On Christian Doctrine continues. In this installment, we get some short, easy rules about interpreting specific words and expressions which appear more than once in the Bible. We also learn that it’s safer to interpret a work from passages inside it than by reason.
Now, I know this sounds like “Turn off your brain when reading the Bible!”. But we are reading Augustine here, who never met a syllogism he didn’t like. All he’s saying is that the primary way to understand any literary work is studying the literary work itself, and that includes the Bible.
You might logically argue that Pip in Great Expectations is really Johnny Appleseed. (Pip means seed, right? So oranges, apples, pomegranates, same thing….) But the greater logic would be in recognizing that Dickens is the primary source for understanding Dickens, and that logical argument should draw on Dickens more than on itself if it wants to point to a true interpretation. Only then do you move to outside sources like history, linguistics, other authors of the time, literary journal articles, and “this is what I think; see if it makes sense.”
On Christian Doctrine continues, with more info on scriptural interpretation for Fun and Profit. In this installment, we learn that if you think the Bible is telling you to do evil things, you’re wrong. Also, that just because they jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge (figuratively speaking) in Old Testament times doesn’t mean you have to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, too. Also, that it might be worse for you to jump into a ditch than for them to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, if they were jumping out of necessity and you’re doing it to hurt yourself.
It’s getting funnier and funnier, how today’s Internet discussions of the Bible are so often about this same stuff that had been run into the ground in St. Augustine’s day. To be fair, it’s not like you get to read this kind of explanation book when it would be useful (like junior high or high school). Our educational system saves all this basic material until college or grad school, and then our religious leaders are all surprised that people pull crazy stuff out of the air to replace the info they didn’t get. You can’t think and feel sensibly about something you have no structure for understanding. Sigh.