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Not an Ice Cream Sundae Bar

If you want to make the brothers happy, you just have to set up an ice cream sundae bar. It is marvelous to watch them navigate the chocolate sprinkles, crushed nuts, and strawberries as they create gushing gobs of glucose. The great thing about an ice cream sundae is that it has what you want and only what you want. This does not happen with the Bible. With the Bible, you cannot pick and choose. It is all or nothing.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this. But what happens when something does not add up?

The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible as a whole

People like to take inspiration for action from the Bible. This can lead to noble endeavors but can also go sideways, especially when a verse is read out of context. For example, if you take, Some people like to take verses out of context. If you take Matthew 27:5 and Luke 10:37 and splice them together, you would follow the following uninspiring phrase: Judas hanged himself. Go and do likewise. This is not a divine message.

It is essential to take each passage into the context of the whole. Nobody likes the guy who takes all the M&Ms from a bowl of trail mix. If you show up to just find raisins and peanuts, you can be sure that somebody has been there before. Picking and choosing lead to uncomfortable situations.

“To understand properly the meaning of the central message of a text, we need to relate it to the teaching of the entire Bible as handed on by the Church.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 148) Each passage is part of a whole. God reveals a whole to humanity that is contained in the pages of the Bible. Taking one passage out of context leads to erroneous interpretations. How can we avoid that?

Avoid erroneous or partial interpretations

Have you ever had your words taken out of context? Of course, you have. We all have. It is a disagreeable experience. You want to answer, “I didn’t say that,” but the fact is that you did. Your words were taken out of context. You are embarrassed, and the true meaning of your words is a sacrifice to the confusion. It is a bad situation all the way around. Sometimes, these misunderstandings come from willful decisions. “In some areas, people have grown in their understanding of God’s will on the basis of their personal experience.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 148)

We learn from our past. We do not take the Bible as a play-by-play handbook but rather a book that lays out general principles. God can use Scripture to speak to us today, in our current situation. Growing in the understanding of God’s will based on personal experience means taking personal experience into account while seeking God’s will. He speaks through his Word, but also the concrete circumstances of our lives. He wants us to seek him in his Word and the particular situations we are living. This is a way to enter into constant communion with him.

To understand what he is saying through his Word, we have to follow the power that lies in words themselves.

Follow the intrinsic power of the text

What was the author trying to do? Finding out the answer to this question helps identify the intention of the author. Ascertaining the author’s intent is the first step for an authentic interpretation. We can justify a false interpretation when we fool ourselves through sophisms. “Sophisms” are little lies that we tell ourselves to explain our actions. They are named after a school of false philosophers who were the antithesis of the wisdom preached by Socrates.

When we interpret Sacred Scripture, we want to receive the “intrinsic power of the text which has been proclaimed.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 148) The words of Scripture contain a message which God has left all people through all of history.

We do not want to pick and choose, taking apart Scripture to justify our favored interpretations. Such an attitude could lead us to change the meaning of the text. Instead, we want to allow the text to change us. Reading the Scripture has a way of changing us. Rather than going to an Ice Cream Sundae bar and making our creation, we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the wealth of options that the owner desires to give us.

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