Holy Scripture, despite all appearances, will not always be easy to interpret. We can be lulled into thinking our “common sense” and “by the letter” interpretation of a text is what God intends us to get out of it. However, if this is the case, there would be little to no debates about its meaning; there would be little confusion as to its purpose and how it applies to us today. St. Peter would not have needed to tell us that no prophecy of Scripture is to be interpreted privately, because all interpretations of Scripture would end up the same. We need to understand and heed the warning of St. Mark the Ascetic: “Do not let your heart become conceited about your interpretations of Scripture, lest your intellect fall afoul for the spirit of blasphemy.”  Why would he be warning us of this? Because Scripture, in its most external, simplistic level, could easily lead people to a perverted understanding of God and the Christian faith.
For an interpretation of Scripture to be acceptable (which does not mean it is necessarily correct), it must at least conform to the basic dogmatic teachings of the Church. If God is love, this must be manifest from one’s understanding of Scripture. If one’s interpretation of a text would lead to God doing or commanding something which runs against the law of love, the law by which God himself acts, then one has indeed committed blasphemy. If one really believes God commands some intrinsic evil, such as genocide, one has abandoned the God who is love, and has at least committed unintentional blasphemy by something evil about him. One cannot get out of this by saying, “whatever God wills, is now good,” or that “the very nature of right and wrong has changed through time,” because both would contradict not only the fundamental character of love, but also the fact God has provided us a positive means by which we can understand something of him via analogy; we know what love is, we know what the good is, and therefore we know something about God when we see he is love or that he is good. While we must understand our concepts are limited in relation to God, it is not because God is less than our concepts, but more and their foundation. Thus, Pope Benedict wisely says:
In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which – as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated – unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Eph 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul – “λογικη λατρεία”, worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Rom 12:1).
Christianity affirms both the transcendence and immanence of God. The second allows us to say something positive and true about God, while the first reminds us that positive assertions are limited, that they are at best analogous pointers to something beyond the statements themselves. Our teachings truly say something about God. They must be used as the guideline by which we read Scripture. Moreover, as the Church makes abundantly clear, Scripture is itself an ecclesial document, to be interpreted in and by the Church. It must be interpreted in such a way that dogmatic teachings about God (such as his unchanging goodness) are in accord with our understanding of Scriptural text. If reason suggests a disconnect between an interpretation and dogma, we must follow dogma and dismiss the interpretation. Richard Gaillardetz explains this well:
The apostolic witness would be preserved both in the canonical Scriptures and in the ongoing paradosis or handing on of the apostolic faith in the Christian community. The unity of Scripture and tradition is grounded then in the one word whose presence in human history comes to its unsurpassable actualization in Jesus Christ. Scripture and tradition must be viewed as interrelated witnesses to that word. Furthermore, neither Scripture nor tradition can be separated from the Church. The unity of Scripture, tradition and the living communion of the Church itself is fundamental.
Revelation, therefore, is centered upon Jesus Christ – and through Christ, the whole of the Holy Trinity:
The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy (see Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10), and to indicate its meaning through various types (see 1 Cor. 10:12). Now the books of the Old Testament, in accordance with the state of mankind before the time of salvation established by Christ, reveal to all men the knowledge of God and of man and the ways in which God, just and merciful, deals with men. These books, though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy.
If the vision of God that one gets out of Scripture is not one which reveals his justice and mercy, the reader of the text has missed something about the text itself. Perhaps the mistake lies in their interpretive scheme, where they assume the text follows the contours of modern historical writings. This is not the case; indeed Christians since the beginning of Church history have understood a very different scheme for the Biblical text: one which presents a kind of history but uses that history to present a deeper, more fundamental understanding of the world. Texts which are seen as impossible, if interpreted as history, nonetheless must be accepted, not because they are historical, but because they reveal something theological. St. Neilos the Ascetic, for example, takes 2 Samuel 4:5-8 as being historically absurd. This, he thinks, should be obvious. But if this is the case, does it make the text meaningless? By no means:
It is clear that this story in Scripture should not be taken literally. For how could a king have a woman as door-keeper, when he ought properly to be guarded by a troop of soldiers, and to have round him a large body of attendants? Or how could he be so poor as to use her to winnow the wheat? But improbable details are often included in a story because of the deeper truths they signify. Thus the intellect in each of us resides within like a king, while the reason acts as door-keeper of the senses. When the reason occupies itself with bodily things – and to winnow wheat is something bodily – he enemy without difficulty slips past unnoticed and slays the intellect.
This scheme was in accord with what Origen taught. Indeed, he believed that the writers were inspired to put in statements which were absurd so as to remind us not to take the text so simply, but to look for the deeper, spiritual nourishment we can get from them, even for those texts which also have a real historical basis:
But since, if the usefulness of the legislation, and the sequence and beauty of the history, were universally evident of itself, we should not believe that any other thing could be understood in the Scriptures save what was obvious, the word of God has arranged that certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and offenses, and impossibilities, should be introduced into the midst of the law and the history, in order that we may not, through being drawn away in all directions by the merely attractive nature of the language, either altogether fall away from the (true) doctrines, as learning nothing worthy of God, or, by not departing from the letter, come to the knowledge of nothing more divine. And this also we must know, that the principal aim being to announce the spiritual connection in those things that are done, and that ought to be done, where the Word found that things done according to the history could be adapted to these mystical senses, He made use of them, concealing from the multitude the deeper meaning; but where, in the narrative of the development of super-sensual things, there did not follow the performance of those certain events, which was already indicated by the mystical meaning, the Scripture interwove in the history (the account of) some event that did not take place, sometimes what could not have happened; sometimes what could, but did not. And sometimes a few words are interpolated which are not true in their literal acceptation, and sometimes a larger number.
Scripture, of course, was written by various people. While they were inspired by God to write what they wrote, and God inspired the Church to collect the texts it did, in the form it did, we must also understand that the people behind the texts are not mere puppets being forced by God to write as they did. Thus, when patristic authors, or the Church, asserts God as the author of the text, we must not take this as fundamentalists do, but rather recognize that God works with authors based upon their ability and through their cooperation with his intended purposes: “The fathers look upon the Bible above all as the Book of God, the single work of a single author. This does not mean, however, that they reduce the human authors to nothing more than passive instruments; they are quite capable, also, of according to a particular book its own specific purpose.” Indeed, God can inspires people to reveal something about him without their knowing of it, or knowing the meaning behind their words, as St Edith Stein masterfully explains:
Must the inspired person who is the instrument of a divine revelation be aware of the fact? Must he know that he has been illuminated, must he himself have received a revelation? We may well imagine cases where none of this is true. It is not impossible that someone utter a revelation without realizing it, without having received a revelation from God, without even being aware that he is speaking in God’s name or feeling supported by God’s Spirit in what he says and how he says it. He may think he is only voicing his own insight and in the words of his choosing.
Thus Caiphas says in the Sanhedrin : ‘You know nothing and do not consider that it is better for you that one man die for the people and not the whole people parish.’ And John adds: ‘but his he said not of himself but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the people…’ Hence Caiphas spoke in God’s name and followed divine instructions without either knowing it or wishing to do so. John, however, knows that Caiphas was speaking God’s word and perhaps that he was himself enlightened by God as he wrote this. Does John know the prophetic meaning of Caiphas’ words through a revelation accorded him? Quite possibly. But it may also be that the fulfillment of those words in the death of Jesus and John’s view of the overall work of salvation made him realize their prophetic nature.
Now this is not to say it is the norm, nor common, but, as we see, a person inspired by God does not have to understand the meaning of their words, nor that they are actually saying something that will be collected together as being inspired by God. The intention of God as the inspired author of Scripture does not have to be one with the intended meaning of the human author, and indeed, could be one which runs contrary to what such a human might have thought (as, for example, we find in the case of Jonah).
Thus, it is important to discuss inspiration, but as the Pontifical Biblical Commission warns us, we must not follow the simplistic interpretation found within fundamentalism:
Fundamentalism is right to insist on the divine inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the word of God and other biblical truths included in its five fundamental points. But its way of presenting these truths is rooted in an ideology which is not biblical, whatever the proponents of this approach might say. For it demands an unshakable adherence to rigid doctrinal points of view and imposes, as the only source of teaching for Christian life and salvation, a reading of the Bible which rejects all questioning and any kind of critical research.
And, it is especially when people take the Bible as history where this becomes the problem. “Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth.” It creates a false, blasphemous view of God through its simplistic understanding of the text, and demand adherence to that simplistic view, with the explanation that if one denies this scheme, one must reject Scripture itself. There is no basis by which one can understand the deeper, spiritual value of revelation. And it is for this reason it ends up creating an evil-looking God, and promotes the acceptance of intrinsic evils such as racism or genocide as being good if and when God commanded them. “Fundamentalism likewise tends to adopt very narrow points of view. It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible; this blocks any dialogue with a broader way of seeing the relationship between culture and faith. Its relying upon a non-critical reading of certain texts of the Bible serves to reinforce political ideas and social attitudes that are marked by prejudices—racism, for example—quite contrary to the Christian Gospel.” While simple, it is this simplicity which leads to a letter that kills, because it requires a denial of reason when engaging the faith, and leading to “intellectual suicide”:
The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.
No wonder St Mark the Ascetic warned us to be careful when we interpreted Scripture. He understood how people would confuse the human side of Scripture with its divine meaning, and how that would end up creating a false, humanly constructed, image of God. A God presented in the image of fallen humanity can only be a monster, the monster which we see proclaimed by fundamentalists the world over.
 Mark the Monk, “On the Spiritual Law” in Counsels on the Spiritual Life. Trans. Tim Vivian and Augustine Casiday (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009), 93.
 Pope Benedict, Regensburg Lecture, Sept 12, 2006.
 Richard R. Gaillardetz, Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997), 84.
 Dei Verbum 15 (Vatican Translation).
“ Now the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, set out, and about the heat of the day they came to the house of Ishbosheth, as he was taking his noonday rest. And behold, the doorkeeper of the house had been cleaning wheat, but she grew drowsy and slept; so Rechab and Baanah his brother slipped in. When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him. They took his head, and went by the way of the Arabah all night, and brought the head of Ishbosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, ‘Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life; the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring’” (2 Sam 4:5-8 RSV).
 St Neilos the Ascetic, “Ascetic Discourse” in The Philokalia. Volume I. Trans. And ed. By G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1983), 210.
 Origen, “On First Principles” in ANF(4), 364.
 Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (March 18, 1994), III-B.2
 St Edith Stein, “Ways to know God” in Knowledge and Faith. Trans. Walter Redmond (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2000), 103.
 Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, I-F.