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Biblical Interpretation. Randy Flores, SVD Theology 121 Ateneo de Manila University Philippines. “Do you understand what you are reading?”. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch Read the story in Acts of the Apostles chap 8. Introduction The three “worlds” in Biblical Interpretation.

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biblical interpretation

Biblical Interpretation

Randy Flores, SVD

Theology 121

Ateneo de Manila University


do you understand what you are reading
“Do you understand what you are reading?”

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Read the story in Acts of the Apostles chap 8

the two fold sense of the sacred scripture
The Two-Fold Sense of the Sacred Scripture
  • Literal Sense – What the author intended as the meaning of the text.
  • Spiritual Sense – A meaning that the text poses in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
clarification of terms
Clarification of Terms
  • Biblical Interpretation
    • Is also Biblical Hermeneutics
    • “hermeneutics” is from the Greek word, “hermeneuo”, “to translate, interpret, expound, put into words, express, write about, speak clearly, articulate”
    • In the strict sense
      • the science or art of interpretation
      • the methodology of interpretation
Hermeneutics is the “interpretation of a written record (text) to uncover what the text is telling us in language understandable to human beings” (by Prosper Grech, 1988).
    • From the Greek word, exegesis meaning “statement, narrative, explanation, interpretation”.
    • Analysis of the written text to uncover the original meaning as the author originally intended.
Biblical interpretation is the task of the theologian,
  • while exegesis is for the biblical specialist (exegete) who explains both theological and non-theological materials and offers his work for the use of theology” (Grant – Tracy, 1973:4).
useful references on biblical interpretation
Useful References on Biblical Interpretation
  • Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993).
  • George Montague, Understanding the Bible. A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Pasay: Paulines, 1988).
  • Maria Ko Ha-Fong, “Reading the Bible in an Asian Context” Bulletin Dei Verbum 40/41 (1996).
  • Robert Grant – David Tracy,A Short History of the Interpretaion of the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 3rd ed., 1984).
  • Gerry Tapiador, The Mysterious Seed: A Simplified Manual on the Tools and the Principles of Interpreting the Bible (Makati: St. Paul, 1988)
  • Erlinda Bragad0 – Arnold Monera, Kaloob: Interweavings on the Christian Story (Manila: DLSU, 1997).
what is it
What is it?
  • It is the scientific study of ancient texts.
  • It is “historical” because it deals with ancient texts, their historical contexts and circumstances in which these were composed and edited, and the process by which the final form of the texts came to be.
  • It is “critical”, not that it criticizes as one looking for errors, but that it uses scientific criteria to judge the text as objectively as possible about its historical and literary aspects.
origin and brief historical background
Origin and Brief Historical Background

The method was first used by Greek philologians and commentators of antiquity to establish the best text of the writings of Homer.

It was adopted by the Church Fathers like Origen, Jerome and Augustine in their study of the Hebrew and Greek forms of the Old Testament.

It was refined during the time of the Renaissance humanists (14th cent. – 15th cent.) whose emphasis is on the “return to the sources” (recursus ad fontes) and so the study of the neglected ancient biblical languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) came to the fore.
  • The Reformers (16th cent.), Martin Luther (1485-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) applied the method in their study, lectures, and homilies on the Old Testament.
At the time of the Enlightenment (17th - 18th centuries), still further refinements were made to the method. Textual criticism became a scientific discipline. More valuable ancient manuscriptswere discovered.
Bible in the period of Enlightenment (17th cent- 18th cent.)
    • Rise of Rationalism and Scientific Revolution
      • Baruch Spinoza (1634-1677) questioned the historical reliability of many biblical passages.
      • Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was brining a wholly new way of understanding the universe itself
      • John Locke (1632-1704) affirmed that reason alone must be the judge of all truth
      • Auguste Comte (1798-1857) founded Positivism (“the law of the three stages” – theological-metaphysical-positive).
  • Discovery of classical texts and languages and valuable ancient manuscripts.
Example: A new edition of the Greek New Testament came out, an edition NO longer based on the traditionally received Greek text (called “TextusReceptus”) but based on older and superior manuscriptsrecently uncovered.
  • Read the file Textus Receptus!
From 19th Century onwards, the scientific and critical interpretation of the Bible gained importance and later on it was accepted in the Roman Catholic Church. Today, this method is better known as as “the historical-critical method”, an indispensable method of biblical exegesis.
goal s of the method
Goal(s) of the Method
  • 1. Determine the authentic meaning of the biblical text as a literary document (or the “literal sense”).
  • 2. Determine the historicity (or lack thereof)—the extent to which the factual is present in an author’s text.
advantages of this method
Advantages of this Method

1. Check and balance of the two extremes: Fundamentalism and texts as merely good human interest stories

  • Fundamentalism: Everything in the Bible actually happened and words actually spoken.
  • Good human interest stories: wonderful stories with little or no historical foundations (like the Ilocano epic, Lam-ang).
2. Check and balance of other modern approaches:

--Ideological interpretation: Using the Bible to promote certain ideological views.

--Post-modernism or deconstructionism: awareness that history relativizes people, places, event, texts, etc. Hence, all interpretations are colored by the interpreter. All interpretations are subjective. Meaning is only meaning for me.

various forms of the method
Various Forms of the Method
  • 1. Textual Criticism
    • The study which seeks to establish, according to fixed rules, a biblical text as close as possible to the original.
    • This is based on the testimony of the oldest and best manuscripts, papyri, ancient versions, and texts quoted by the Church Fathers in their writings.
dead sea scrolls
Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Discovered in 1947
  • Copies (fragments) of the Old Testament
  • Manuscripts are dated from 1 B.C. to 1. A.D.

Fragment of the Book of Daniel

new testament manuscripts copies of the original text
New Testament Manuscripts(copies of the original text)
  • Oldest manuscript
  • 2nd century, papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John
codex vaticanus
Codex Vaticanus

One of the oldest (4th century) complete manuscript of the New Testament

Also contains a copy of the LXX

codex sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus

Another 4th century complete manuscript of the New Testament, also contains the LXX

2. Philological criticism
    • The linguistic and grammatical analysis of the text.
    • Aim: to know the meaning of a word or expression in the bible by comparing it with the languages of Ancient Near East.
3. Form Criticism
    • It identifies what kind or type of literature is the text and the its social text from which it emerged.
some literary forms in the bible
Some Literary Forms in the Bible
  • Myths (Gen 1)
  • Legends (Gen 13)
  • Epics (Exod 14:15-31)
  • Elegies (2 Saam 1:19-27)
  • Poetry (Judith 16:1-17)
  • Parables (2 Sam 12:1-4)
  • Narratives (Book of Tobit)
  • Letters (Romans 2:1-16)
  • Fiction (Book of Jonah)
  • Apocalptic (Book of Daniel and Book of Revelation)
4. Source Criticism
    • The study of the different materials (both oral and written) the writer's) used in making his text in order to explain the apparent contradictions or discrepancies in the text.
5. Redaction Criticism
    • It concentrates on how and why the author(s) wove together history, traditions, stories to suit a particular audience—the individual authors brought together (“redacted” or “edited”) these materials to produce a composite written work.
rhetorical analysis
Rhetorical Analysis:
  • It investigates the “spoken” quality of the text, the impact on the influence of the text on the people who listened to it.
  • Example: the hyperbolical and emphatic speech of Jesus in Mt 5:29-30.
narrative analysis
Narrative Analysis:
  • studies how the text tells a story in such a way as to engage the reader in its “narrative world” and the system of values contained therein.
  • See Robert Alter, TheArt of Biblical Narrative (USA: BasicBooks, 1981).
  • E.g. The narration of a powerful story by Nathan to David (2 Sam 12)
the sociological approach
The Sociological Approach
  • – the investigation of the social conditions out of which the writings recorded in the Bible took shape.
  • Example: what were the social conditions and political problems during the writing of the Gospel of Mark?
the approach through cultural anthropology
The Approach through Cultural Anthropology –
  • It seeks to define the characteristics of the different kinds of human beings in their social context, their culture and their social values.
  • e.g. What is “honor and shame” in the Bible?/ The wedding at Cana in John 2

Wedding at Cana

By Duccio Buoninsegna

the psychological and psychoanalytical approaches
The Psychological and Psychoanalytical approaches –
  • They strive to understand the bible in terms of the experience of human life, the norms of human conduct and behavior.
  • E.g. What is the meaning of “sickness” in the Bible?
  • What is the psychological profile of Jesus?
the liberationist approach
The Liberationist Approach
  • – It seeks a reading of the text drawn from the situation of the people as it is lived here and now. If people lives in circumstances of oppression, one must go to the Bible to find there nourishment capable of sustaining the people in its struggles and its hopes.
  • E.g. The meaning of Exodus as liberation from oppression; from unjust social structures.
the feminist hermeneutics
The Feminist Hermeneutics
  • – the bible is read from the perspective of the struggle for the rights of women. The goal is liberation of women and the acquisition on their part of rights equal to those enjoyed by men.
  • e.g. Gal 3:28 against texts which tends to undermine the rights of women
  • Sir 25:24 vs. Rom 5:12
galatians 3 28
Galatians 3:28
  • There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
sirach 25 23 25
Sirach 25:23-25
  • In woman was sin's beginning, and because of her we all die.
  • Allow water no outlet, and be not indulgent to an erring wife.
  • If she walks not by your side, cut her away from you.