Consider the following lines from My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath

Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Who could gurantee an accurate interpretation of this poem except Roethke himself or someone he appointed, educated and duly ordained? This is but one work, one author, and one genre. The Bible-- a collection of books, by multiple authors, written in many different literary genres over the span of thousands of years offers a wholly different species of interpretational head-spinning. What (mis)interpretations might it inspire?

The familiar response is that the scriptures present self-evident truths so we don’t need to worry about 6 billion interpretations.. God leads us all to the same conclusion.” If this were the case, pastor A would not disagree with pastor B about issue XYZ. What's more, Christianity would not have splintered into over 30,000 (and counting) divisions and denominations. We can't possible endorse 30,000 different versions of self-evident truth.

We would become like so many flies stuck in the molasses of personal interpretation. Getting free is not just a matter of inventing a set of essential vs. non-essential truths so that we can agree on the former but not necessarily the latter. Where are these "non-essentials" defined in scripture? If they were defined (they are not) then my interpretation of them could STILL differ from yours! Is baptism, good-works, sacraments, prayers for the dead, intercession, faith alone, scripture alone, saints, contraception, abortion etc. essential? Some feel these are defining doctrines. Other’s don’t. Still others would argue to the brink of hell and heaven for another "essentially" Christian doctrine.

So we’re back at the beginning. We can’t know how to interpret the poetry that Roethke wrote, let alone the poetry, history, allegory, lyrics, and letters that dozens of biblical writers wrote. Now, if you were the Son of the Living God would you give your church a collection of books that would be subject to so much debate and division? Did not Jesus say to his Father, “(I pray") that they might all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you.” (John 16:21) ? If even the forefathers of the American constitution knew to establish a juridical system (i.e. the Supreme Court) to authoritatively interpret what they wrote, would God not know better?

When Christian pastors offer their interpretation of scripture, they invoke their own authority to do so. Yes, they claim the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Yet, curiously, this same Holy Spirit seems to prompt different Christians to disagree. Thus, it seems the spirit of truth makes truth unclear! We're left with only one logical conclusion. Christianity needs an authoritiative voice to rise above the din of scriptural (mis)interpretations. So why listen to some pastor who has no direct, verifiable and authoritative connection to Christ? This would seem very curious, especially if Christ had established a legitimate leadership from the get go. If such a leadership exists, it seems plausible and probable to me that it wouldn't just pop up randomly 50,100 or or nearly 2,000 years after the fact. It would have been there at the beginning and it would still be here now. The only leadership I know that even vaguely fits this description is the Catholic Papacy.
Click here for a supplement to this post:


Leave a Reply

What Does It Mean To Be Human?