Interpreting and Teaching the Bible in Latin America

Article excerpt

Biblical interpretation among indigenous groups in Latin America bears a distinctive pedagogical orientation. To teach and understand the Bible as the word of God is to enable others to see, judge, and transform the world as the Book of Life.

Based on a liberation hermeneutic, biblical interpretation in Latin America is a constantly growing movement. We will analyze its method and its future tasks particularly with regard to the pedagogical orientation it provides the Christian Base Communities. In the Catholic world, this movement has as its point of departure the constitution "Dei Verbum" on divine revelation that was affirmed by the second Vatican Council (1965).


The people of God constitute the original reality of the church. The church is, above all, the people of God organized into communities and movements. Since biblical times, the people of God have been the privileged recipients of God's revelation and tradition, both oral and written. The purpose of this biblical movement in Latin America is to return the Bible to the people of God. As the authentic "owner" and agent1 of interpretation of the Bible, the people are able to recover their divine right to read and to interpret the sacred scriptures. If this objective is achieved, exegetes and popular biblicists may disappear, but the Bible will remain where it belongs and from where it regains its full capacity to reveal the word of God: with the people themselves.

The people of God are not alone in their task of interpreting the Bible. Two auxiliary helpers are at their service: biblical scholarship and the magisterium. It is important to say this because we ought not to assume that people, alone and without assistance, are going to accomplish the task of interpreting the Bible. But it is also necessary to insist that these helpers are neither absolute nor above, but are in the service of the people of God.

Among the academic theological disciplines, biblical scholarship or exegesis has advanced the most over the last forty years, an entirely positive development. And yet it remains isolated from the church; its extraordinary advances do not make it into the lives of believers. The academy is a closed world where exegetes converse only among themselves. In Latin

America, however, the dividing wall between exegesis and the people of God is breaking down in two ways: on the one hand, through the pastoral orientation of exegesis, and on the other, through the formation of pastoral agents in the exegetical methods of biblical study. Exegesis maintains its scientific level, but its orientation and objective include the explicit communication of the word of God to the people of God. Without ceasing to be community leaders, pastoral agents appropriate the scientific instruments required for a much deeper understanding of the Bible.

The people of God also require the service of the magisterium, understood as the agent responsible for continuing the apostolic tradition within the church. The "living voice of the gospel" continues to resonate in tradition, and the biblical movement is the ship that navigates the river of tradition. The magisterium, with its orientations, permits a communitarian interpretation of God's word. It is at the service of the word of God. The maximum authority of the church is God's word, and the magisterium is at the service of this word.

The people of God read and interpret the word of God with the help of exegesis and the magisterium. Problems arise, however, when the community rejects the help of scholarship and the magisterium, or when exegesis closes in on itself and does not project itself pastorally toward the community, or when the magisterium is absolutized and placed above the word of God and acts in an authoritarian way in the community. The biblical movement advances when biblical science and the magisterium work harmoniously in service to the people of God, the proper and privileged agents of the interpretation of God's word. …