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Modern Interpretations of Scripture, Essay Example

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Scriptural Hermeneutics refers to the modern practice of understanding scripture from a critical and spiritual perspective.  This includes the practice of evaluating both the form and content of the Bible by asking questions about authorship, cultural and modern relevance, and possible transcription errors.  The guidelines of scriptural hermeneutics allows for theologians to provide answers to readers that address these concerns in a manner which does not detract from the overall message of the Bible.  The concept of the “hermeneutical circle” (Alba 61) is key to this critical approach and works from the understanding that “no reader can read a traditional text in a completely objective manner” (61).  Each reader is impacted by their own personal experiences, cultural perspective, and preconceptions about what they will encounter in the text. Despite individual worldviews, the hermeneutical circle allows for readers to incorporate their own “horizons” (Alba 62) with that of the text, thereby broadening their perspective on the spiritual world.

The philosopher Paul Ricouer contributes to this approach by asking “how can modern readers truly engage the biblical worldview when it is so foreign to their own way of thinking and perceiving” (Alba 62).  According to Ricouer, it is still possible for modern readers to connect with scripture, however they must interpret what they are reading through “a fundamentally scientific and literal understanding of reality” (Alba 62) that is often at odds with the symbolic nature of scripture.  By going through the stages of critical reason and critical awareness, Ricouer believes that readers will become better able to apply the messages of scripture to life in the modern world.   The implications of this approach are that readers will continue to have a relevant relationship with scripture, despite shifts in how we approach traditional texts.  As Ricouer states, the hermeneutical circle enables readers to “understand in order to believe [and] believe in order to understand” (Alba 63).

The modern theologian Bernard Lonergan believes that reason and faith must work in tandem in order for individuals to connect successfully with theology.  Although, much like Aquinas, he sees communication as a crucial aspect of helping others understand the Christian tradition, he does not think that culture and tradition are stable enterprises that never change.  Unlike Aquinas, he approaches culture from an empirical perspective in which “theology itself [is] more open to development and change as it communicates a tradition to changing cultures” (Alba 64).  For Lonergan, theology is a collaborative effort that utilizes a variety of fields including philosophy, history, and scriptural studies.  He divides theology into “functional specialities” (Alba 65) that allow critical thinking to intersect with faith and Christian tradition; however, all of these tasks are related to “basic functions of the human mind:  experience, understanding, judging, and deciding” (Alba 65).

Thomas Aquinas also took into account the role that science and critical thinking play in achieving “true knowledge” (Alba 47).  However, he sees natural theological knowledge as something that very few people are able to grasp without extensive study and contemplation.  Aquinas and Lonergan share the belief that “Christians should never hesitate to ask a reasonable question about their faith” (Alba 48) because reason is a crucial aspect of both bolstering the faith of Christians and helping to answer challenges from non-believers.  Like Lonergan’s approach to the hermeneutic circle, Aquinas emphasizes that “faith and reason continually interact;  our reason helps us to gain a clearer understanding of our faith, but our faith first guides our reason to help it reason rightly” (Alba 49).

Works Cited

Albl, Martin C. Reason, Faith, and Tradition: Explorations in Catholic Theology. Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2009.

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