St Irenaeus advanced a line of argument that would become standard among traditional Christianity: because the Bible is so complex and deep, it can’t rightly be interpreted by any one man’s reading. Similarly, it would not do for any community to simply read the “Bible” and that reading be authoritative (for the Gnostics would be vindicated). No, the only reading is the apostolic reading within the one Church (which has apostolic and episcopal parameters; this is simply a summary of early Church teaching and what they said is not up for debate).
An interlocutor could object, “Suppose you are correct in saying we are misreading the Bible because the Bible is full of ambiguities, how then are you not misreading what the Church is saying on these matters? If we are guilty of epistemic relativism in Bible reading, how are you not also guilty of epistemic relativism in ecclesial readings?.”
This bothered me for the longest time. While it is true that most people don’t misunderstand what the Church teaches on x, y, and z (and the misunderstandings and disagreements are nowhere near as radical as the evangelical readings on the Bible), the truth of the matter is the Church is not a text. The Church is not words. The Church did not initially operate by “The Bible alone” (since for most early Christians in the first few centuries there was no recognizable “Bible”). The Church was the body of Christ. It is flesh and blood, wine and bread. It is people. We are not dealing with the laws of literary hermeneutics, in which the evangelical is forever forced to operate, never rising above).