Chapter

The Interpretation of the Bible

Michael D. Coogan

in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780195288803
Published online April 2009 |
The Interpretation of the Bible

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The second‐century ce satirist Lucian of Samo‐sata, in Asia Minor, attacked the early Christian movement in the person of a charlatan prophet, Peregrinus. Peregrinus feigned conversion, rose to the position of local bishop, and gained con‐siderable prestige among his naïve coreligionists when he was imprisoned for the faith, before as‐suming another career. How did Peregrinus achieve his exalted position? According to Lu‐cian, “He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a law‐giver” (On the Death of Peregrinus 11). By the mid‐second century ce, then, Christians could be mocked for their preoccupation with inter‐preting sacred texts as well as for composing their own writings. At least in part, such inter‐pretation was understood to involve the promul‐gation of laws. Whether “a lawgiver” pro‐nounced legal rulings on community discipline or codified ethical norms is not clear. From the point of view of the educated elite, Christians who followed such unlearned bishops could be duped because they, as well as their leaders, lacked the advanced rhetorical training required for the interpretation of texts.

Similar objections are given voice within the New Testament. Local Pharisees scorn the blind man's confession that Jesus is from God, not a sinner, on the grounds that he has no standing to interpret the Torah (Jn 9.24–34 ). Matthew insists that the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven brings from his storehouse both new things and old ones (Mt 13.52 ). He de‐fends Jesus' understanding of the Torah and the prophets as attending to the substantive mat‐ters—justice, mercy, and faithfulness—rather than making burdens of details about tithing as the Pharisees do (Mt 23.23–24 ). Paul insists that the true meaning of the law remains veiled, like Moses' face, from his fellow Israelites. They can only understand its meaning by turning to Christ (2 Cor 3.7–18 ).

Chapter.  3348 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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