The Use and Purposes of Scripture: Conclusion

The Use and Purposes of Scripture: Conclusion February 21, 2017

Indeed, when Scripture is not properly understood as a tool helping achieve an end, and is seen as the end all discourse in and of itself, it not only becomes an idol which prevents the believer from attaining union with God, it becomes also a tool for the preservation of the ideology of the one who comes to the text to use it for their own limited purpose. Such a believer ends up believing their own interpretation of the text over its proper meaning, preventing them from attaining their proper end (union with God), as they end up defeating themselves through their own ego, as the Mahāyāna Sūtrālamkāra suggests:

The meaning  (of the discourses) being (too) literally construed, self-conceited understanding leads to the ruin of intelligence. One rejects the well-taught and so suffers a defeat, confused by hostility toward the teaching.[5]

The interpreter who fails to understand its meaning becomes hostile to the truth due to their misconceived understanding of the text. We can see this in the way many who take Scripture in a positivistic fashion use their interpretation not only to deny the proper meaning of Scripture, but to vilify Scripture and the Christian tradition. Their hostility due is due to their self-conceited literalism. The same, of course, applies to many others whose hostility is geared towards those who do not follow them in their literalism with the text. Such interpreters ignore how the text itself warns against following such literalism, saying it will destroy those who look to it instead of the spirit, or real meaning, of the text:

Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life (2Cor. 3:5-6 RSV).

This, then, was also noted in the commentary for the Mahāyāna Sūtrālamkāra (by either Asaṅga or Vasubandhu), where the commentator pointed out that one believing themselves to know the meaning of a text through its most literal reading will be found to ignore the proper teaching of the text established by those who were its masters, and so instead of following through and becoming like the holy ones before, they will end up with a real spiritual loss:

“Self-conceited understanding” is complacent attachment to one’s own view, not seeking the (true) import from the wise. It leads to the ruin of intelligence, due to the loss suffered from failure to attain the intuition attuned with reality. Such a one rejects the well-taught explanations of the teaching, thereby gaining great demerit and so suffering a defeat. The confusion of hostility toward the teaching leads to the (harmful) evolutionary action of abandonment of the teaching; this is its major drawback.[6]

Saint Jerome in his study. By Domenico Ghirlandaio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Saint Jerome in his study. By Domenico Ghirlandaio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is a difference between receiving a text and understanding it. The second requires leaning, soul searching, and a willingness to see beyond the “literal” reading of the text, so that the actual meaning of the text can be ascertained. Each text is itself a kind of riddle, and the solution of the riddle requires one to understand the code, the conventions, used, as Jerome suggested:

There is a difference between receiving and learning. The one who receives the Gospel is introduced to it and induced to trust in it and believes what is written to be true. The one who learns understands the messages that are encoded in Scripture in riddles and parables. [7]

To debate the validity of the externals of the text is not to debate the meaning of the text, and those caught up in such debates have yet to open the text up properly to understand its intent. That intent is, once again, known by love. That is, the text must be interpreted with love as the key, as the hermeneutic which unlocks the intended meaning of the text. Then we will see that Scripture points out that we are not only to be saved by Jesus Christ, but to be united with God (the Trinity) in a union of love which recognizes our relative distinction without absolution and yet awakens us to the truth which is the kingdom of heaven, the enjoyment of God, as Augustine explained:

The true objects of enjoyment, then, are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity, one Being, supreme above all, and common to all who enjoy Him, if He is an object, and not rather the cause of all objects, or indeed even if He is the cause of all. For it is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way: The Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things.[8]

Scripture has several purposes, several interpretations, but they all lead to and point to one final purpose and goal. There are indeed several layers of advice found within it, some for those beginning their journey into God, and for some, those who are closing in on God, there are the hidden truths which only they can ascertain and use to help complete their journey into God. The greater, more difficult truths to discern become evident the closer one attains to full loving union with God until, at last, they are known in and of themselves in a way which transcends word. Then Scripture itself, the pointer to the truth, is no longer necessary for one’s understanding of the truth as the truth reveals itself to them in the silence which transcends all words.


 

[1] The Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning. trans. John P. Keenan (Berkley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2000), 12.

[2] St. Jerome, Commentary on Galatians. trans. Andrew Cain (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2010), 78 -9.

[3] St. Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine” in NPNF1(2):533.

[4] St. Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine,” 534.

[5] Maitreya and Asanga, The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature. Trans. L Jamspal, R. Clark, J. Wilson, L. Zwilling, M. Sweet, R. Thurman (New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2004), 15.

[6] Maitreya and Asanga, The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature, 15.

[7] St. Jerome, Commentary on Galatians, 79.

[8] St. Augustine, “On Christian Doctrine,”524.

 

 

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