Friday, June 01, 2007

Reading the Bible

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I've really been wrestling with reading Scripture and how we as 21st century people should read the Bible written anywhere from 4,000 to 2,000 years ago.

There are two general schools of thought on this.
  1. The Bible is the totally inspired Word of God and we are obligated as God's children to follow His Word and the examples laid forth to the letter. And admittedly, in the West Wing clip from yesterday, Jed Bartlett thoroughly skewers someone who apparently buys into this mindset, by pointing out the inconsistencies in the practice of her theology.
  2. The Bible was written by men or women who were flawed and influenced by their culture resulting in directives that allow for the selling of a daughter into slavery or even against homosexuality.
I'm really really trying to come up with a personal consistent theology of Scripture. I'm trying to come up with a mindset that allows me to honor Scripture and its apparent influence by the Holy Spirit and the fact that I do believe that culture influenced people as they were writing. I really don't think that Matthew and Paul and the rest went into some sort of Holy Spirit influenced trance and when they woke up, there was 1 Corinthians or the Gospel of Matthew.

So I want to take a quick shot at a theology of Scripture and shoot holes in it (Hi, Thomas+ ;-) ), find where it works, where it doesn't, where it's orthodox, where it fails.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul says

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (New International Version)

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Now, obviously, he's talking here about the Old Testament. What's interesting is that Paul makes another reference (not the only one but a similar one) in I Corinthians 10 where he says:

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (New International Version)

1For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

6Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." 8We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

What Paul seems to be saying there is that the Old Testament is provided as an example to people to work with.

Here's my thought. What if the New Testament is not supposed to be followed to the letter of the law? What if it is supposed to be an example that we work and wrestle with? What if instead of trying to figure out exactly how God intended us to worship (or even live?), what if we see a 1st century example of how followers of the Way of Christ lived and that could look completely different for us in the 21st Century? In fact, it already does, but sometimes I think we continue to try to pretend we're following the Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences that are part and parcel of the Church of Christ hermeneutic.

What if we're intended to read the New Testament the way Paul read the Old Testament? Or the way Jed Bartlett read the Old Testament and probably the New Testament (not to equate Paul and Bartlett)?

Is that even a reasonable suggestion? Is it possible to follow that ideology of Scripture and still maintain respect for it? Or do we have to keep saying that we're New Testament Christians, happily ignoring calls for Holy Kisses and washing feet?


Rob Cox said...

After yesterday's post I was hoping you would post something like this.

I think there's another school of thought and you hinted at it towards the end of your post. For a lack of a better title, I'll call it the CofC school of thought. My interpretation of this way of thinking is:
1) Both the old testament and new testament are inspired.
2) The old testament represents the old law from which we've been set free.
The claim is that this makes those who believe this way consistent and is a defense against Jed's argument. Although, we both have seen that not all examples and commandments in even the New Testament are followed.

My position is that the entire Bible is inspired. I agree the writers did not enter a trance like Isaac on Heroes (I had to throw that in). I also agree that the writers were influenced by their culture. IMO the writers were also influenced by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit made sure that everything that was written were literal or figurative truths and had a purpose. While admittedly generalizing, I would say the purpose is to tell us something about God. In some cases it could be trying to show how much God hates sin. In other cases, like the creation allegory, it could be trying to demonstrate how powerful and awe-inspiring He is.

That's enough for writing for now. Time to get back to space stuff.

belinda said...

Okay, saying it's all "inspired," which version is the inspired one?? I've recently been inspired myself by purchasing a Saint Joseph version (usually found at Catholic bookstores). Ever think about the King James version - in the U.S., we've come to believe this is the inspired word of God instead of a Church of England translation. Another thing to consider when thinking of the "inspired" vs. non-inspired: we always agree that when we're commanded to forgive 70 X 7, that's not an actual amount. We've understood it to mean to forgive and forgive and forgive. BUT we take everything else literal, as in 40 days/40 nights and the world created in 7 days. For real--think about it.

Jonathan said...

To me it comes down to the concepts of principle and application. When I come to scripture, my first job is to understand the eternal principles. My second job is then to determine how to apply those principles in my daily life.

I see this approach applied by Jesus when he discusses various commands of the law and then identifies the underlying principles behind them.

There can be controversy about what is principle and what is application. I happen to believe that holy kisses and feet washing have been correctly identified as first-century applications of eternal principles that tend to lead to different expressions and applications in the 21st century.

I think in this process we do work and wrestle.

Michael said...

You bring up an interesting debate and one that I've wrestled with over the years.

To me, the Bible is the inspired word of God. But the thing is, it's written down by flawed human beings....human beings who are influenced by their own cultural and personal experiences. Don't get me wrong--I believe the Bible to be the truth, but it takes more than just reading the words on the page and following them. The Bible is not supposed to be a book of rules that we follow in order to get into heaven. Instead, it's the story of grace and how God gave his only son for us--a gift that we can NEVER earn. If we tried, we'd fail miserably every single time.

To me, the big message of the Bible comes down to this--love God and because you love Him, love all His children (aka love everybody).

Too many times, I've encountered people who will get bogged down in the rules as they see them...basically becoming modern day Pharisees. I think that in order to understnad the Bible we need to look at the historical context as well....look at why somoene would be inspired to write such a thing. For example, I've known people who say that if a woman cuts her hair, she is not a Christian. (One of Paul's letters talks about it). But if you really study the Scripture and the time frame, you'll understand that one sect worshipped via the temple prostitutes--so Paul was instructing the women of the time to visibly stand apart and not be taken for such.

Which is an external manifestation of what should be an internal the Bible says, we must live in the world, but we don't necessarily have to go along with everything. We are meant to win disicples to Christ and to live according to the Love God, Love everybody principle I talked about before....

Anonymous said...

Would God still exist if the Bible didn't?

The Holy Spirit was sent for all of us, not just for the first century christian literary types.

God can communicate with us directly, if we let him.

If we didn't have the Bible I think we'd find God to be more present in the present, than we do, currently.

If God is all powerful, then he really doesn't need a book to communicate with us.

judy thomas said...

I rather like Peterson's way with those words in II Timothy: "Every part of Scripture is God-breathed (someone I heard said this meant it was a product of God) and useful one way or another--showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word, we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. LOVE THAT LAST SENTENCE! I am still in the process of being put together and shaped up. Miss Judy

Michaelangeloh said...

Truth is,I do not know one man in this world not consumed by it to confuse,bewilder and deny Gods intentions.His rules are set,his desire by his son on how to live and how to treat your brother.Only a blind man can say he cannot read that.Jesus in the desert besieged by satan knew who he was by his question of going against the father revealing his position.We live in the world of the devil of the air and we should question man,not God as satan has us try to do as a slight levering tool until he turns you over.This is not a new age of understanding but a major falling away to put other things in the way of God.Now corinthians God sent them through the desert and gave them everything they needed to live under God but they were used to idols and ways Egyptians tried to ply on them.They were not worthy of God because of their constant grumbling as if what he did wasnt enough and put idols before him,worshipping things God created with man taking credit for fashioning in his own images and using it as a worshipping tool for their own superstitions.Revelling and going against God in his face was the ultimate anger of God at the time and did away with many.The wandered so long and still didnt understand that by allowing God in governing their living they would see the land promised,but yet it took them 40 years to come around,talk about stubborn!I will put it this way.God who is never changing , his laws , his ways or his word.ANYthing that aberates from that,is not,of God,therefor against him,realizing it or not.These are the facts.Those who take away or add to the words of the book or laws God set are condemned.Its an uphill battle everyday but I know someday that day will come when we can rest and that who tried to to have us sell our very souls,will be vanquished and an end of sin and satan will be finally realized.Oh Happy DAY!

Keith Brenton said...

What if the writing AND the Spirit was the way God chose to communicate to us, Kevin?

What if being in His presence was too much for us; if His glorious righteousness overwhelmed us ... so He chose to go the subtle route; the way of faith?

What if there was a big ol' purpose behind communicating with us in this way that we could just barely understand - that our faith in Him through these almost completely intangible media proved and justified His righteous judgment and merciful compassion in response to beings who had served in His very presence - and still rebelled against Him?

Hey, it's just a thought ... or two.

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