This question has kept on cropping up for me, whether I consider Catholic interactions with protestants, other faiths, or complete non-believers. A common issue in all such dialogues, is that they consider our Scriptures differently.
An easy example is a non-believer laughing at how, in the Genesis story, the character known as “God” doesn’t want us eating some random apple (which was actually the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”). But this is to read it as a mere story, when it is far, far more.
I think a large part of the blame lies with the protestant dogma of Sola Scriptura, saying that the Bible alone has authority. The basic issue with this is, that no interpretation of the Bible can then have authority, and without interpretation, the Bible literally means nothing. Of course, you can’t read the Bible without interpreting it, so they end up either abandoning any idea of certainty in belief, or only accepting the interpretation that seems to involve the least interpretation (though often this will be ignorant of the nature of what it is supposed to interpret). They must swing between liberalism and fundamentalism; between uncertainty and narrow-mindedness. There is no room for mysticism.
But Scripture is made to be interpreted! I’d go so far as to say that it’s made to have many (true) interpretations. The Scriptures are all, to varying degrees, art. At the time of writing, I believe the distinction had yet to be made between “mere art” and “mere fact”. Indeed, within a theistic universe, such a separation is incoherent! Truth cannot be separated from beauty, nor beauty from truth. All things are thoroughly a part of the whole, and all things must be understood in terms of each other.
‘I have put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.’
I believe Scripture is the inexhaustible artwork. The Church with one heart and mind has been meditating upon it for near 2,000 years, and is still finding new depths! You may have found some yourself. The works of Shakespeare or Van Goph or Tolkien or Mozart may move us deeply, reveal truths even the artist didn’t perceive, and even transform us, but each has its end. Even if it might seem inexhaustible to us, nothing but Scripture can be meditated upon by a whole society (the Church in this case) for millennia, and consistently surprise us with its depths.
Another way to put it, is that all artwork is a window into a mind. The craftsmanship of the artist determines how clear or opaque the glass will be, and the contents is everything of their mind they open to us. Its worth noting that the artists don’t know or understand everything in their minds, and so are often more profound than they know.
Scripture, then, is a window into the Mind of God. It is mediated through the minds of men, and so is also a window into the minds of its authors, and of the cultures they lived in. But thankfully, these are also God’s creation, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit their minds provided a special window in God’s Mind.
“The Mind of God”… What does this actually mean? I would equate it with the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, the divine Logos: Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the complete and perfect revelation of God. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
All of Scripture serves primarily to reveal the person of the Son of God/Son of Mary. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He is brought to us, even as by the same Holy Spirit He was incarnate of the Virgin. And by the exact same Holy Spirit, He is to be conceived in you and me.
So, how is Scripture supposed to be read? As a Christian. As a mystic. As personal encounter with God. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word of God can be opened to us. It is only by the light of Christ that we see Christ.
There is no objective, “scientific” manner of interpreting the Scriptures as Scripture. Not even a little bit. Any doctrine gleaned in such a lifeless way, might or might not be correct… But either way, it will bring the reader no profit, no knowledge of the Truth. We should not read Scripture as a non-believer would (except for God’s grace intervening).
Theology must always be subject to mysticism. Every time this rule is refused, a heresy is born. How do we subject theology to mysticism? By always listening in humility for the Word of God, especially in His body, the Catholic Church. It is through the apostolic Church that Jesus desired to give Himself to the world, and it is there we must seek Him. The Church that is called to encounter God, is simultaneously called to be the encounter with God.
When we read the Scriptures, or do any theology, the only rule is to listen with humility to Jesus, wherever He is speaking to us. The powers of our intelligence are welcome, but they must sit at Jesus’ feet.
God bless you