Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Texts in Context


In response to yesterday's "But the Bible says ..." post one commenter wrote:
I am always discouraged by the strategy of discounting one particular biblical passage by ridiculing others. It tends to imply that the whole revelation of scripture is, at bottom, contemptuous. Perhaps that is the point.
Or not. Perhaps it is part of a long-term, ongoing effort to point out that Biblical texts out of context are hazardous to your health and to the health of others.

The case in point was Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ...
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
Pulling that text out of context and using it as an example of "what God says about marriage" makes as much sense as pulling any of the frequently quoted "clobber passages" out of context and using them as examples of "what God says about homosexuality." [If you want a great resource for "What the Bible Says and Doesn't Say About Homosexuality" see the piece by that name by Mel White.]

I remember being taught as a young Episcopalian that "we take the Bible too seriously to take it literally" ... and that early teaching continues to serve me well. Urban (Terry) Holmes wrote in his highly recommended "What is Anglicanism?"
Scripture for the Anglican is a fundamental source of authority for the church; but apart from reason it is dangerous. It becomes the mirror for the misdirected person to project his or her own opinions and give them the authority of God. The sin of schism in the result."
Reason tells us that the texts we inherit as Holy Scripture must be read in context. And my experience tells me that when someone comes at me with the "But the Bible says ..." argument knowing what else the Bible says equips me to neutralize some of the damage done by those who project their own homophobia on texts-out-of-context and "give them the authority of God."

At the end of the day it has nothing to do with discounting or ridiculing Scripture and everything to do with using the Bible not as as a weapon of judgement, division and intolerance but as a tool of love, justice and compassion.

13 comments:

SCG said...

Scripture for the Anglican is a fundamental source of authority for the church; but apart from reason it is dangerous.

Great statement! I remember in college when a Maranatha Christian chased after me to "talk" and kept quoting the "clobber passage" from 1 Corithians 6 at me. The "conversation" came to an end when I laughed out loud at her line, "But God wrote the Bible!"

rick allen said...

When someone prefaces an assertion with, “The bible says…,” it seems to me that, if I disagree, I must, as a Christian, take the approach that, “No, you have misunderstood.” It’s an entirely different matter to respond, “Well, yes, of course the bible says that, but it also contains a large number of equally stupid and cruel provisions, which I’m happy to list for you.”

The former approach presumes a difference in interpretation of an equally-revered text; the latter, if taken seriously, would lead me to conclude, “Well, if the bible means that, then the hell with it.” The former may come to ground a schism, and a not-uncommon agreement for different communions to go their separate ways (as we have on the comparable issue of divorce and re-marriage), but the latter burns down the barn to get rid of the rats.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

And I couldn't disagree with you more.

When I was ordained I swore a solemn vow that I did believe the Holy Scriptures to contain all things necessary to salvation ... not that all things contained in Holy Scripture is necessary to salvation.

Reading the Bible faithfully and critically allows us to hear the Word of God alive and present in these scriptures we inherit from our spiritual ancestors.

Separating the wheat from the chaff of the "literal words" of those inherited texts help us find the "Living Word" that still speaks to us as we seek to live our lives in alignment with God's love, justice and compassion -- resulting in neither schism nor barn burning.

dr.primrose said...

Rick, at one level I understand what you're saying. At a fundamental level, I'm not fond of throwing Bible verses at 20 paces. But when Bible verses are used as political soundbites, I think it's fair game to respond. (I realize that's not terribly different from "Mommy, he hit me first" but there we are.)

The good thing that may come out of this is for people to treat the Bible more seriously than it often is. At a really fundamental level, it can make people realize what's actually in the texts -- something that an extremely large number of Christians simply don't know.

At a somewhat deeper level, it can raise questions (which have to be faced) about what what part of those texts -- if any -- are binding on Christians now and which are not. For example, were these parts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that were written as a Holiness Code as part of a Hebrew theocracy binding only on ancient Hebrews or are they binding on us now? If they are binding, is it all or part of them that are binding. If only part, why? And which parts? And how do you make that determination? And who gets to make that determination? For example, if the rules concerning sexual behavior remains binding, why is the penalty of death that most of them entail no longer binding? Or is it?

Those questions are not going to go away.

LGMarshall said...

Christians deserve Respect for their bible faith.

It's good to grasp the whole story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation which is a simple message of Faith in Him. If you have faith in someone, you believe what they say, right? So a good question might be...'Do you believe what He says?'

God is clear, without Faith in Him (the Son he sent) , you will die in your sin, and you will suffer for eternity, or Hell. Those that reject him in this World, cannot hope to have him in the next.

All powerful, God himself, being perfect, and HOLY cannot accept Sin. What has darkness to do with Light? It's futile to keep offering up darkness to the LORD, hoping this time he will change his answer. His answer remains, "No.".

Christians take the narrow road, the narrow gate, which is really hard! because it goes against our Flesh -- yet, we accept his "No".

We agree with Him that we cannot do 'sin' in a 'good' way. It will never work. Today, Man's desire to remain in disobedience is no different than since the beginning. (lying, cheating, stealing, murder, envy, sexual immorality, etc.)

In his infinite wisdom and love, God's model for family life is clear since his creation of One Man, One Woman, and raising up Children in faith in Him. Anything else is a deviation from God's plan and the price is high.

Since we've been given Free Will (so that when we on our own accord choose Jesus Christ it will actually mean something to Him) we are free to do as we please.

However, Christians make a decision to agree with God when he says.... "you are not your own, you were bought at a price, therefore honor me with your body."

Cultures come & go, but God's Word hasn't changed one dot or iota. We Christians, have decided not to use our bodies for things unintended by God. We have a right to follow God's Word, our Faith, and we deserve Respect for that.

Matthew said...

Bishop Spong once said that we need to search scripture for "minority voices" that promote peace, justice and love, meaning that the majority of scripture might very well be a crock. I never thought this was a heretical view among Episcopalians. Others, yes, but not us.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

dr. primrose ... exactly.

And let's not confuse this "text in context" conversation with the bona fide study of scripture. What I'm saying here ... in a nutshell ... is you don't need to have a seminary education to equip yourself to neutralize those who want to use the Bible as a weapson of mass discrimination. (I made that one up. You can use it if you want. :)

And being able to respond to the "but the Bible says ..." arguments about homosexuality with what ELSE the Bible says about things we understand differently in the 21st century than our spiritual ancestors did in their time (like astronomy; biology; geology, etc.) helps level the playing field and make room for dialogue rather than diatribe.

Which would not be what LG comes here for so I'm not touchin' that one.

David and John said...

How much better off the world would be if people viewed the word of God (bible) through the lens of the Word of God (Christ).

John 1:1 makes it quite clear that the "Word" is our Savior, Jesus Christ. A literal interpetation of scripture is only possible if you read it detached from the true Word that the written word is intended to direct us to.

I am thankful that our Anglican expression of faith has generally avoided the laziness of biblical literalism. As someone else said, we take the bible too seriously to take it literally.

MarkBrunson said...

What I said on the previous thread . . . in spades.

JCF said...

God is clear, without Faith in Him (the Son he sent) , you will die in your sin, and you will suffer for eternity, or Hell. Those that reject him in this World, cannot hope to have him in the next.

YOU are clear, LGM, that this is what you believe. The above message is not REMOTELY of the God whom I have faith in, via Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

Christians deserve Respect for their bible faith.

And I have respect for YOU, LGM---because you are made in the Image and Likeness of God. Infinitely Loved by God.

But do I respect your religion? No, I do not. While we both draw on the same Biblical text---the words of God---showing little sign of catholic Tradition (I'm sure rick would say the same about me! ;-/), and little more Reason than being able to repeat Fundamentalist talking-points, I have difficulty recognizing your religion as Christian.

Furthermore, it's exceptionally hard for me to see that you know the loving Christ that I know, so ergo I find it hard to call your Bible-based religion "Christian faith" (faith being a trusting relationship).

But of course I could be wrong about all this. Kyrie eleison!

LGMarshall said...

to JCF: What does your God say about sin then? Is there sin? Do we even need a way out...?

... I thought my first lines were solid bible doctrine... but I understand you disagree.

This is a sincere question: 'Could you tell me what you do believe then? And also tell me why you believe it?' Thank you.

Lillia E. said...

True--however, the Bible passage quoted is an example of what I was telling my birth parents and a family friend of theirs: That in the Bible, there are (within the framework of their time period and the Middle Eastern cultures as a whole--goddesses and women were two different things to many Pagan cultures--goddesses were worshpped while women were controlled (in many cultures): That there *were* some forms of womens' rights in the Hebrew culture--they were simply: a. by our standards, less-than-progressive and: b. compared to the Code of Hammurabi, it was a huge improvement. Also, if you look, it says that the man *cannot* divorce the woman he raped--he has to take care of her for life. When you consider the fact that in another part of the Torah/Old Testament, it says that the man may divorce the woman if 'she isn't pleasing un2 him,' that says something.

Lillia E. said...

Right. However, the cited passage *does* bear up a point I made un2 my birth parents and a family friend of theirs:
The Bible *does* have some protections in it of womens' rights--within the framework of the culture, region, and time period. Most Middle Eastern cultures, however much they might have adored goddesses, were not so great with regard to women. However, when you look at the passage (the Toraic one) in question you see : that the man *has* to take care of the woman he raped. 2. he *cannot* divorce her--he committed the crime, he has to pay for it--and: b. he has to take care of her--for *life.* When you consider that elsewhere in the Torah/Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures the only specification for divorce is that the woman has 'displeased' the man, this is saying something big-time.