by Father Mike Stubbs
In the sometimes acrimonious debates of the past between Catholics and Protestants, apologists would frequently seek to buttress their arguments by quoting from Scripture. These snippets of Scripture were ordinarily taken out of context. They are called “proof texts.”
Nowadays, a more comprehensive approach is usually taken in interpreting Scripture. “The text must be interpreted with attention to the unity of the whole of Scripture”(“Verbum Domini,” postsynodal apostolic exhortation of Benedict XVI, 34).
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 4:1-11, Jesus and the devil engage in a battle of words. They hurl Scripture quotations at each other as weapons to attack the other.
Since Jesus’ first words to the devil emphasize the importance of Scripture, it makes sense for them to resort to Scripture in this way: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then, the debate begins.
The devil responds with a Scripture quotation of his own, as he challenges Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple: “For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Since the devil himself can quote Scripture, that shows us that the use of Scripture in itself does not settle all arguments, contrary to the claims of the fundamentalists. Scripture must be used in a manner that fits in with its original intent. That means that we avoid manipulating it. Instead, we allow it to guide us.
The exchange of Scripture quotations by Jesus and the devil may remind us of the practice of proof texts. In the case of the devil, that may not surprise us. But what about Jesus? How does he fit in? In his use of Scripture, does he remain faithful to the purpose of the Scriptures?
Jesus was guided by the Spirit into the desert, the place where the devil would tempt him. This was the same Spirit that had originally inspired the Scriptures. The Spirit would also guide Jesus in his use of the Scriptures in combating the devil.
The same Spirit can guide us as well, especially if we, too, spend time in fasting and prayer, like Jesus. That is why we are entering this season of Lent. The Scriptures can serve us in our battle against temptation, in our fight against the evil that might lurk in our souls, just as they served Jesus.