Enthusiastic positive mysterians tend to be complacent traditionalists about Bible interpretation – that is, people who are pretty sure that their Christian group (e.g. Catholicism, Reformed Christianity, or maybe simply small-c catholicism) has got the Bible (generally) right. There is a reason for this.
The reason is that if you’re trying to reason your way towards the correct interpretation of some passage, rather than rest on the laurels of hoary precedent, then it looks like a show-stopper if your proposed interpretation seems self-contradictory (positive mysterianism), or unintelligible (negative mysterianism).
But I’d draw further lessons from the imaginary cases concocted by Nye and by me. Let’s take the former first. Are we sure that human and viney natures are incompatible? Surely not. And yet, it seems to me (and I hope to you) that nothing could be a vine and a human.
Further, it seems to me (not sure how to argue this) that the burden is one someone who denies that Jesus is speaking metaphorically in this passage.
Like Nye, I think we can on the basis of reason and experience reasonably reject Catholic claims about transubstantiation and the Bible interpretations on which they are based. It seems that a little wafer can’t be the whole body of any man, and it seems (strongly and lastingly, and to multiple senses) that this little white thing is a wafer. To finish the case, of course, one ought to give a plausible, non-arbitrary reading of Jesus’ relevant teachings (e.g. “you must eat my flesh”). These seemings are a high barrier for the Catholic interpretations to get over, and it surely is not enough to point out that some early church Fathers read those sayings in something like the later Catholic way. Age and popularity should give way to a reading that makes better sense of inner logic of the passage.
Why does God allow religious institutions and whole traditions of interpretation to go wrong? I don’t know, but if you’re familiar with the Old Testament, consider the case of the Jews. If they were allowed to stray, why not us? They had God’s Spirit as well, although not in the same way post-Pentecost Christians do.
The main point of my Fingerites story is to highlight the smugness so easily engendered by being ensconced in an interpretive tradition. “We must have it right – we’ve got the Holy Spirit.” “Surely God wouldn’t allow such a gloriously numerous and long-lived group like us go so wrong for so long on this passage.” These things are rarely said, but often thought. I guess I was also mocking the “But that’s what it says” sort of response when defending a controversial interpretation.
I do, incidentally, believe in practical and even doctrinal guidance by God’s Spirit. But in my view this promise is to genuine disciples of Christ, and so to groups of such – not to any institution such as the Catholic church, or the United Methodist Church, etc. Even so, I’d expect such guidance to be mainly about important practical matters (relating to everyday individual and corporate Christian life), and doctrines which matter much on a practical level (e.g. Shall we add some vodun ceremonies to spice up our services?) , not on, e.g. is molinism true or not, or on many fine theoretical points about the Trinity.
I also believe that a person, moved by the Spirit, can legitimately and correctly offer up a new interpretation of an old text, as the New Testament authors also do, sometimes even basing a doctrine partly on that new reading. Some Catholic apologists claim to be doing this, whilst also claiming to be merely drawing out the logical implications of the text (as always understood). Of course, they can’t have it both ways. Protestant readers are more likely to stick with the latter claim, while gleefully reading patristic meanings back into the NT texts. But these are topics for a future series.
OK – It’s nearly time to end this over-long series, before I reduce the readership to 0 readers non-identical with me. There’s more to say about mysterianism, but I’ll save that for the book.