Examining the Role of the Reader: A Necessary Task for Catholic Biblical Interpretation
In this article, I enter the discussion over what constitutes Catholic biblical interpretation to argue that in order for biblical interpretation to be “Catholic,” it must integrate hermeneutical approaches that foreground real readers within the context of lived realities. To do so, I analyze the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s (PBC) The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church in relation to Frank M. Yamada’s “What Does Manzanar Have to Do with Eden? A Japanese American Interpretation of Genesis 2–3.”
The PBC’s document serves as my point of departure because of its important status as an ecclesial document on biblical interpretation. Yamada provides an example of how theorizing the reader’s point of view affects a reading of the text, since by reading through the lens of Japanese American identity he interprets Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis 2–3 as a choice they make for their survival in response to how God has arbitrarily demonstrated authority over them. My discussion shows that even as the PBC insists on the primacy of the historical-critical method, contextual approaches like that exhibited by Yamada lie within the scope of Catholic biblical interpretation. According to the logic of the PBC’s document, a reader-centered approach like Yamada’s forms a necessary part of Catholic biblical interpretation, since foregrounding the needs, questions, and insights of real readers has the potential to make Scripture responsive to the needs of people today, which the PBC names as a goal of interpretation. Drawing from the interpretative frameworks of Brian K. Blount and Fernando F. Segovia, I show that adopting a reader-centered approach can still respect the PBC’s understanding of the historical-critical method as indispensable. Interpreting the biblical text from the standpoint of real readers can thus be seen as an integral part of biblical interpretation that seeks to be Catholic.
The full paper, published in Horizons, “Examining the Role of the Reader: A Necessary Task for Catholic Biblical Interpretation” by Gilberto A. Ruiz, Saint Anselm College, can be viewed here free of charge until July 30, 2017.
Gilberto A. Ruiz is Assistant Professor of Theology at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. His research interests include studying the Gospel of John in light of its Second Temple Jewish and Roman-imperial contexts, as well as biblical interpretation from theological, contextual, and Latino/a hermeneutical perspectives.