Q. Seeing that the Bible is authoritative in the Orthodox Church, how does the Orthodox Church interpret or understand the Bible?
A. There are some who will assert that the Bible is an easy book to understand, “It means just what it says, right?” Well, if that were the case then everyone would agree with what it means, and as you know, that is certainly not the case.
The Bible is complex because, instead of being one book, it is a compilation of over 70 different books or letters written by numerous authors over thousands of years in different geographical and cultural locations and written in different genres. The literature types in the Bible include history, poetry, letters, biography, prose, wisdom sayings, and apocalyptic literature.
It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek and has been translated into thousands of different languages. With all of that said, you can see interpreting what the Bible means can be a daunting task. However, there are some principles that the Orthodox Church is guided by in its interpretation of the Bible, or Scriptures.
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ declared that the Scriptures testify of Him. He Himself is the Logos, the Word of God incarnate, and therefore, the purpose of the Bible is first and foremost to lead us to Jesus Christ and to make Him known, the word of God in the words of man.
2. The Holy Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit; therefore, He is the only infallible interpreter of the Bible. Since our Lord promised that the Spirit would lead the Church, we believe that the Holy Spirit likewise inspires the Church’s understanding, interpretation, and application of the Bible. (See #4)
3. The Bible cannot be interpreted by an individual person alone. Even if a person is thoroughly trained in all areas surrounding Biblical scholarship, he/she does not have the spiritual authority to definitively declare its correct interpretation.
4. The Bible, especially the New Testament, was written by those in the Church for those in the Church and therefore can only be accurately and authoritatively interpreted by the Church. The Church is composed of the Laity, Deacons, Presbyters (priests), and Bishops together. (See #2)
5. As the water is purest closest to its source, so the understanding of the Bible closest to the time it was written is the most accurate. Therefore, the earliest Fathers/Mothers of the Church are given a place of privilege in interpreting the Scriptures.