Radio Show

Understanding Scripture With the Church Fathers and Dr. Jim Papandrea

People often have difficulty interpreting the Bible, and Fr. Dave welcomes back Dr. Jim Papandrea to give insights from his new book, “Reading Scripture Like the Early Church: Seven Insights From the Church Fathers to Help You Understand the Bible.

Dr. Papandrea explains, “The Church fathers are those early bishops and theologians of the Church from in the first few centuries, some of whom are very famous. You’ve probably heard of St. Augustine or maybe even St. Irenaeus. And they are the ones who really taught us how to read the Bible. Not only that, they’re the ones who decided which books would be in our Bible.”

On a personal level, these early Church leaders also helped Dr. Papandrea revert back to Catholicism. “When I was coming up in the Protestant denominations, one of the things that I was taught was that the Protestant Reformation was all about getting back to some sort of pristine version of Christianity,” he says. However in studying the Church fathers, he realized that “there is no such thing as pre-Catholic Christianity. The early church is the Catholic Church.“

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He also found issues with the concept of “sola scriptura,” or the Protestant view that states that “Scripture only” is the sole source of authority for Christians. Dr. Papandrea says, “There’s some real problems with that. Because ‘Scripture alone’ implies that you can interpret Scripture apart from the tradition and the Church. And as I now tell my students, all heresy is the result of trying to interpret Scripture apart from the tradition and apart from the Church, not to mention the fact that sola scriptura is not in the Bible.”

With this knowledge, he offers one insight from his book saying, “For the first 1500 or 1600 years of Christianity, no one ever suggested that there should be only one meaning out of any given biblical text. Some of the texts may only have a sort of historical meaning, but for the most part, the Church fathers and the medieval scholastics, all looked for multiple layers of meaning.”

They discuss oral tradition combined with the writings of Scripture, and Father Dave notes how we sometimes falsely discount the former. He says, “It’s an artificial distinction to say that God wrote the stuff on the white printed page in this book, but God didn’t inspire when, prior to Luke and Matthew writing things down, people were passing this on orally. No, we believe it’s both.”

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Dr. Papandrea expands on this saying how oral tradition is “apostolic succession.” He explains, “It’s the succession of Bishops teaching their students. The oral tradition is not people sitting around a campfire just telling the stories of Jesus. It is the teaching of the Church, and its catechesis…and so the hierarchy of the church, it was all there from the beginning.”

He continues, “There’s a passage in Matthew 16, where we have Peter’s confession, and we have Jesus talking about the rock on which he’s going to build his Church. Then he makes that statement, ‘and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ And I read that a million times, and I finally had to see, wait a minute, that’s Jesus making a promise. He will be protecting this teaching authority of the Church down through the ages, so that the church won’t go off the rails and become something that wasn’t meant to be.”