Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Communal reading

A stock objection to the Protestant faith is that Scripture should be read in community. But what does that even mean? Reading in community is a euphemism for reading the text according to a particular theological and hermeneutical tradition. 

I read the Bible in community when I consult Bible commentaries (and exegetical monographs). Not only do the commentators reflect a theological perspective, but they often summarize a variety of interpretations from different viewpoints. For those of us who can, it's important to compare our own impressions of what a Bible passage means with the impressions of other readers. That alerts us to interpretations we might overlook. That helps to undercut bias. 

Ironically, Catholic apologists mean just the opposite. By communal reading, they mean filtering the text through the exclusive tinted lens of Roman Catholic tradition. 

The problem with the Catholic slogan is that when it comes to reading Scripture in community, there's no one community. Communal reading is just as Protestant as it is Catholic. When I read commentaries or other exegetical works by Arminians, Calvinists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Dispensationalists, charismatics, et al., I'm reading the Bible in community. This gives me a chance to compare and contrast sometimes competing interpretations. 

A danger of communal reading is the development of ingrown interpretations that become detached from the original meaning, and take on a life of their own. And when a particular community is absolutized, there's no way to challenge entrenched tradition, even if that represents a misreading of Scripture. 

In addition, Protestant exegesis is communal. It considers what the sacred text meant to the original audience. To read the text through the eyes of the original audience. And that's also how modern-day Catholic Bible scholars operate. 

In Catholicism, moreover, it isn't truly communal. Rather, it's the Magisterium dictating to the laity what the text means. Their role is to listen and obey.

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