Scripture

p. anosh    unsplash

is a record of the dialogue between God and God's people, and we hear both sides (or all sides) of the dialogue.  It's not a set of oracles.  The better we understand the conversation, the better we will hear God.  To believe in the authority of scripture is to respect its composition and the decision of God who has entrusted the record to an array of different authors, of different characters and interests, writing in different contexts at different times.  The faith that uses all the tools of textual, literary and historical criticism turns out to be far more challenging than that which relies on a merely literal reading.

In studying the scriptures, I believe it is of the first importance to hear what each author is saying in their own right.  Until we have done this, we should not be calling in other scriptures to interpret them unless it is clear that the author has those works in mind.  To interpret Luke, for instance, we might draw on Mark, but not Matthew or John.  For that reason, my books are either devoted to one scriptural author only, or if to several, it's made clear in each chapter which author is being followed there.

In the same way, when reading Paul, we might well use earlier letters to interpret what we find in later ones, but we should be cautious about doing it the other way round.

for The World Beyond Corinth - book in preparation.  Photo by Sally Still