Doctrine and Interpretation

What is the relationship between doctrine and interpretation, specifically in terms of the former’s influence over the latter?

I’ve recently finished Scott Swain’s Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, and am currently reading Kevin Giles’ The Eternal Generation of the Son. Here are there answers:

Swain says,

Church dogma, we might say, is a sign of Christ’s victory through Word and Spirit within the common mind of the church. It is for this reason an ancient landmark that should not be moved.

To the extent, therefore, that the church’s dogmatic deliverances are indeed faithful summaries of the scope, shape, and substance of scriptural teaching, their use in interpretation does not constitute the imposition of an external burden or alien standard upon the interpreter of Holy Scripture. Church dogmas provide instead a divinely authorized interpretive key for unlocking the treasures of God’s word, a blessed pathway into Holy Scripture.

Giles similarly states,

What we must recognize is that there is no reading of Scripture apart from a communal understanding of it, apart from tradition. The question is not, do I accept that my communally held beliefs inform my exegesis or not – they unquestionably do – but, which communal beliefs will I prioritize? . . .the best tradition to inform our interpretation of Scripture is what the best of theologians across the centuries have taught, especially when it is codified in the creeds and confessions of our church.

What do you think? Do, and perhaps more importantly should, the three ecumenical creeds or the seven ecumenical councils have any bearing on our interpretation? What about more contemporary confessions?

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3 thoughts on “Doctrine and Interpretation

  1. I have not read either book, but in what you have quoted I am much more comfortable with Giles’ statement than Swain’s. The line “a divinely authorized interpretive key for unlocking the treasures of God’s word” would need lots of unpacking (qualifying?) before I would be comfortable with it.

  2. Pingback: Doctrine and Interpretation | Cataclysmic

  3. How do we properly interpret the doctrinal passages with which the fathers built Christian dogma, if our interpretation depends on that dogma? Or inversely, how do the father’s build dogma from the scriptures, if one requires the dogma to interpret scripture?

    My systematic understanding of my wife’s gestures depends upon my interpretation of the individual cases. What would it mean to announce my systematic understanding (by guidance of the Holy Spirit of course) as the proper interpretive lens for any new individual case? It would mean two things. First, it would mean my systematic understanding could not have been wrong. Notice the modal language. That seems much too strong –at least (if you’re following the analogy) for sola scriptura-ites. The more troublesome consequence, however, is the circular grounding. How do I know my interpretation is valid? If it is properly filtered through my systematic understanding. How do I ground my systematic understanding? –Through valid interpretations. True, but not helpful.

    And this is exactly how it gets played out in both these Swain and Giles references:

    Swain first:

    “To the extent, therefore, that the church’s dogmatic deliverances are indeed faithful summaries of the scope, shape, and substance of scriptural teaching, their use in interpretation does not constitute the imposition of an external burden…”

    By what hermeneutical principles would one use to assess the “faithfulness of the church’s dogma to the scriptural teaching?” It cannot be the very hermeneutical principle offered here! –because if it was, Swain would be saying the scriptural teaching requires the lens of proper dogma… to interpret if it IS proper dogma!

    Now Giles:

    “…the best tradition to inform our interpretation of Scripture is what the best of theologians across the centuries have taught especially when it is codified in the creeds and confessions of our church.”

    Who are the best theologians across the centuries? Presumably, the ones who properly interpret scripture. How do know who has properly interpreted scripture? By looking through the lens of the best theologians?

    I know there are deep philosophical assumptions in the background of all of this (which Giles alludes to), but I would commend a pulling away from enlightenment epistemology that does not require the wholesale epistemological revision that Swain and Giles (and many reformed epistemologists) think it does.

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