Biblical knowledge is at an all-time low among evangelicals, and even lower among those outside the church. The postmodern idea of “literary deconstruction” has wreaked havoc on the written (and spoken) word, turning each of us into an interpretive law unto himself. We’ve all heard the stories about Bible-studies or Sunday-School classes where each person is asked what the biblical text “means to them.” The usual conservative reply goes something like: “I don’t care what it means to you, what does it mean, period?” In other words, the author has an intended meaning that he is trying to communicate to the reader. While each of us is quite capable of reading our own thoughts and ideas into the words on the page, this is not what the author intended (unless he is being purposefully ambiguous). The goal of interpretation is not to try to wring every possible subjective meaning out of the words on the page, but to understand what the author meant. This is the heart of the interpretation debate.
After last week’s article was posted, I was rather baffled by some of the responses to it. While I thought I was being rather clear that I was referring to Bible translations, the respondents immediately began discussing study notes and study Bibles. I never once, in the whole entire article made reference to “study Bibles,” yet this seemed to be the topic of discussion that followed. Now this is completely fine and worthy of a discussion, but I found it to be quite ironic that an article on the dangers of misinterpretation was itself misinterpreted. I couldn’t have made my point any better if I had planned it.
Another, more serious example occurred in the news this week. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has gotten herself into a bit of interpretive trouble with her recent comments on the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion. Asked about what she thought about Barack Obama’s answer to when life begins (Obama replied that it was “above his pay grade”!), Pelosi gave an amazingly stupid answer.
Speaker Pelosi said that “as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.”
Pelosi went on to say that it’s only been about 50 years that the church has understood life to begin at conception.
Except for the fact that she can’t remember whether Augustine is a saint of the church or the state, Pelosi was wrong about everything. For someone of Pelosi’s stature to claim that the Catholic Church is still trying to figure out when life begins is nothing short of breathtaking ignorance. Catholic bishops all over the country were tripping over each other to get to the media first to point out Pelosi’s errors. The catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear when it states: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life” (CCC: 2270). As if this wasn’t clear enough, the catechism further states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC: 2271). Finally, as if speaking directly to Nancy Pelosi the catechism says: “Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being” (CCC: 2274). Am I missing where the doctors of the church have been unable to make a clear definition about when life begins?
Now this wouldn’t be much of a problem if Pelosi wasn’t a Catholic, and a practicing one at that. She regularly takes communion and indicates that it would be a “severe blow” to her if communion were to be withheld from her as it has been other pro-abortion Catholics like Rudy Giuliani and John Kerry. For Pelosi to make this a disagreement over interpretation on the Church’s Part 1s not only wrong, it is deception of the highest degree. But I can only say this because of the clarity and unambiguous language of the Catholic Church’s own document. Pelosi would have been just fine if she was a Protestant. Protestantism hasn’t been clear on this issue and it is to their extreme shame that they haven’t. But the point here is that Pelosi wants to have her Catholicism and her abortion too. She wants to have communion and a woman’s right to choose. And choose she does. She disregards the clear teaching of her own church in favor of a political talking point that has murdered over 50 million “choices.” While this may be something of an extreme example, interpretation is a major issue for the church today. Anyone who wants to claim that interpretation “does not matter” is a fool. And you remember what the Bible says about fools right? “Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (Proverbs 27:22).