Our Anglican approach to Scripture/the Bible:
Church of Ireland members are encouraged to read the Bible in the traditional way.
We seek to discover what the text actually states and means.
We are not encouraged to accept “Literalism”, whereby all readings from the Bible are taken literally. An early church Father Origen (185 – c.254) read in Matthew chapter 19.12 that there were some who made themselves “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven”. Origen went under the knife. Today’s modern literalists appear to be selective in what they take literally.
We hold that there are a number of literary techniques to enable us to discover what the Bible “states and means”. Like most churches we believe that the gospel accounts of Christ’s life come to us in straightforward narrative. Some of this narrative is in parable from where Jesus tells a story to convey a moral teaching. The narrative too also has the use of metaphor where Jesus says, “I am the vine”, and again, “I am the door”. When threatened Jesus told his accusers that if they, “destroy the temple I will raise it up in three days.” (Jesus was speaking of His resurrection. His opponents may have taken a literal interpretation). In the Hebrew Scriptures we find further metaphor form as in Isaiah 55v12 we learn that the mountains and hills break into song and the trees clap their hands.
Clearly history teaches that the Church has always attempted to interpret the Bible operating on multiple levels. The Exodus narrative was read as a description of actual events and as a sign of spiritual liberation. (African slaves understood this and that hope sustained many through the dreadful days of slavery.)
While we reject crude literalism we are aware of another danger, simply reading the Bible only through the lens of contemporary secular assumptions. Some Christians may only want to embrace the parts of the Bible that they are comfortable with. The difficulty with this mode of Biblical interpretation is that the Christian may simply project his or her prejudice into the text. The late Archbishop Coggan suggested correctly that reading the Bible may, ‘bring comfort to the uncomfortable and make the comfortable, uncomfortable.’
So we suggest that Church of Ireland people are neither literal nor liberal in their interpretation of Scripture. We suggest that our interpretation is ‘contextual.’ We attempt to examine the text of Scripture in relation to the whole and use our minds and today’s scholarship to figure out how a particular passage is best understood. Our simple operating principle may be said to be: whether the reader regards the Bible as inspired or not, read the text in context for what it is actually trying to say.
Deep Engagement: Fresh Discovery
In 2012, the Anglican Communion published ‘Deep Engagement: Fresh Discovery’ – the report of its ‘Bible in the Life of the Church’ Project.
Anglicans love the scriptures of both Old and New Testaments; these have a central place within our common life. For 500 years or more we have valued their availability in vernacular translation and treasured them in our worship. They speak to us, and the societies in which we live, in many ways -permeating our liturgy, Bible study, preaching, commentary, story-telling, song, scholarship, dance,music, and art. The nature of these encounters differs from context to context, adding to both the variety of interpretations and the complexity of the interpretive process.