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Scripture and Moral Theology
For a young Catholic growing up in the years before Vatican II, it would be very interesting to discover that the teaching of scripture is “the soul of all theology” (Dei Verbum, from Richard Gula, p. 165, RELATED REASON BY FAITH). My experience as a student in a Catholic elementary school in the pre-Vatican II years is that there was very little teaching of Scripture at that time.
In fact, although Vatican II led to a renewed focus on Scripture, many non-Catholics still view the Catholic Church as devoid of Scripture. Chapter 12, “Scripture in Moral Theology” (Gula, p.165) contains an overview of the critical use of scripture and the critical use of Scripture, and then deals with some discussion of Scripture as a basis for moral decision-making.
Catholics today almost universally recognize the need for critical analysis in the use of Scripture. But to use the opposite of Scripture is to use a method called a proof text. To understand this method, one must first recognize that some place more importance on Natural law than on Scripture.
Using this theory, once an issue is determined on the basis of Natural law, the Scriptures are examined to justify the Natural law position. So, as Gula says, it’s kind of an afterthought or an attempt to justify Natural law. Furthermore, “Although moral theology appears to have a biblical basis, the proof text does not really allow Scripture to enter into the fabric of moral theological reflection” (Gula, p.166).
Although the critical use of Scripture tends to undermine the credibility of the proof text, Stephen D. Cline, in his article “In Defense of the Proof Text,” argues that the problem is more than the proof text itself. misuse of the Biblical text that must be disputed. Mr. Kline says, “Those among us who reject the proof-text do not pervert the Scriptures. I am of the opinion that they mean to reject the honorable practice of giving book, chapter, and verse. Bible truth” (Krane, bible-infonet. org). He goes further by using examples of Jesus using passages from the Old Testament to support his teaching to argue in favor of the proof-text method. He also discusses Peter’s great sermon in the book of Acts, where it is quoted as another confirmation of the Old Testament proof text. I am not sure if Mr. Klein is Catholic, but from some of his comments about sectarianism, I get the impression that he is not. Despite this fact, his arguments are not without merit.
Critical use of Scripture requires analyzing passages from different perspectives. Gula draws on the analysis of Kenneth R. Himes to explain the four related tasks one must engage in in order to relate Scripture to moral theology. These are “…(1) exegetical task: determining the meaning of the text in its original context; (2) hermeneutic task: determining the meaning of the text today; (3) methodological task: using the book. moral reasoning (4) theological task: using the Scriptures explaining its connection with other sources of moral wisdom” (Gula, p. 167).
In A Guide Through The New Testament, Celia Brewer Marshall defines the term exegesis as follows: “…students of the New Testament use it to describe what they do when they try to see what the text of the New Testament means. was written first” (Marshal, p. 15). Thus, critical writing of passages such as analysis is our effort to discover what the text means, not to find fault with it, because it has a huge impact on what it means to us today. Ms. Marshall coordinates several areas of critical analysis. These are text, source, form, editorial and literary analysis.
The text compares the language used in a particular passage in different translations. For example, you may find different wording in the New American Bible than you would find in the Revised Standard or King James Version. The second analysis is source. Ms. Marshall says, “Source-critical theories are just these assumptions—which may or may not be helpful to you in comparing the Bibles” (Marshall, p. 15). He goes further to explain that the source analysis is only in the Gospels and not in the other books of the Bible.
“Form criticism seeks to go back behind written documents and see what individual units might be in literary form” (Marshall, p. 15). Ms. Marshall explains that redaction criticism considers authors as editors and looks at the way Bible stories are “edited.” Literary criticism simply looks at what can be learned from a text. Gula says, “Although limited, careful exegetical work is an important first step toward satisfying the other tasks of using Scripture in moral theology” (Gula p.168).
Critical analysis allows us to understand the original meaning of the text, and hermeneutics allows us to bridge the cultural gap between the culture of the writers and the culture of the readers. Dr. Brian Allison says, “Biblical hermeneutics is critical and fundamental to the entire theological (and apologetic) enterprise” (Allison, Biblical Hermeneutics: An Alternative Paradigm). Gula argues that this analysis is very important and uses some examples to illustrate his point. On the other hand, Allison says in his article that cultural-historical differences are not so important. It is an interesting analysis and I am attaching it for your interest. I agree with Gula that the eschatological environment of the first century, as mentioned in his example, puts a different perspective on some of the things Jesus said. After analyzing the text, a person is able to use it in the decision-making process.
The methodological task is to put scripture to use in moral reasoning and decision-making. Gula confides in Gustafson that there are two ways to look at the direction given in Scripture. The revealed moral is to view the text as a prescription for action. He divides revealed morality into four sub-divisions, law, ideals, analogies, and diversity. To me, it’s a kind of hierarchy, where right is a fundamentalist view, word is law, and that’s it. From there you move into a landscape where the Word is not just a set of rules to be followed, but a set of ideals. Third, by analogy, one can compare Bible stories and apply them by analogy to modern situations. As Gulan describes, the great variety is a kind of halfway house between revealed morality and revealed reality, considering Scripture merely informative rather than specifically defining morality. A great variety says that Scripture is important, but not all-encompassing. It draws on mental reflection and spiritual reflection on other sources such as the revealed reality approach.
Analyzing the revealed reality approach, Gula discusses covenant and God’s sovereignty. A covenant with God is our response to God’s offer of love. God calls us and gives us a structure for relationship. This structure is contained in rules and commandments and, as Gula says, “…are assumptions and burdens of proof for moral life” (Gula, p. 173). In covenant relationships, we bind ourselves to our God by accepting His love and way of life. Gula then discusses God’s sovereignty as another way of looking at manifest reality. “The kingdom of God is not a place, but an activity that creates a community in which each person feels a strong sense of solidarity with others. A covenant with God allows us to enter into a covenantal relationship with Him in the same way we do with others, and allows us to experience ‘shalom.'” a kind of peace. . We see Jesus in the Scriptures instructing us on how to move into this kind of existence. It’s more than just rules to follow. It is a movement towards a hopeful life lived with respect, faith and responsibility. Hope “… always points to the love of God as the basis for the realization of new possibilities of human well-being, hope is the source of our energy to respond creatively to new possibilities for the reconstruction of society” (Gula, p. 177).
Contrast revealed reality with revealed morality and you see that the latter focuses on the “black and white” of it all. But if one believes that the Scriptures were given to us as a set of rules to blindly follow, then what are we to think of the radical words of Jesus? Are they just figures of speech? Gula considers the message of Jesus to pluck out his eye if it causes sin. Jesus came to save us. He came to forgive. “Putting out your eye” contradicts His message. So I would suggest that these are not directives as great commandments, but rather attempts to get our attention and make us think about the relevance of the message. Blindly following all parts of Scripture leaves no room to stimulate our creativity and imagination. It seems to me that there are certain rules that must be followed, and there are passages in the Scriptures that give us these rules. In addition, there are stories, exaggerations, and other literary devices that allow creative interpretation and application of the “rules.”
In a final attempt to reconcile the difference between revealed reality and revealed morality, Gula discusses the great commandment. It seems that there is little room to dispute what Jesus told us in Matthew 22 when he answered the question of the Pharisees. “He said to him: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like this: love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew, 22:37-40). Here is a great example of the difference between revealed morality and revealed reality. In the sense of revealed morality, you take it literally and love everyone. But what is love and how should we live with love. Some critical analysis is required to understand what Jesus meant by his command to love your neighbor. What is a neighbor? Is a neighbor a person? The person on our block? What is a neighbor? But what is love? If our neighbor is of the opposite sex, should we “love” that person as a man or a woman? Of course, Jesus. taking it literally is not as easy as it first appears. Read. So we look at the reality behind the statement and take direction from it, and then from that analysis we create the reality we will live.
There are many different views on the use of Scripture in the development of moral theology. Certainly the quest may be a noble quest, but to me a better quest would be to be knowledgeable about the Bible, not just the words of the Bible. By studying the Bible, we can understand its place in our lives and use its messages to help us in our efforts to make moral decisions that allow us to live our lives in accordance with God’s will.
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