to read the texts of Scripture with the lens of tradition taking the words to be from God and let them lead us closer to Him.

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