On the interpretation of scriptures


Religious scriptures are interpreted by men. Regardless of the fidelity of the original message, much transformation happens in the process, until it finally reaches the practiotioners of the religion.

Each person performing an interpretation along the chain, however minute the source fragment and the area of application, necessarily injects his or her own value system and mental model into the interpretation.

One common criticism of many applications of religious jurisprudence is that the reference source material is "taken out of context", implying that historical material, not necessarily present in the scriptures explicitly, is needed to properly interpret the scripture. Or that a different selection from the source scripture would yield a different recommendation in a specific application.

But total and perfect knowledge of a religious scripture and its context is impossible. Firstly, human capacity at understanding is limited, no matter the collective size. Secondly, history can never be accurately preserved - witness the debates of historian academicians. Thus, any interpretation is bound to be always be debatable, if not falsifiable.

It then comes back to the value system of the society to incept, accept and enact a specific interpretation. This is no different than the process of evolving the common law, except it is presented under a very different light: that of the constant fear of blasphemy and iconoclasm.

Recognizing that the social value system plays a major role in religious interpretation emphasizes the need for a functional - as opposed to dysfunctional - society to exist as a prerequisite to applying a religious order - which is the very state a religious order claims to create. Hence the paradox.