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Making Sense of Scripture

The author's intention

It would seem to follow from the logic of the last section that it is necessary to determine the author's intention in order to establish the literal sense of Scripture.  Now whatever will elucidate the circumstances of the text is, together with the text itself, what will contribute to understanding the author's intention as it is embodied in the literal sense of Scripture.  Furthermore, it is the intention of the author which unifies the curcumstantial evidence concerning the text and the text itself66.  This rests on the principle that evidence, of whatever sort, only makes sense in relation to some whole of which it is a part67; and the 'whole' of which it is a part is, in this case, the manifest intention of the author as it is expressed in the fact of what is written68.  Therefore one could almost say that the text itself is a kind of criteria by which to discern the 'relevance' of the extra-textual evidence to it69.


In the first place what one learns is well summarized by the Pontifical Biblical Commission when they say: 'Exegetes can help systematic theologians avoid two extremes: on the one hand, a dualism, which would completely separate a doctrinal truth from its linguistic expression, as though the latter were of no importance; on the other hand, a fundamentalism, which, confusing the human and the divine, would consider even the contingent features of human discourse to be revealed truth'70.

Secondly, it transpires that while everything was new, uncertain and sometimes disturbing, there nevertheless emerges a kind of channel through which it is possible to pass to the use of Scripture: an incarnational mentality and a practical method through which to engage in a dialogue with our texts; and, moreover, the mentality and method of this approach can be usefully applied to other forms of writing.

Finally, it maybe that one can speak of a kind of conversion to the holy realism of the Church with respect to the right approach to Scripture - even if I am scarcely far from beginning in terms of being able to read for myself what the authors wrote.  How well I remember my resistance to what I now apprehend as a positive route into her sacred writings.  And how much more reasonable it now appears to me that God did not reject the very processess of writing which were His own creation when He inspired the written form of Revelation called Scripture.

But let the last word go to Dei Verbum: 'This economy of Revelation is realized by deeds and words, which are intrinsically bound up with each other.  As a result, the works performed by God in the history of salvation show forth and bear out the doctrine and realities signified by the words; the words, for their part, proclaim the works, and bring to light the mystery they contain.  The most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about God and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation'71.

66 Cf. MAH, page 9.    Back
67 Cf. P. Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Carlisle: The Paternoster Press, 1993), page 28. Abbrev. Ellingworth.    Back
68 I would like to make what would seem to be an unusual type of academic reference here, principally because it shows how many seemingly divergent things can be unified by what constitutes the solution to a puzzle: G. K. Chesterton, The Innoccence Of Father Brown, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., reprinted 1971).    Back
69 Ellingworth, page 3.    Back
70 PBC, Pt III, D, 3, page 108.    Back
71 Dei Verbum, art 2, page 751 of VCII.    Back

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