10/17/08

Lesbian Apologetics: Lesson 1 - Interpreting the Bible

The Bible is read by people all over the planet. They come from all sorts of languages and cultures and they each have a view of the world. One thing is for certain, though. When someone reads it, they will have 1 of 2 viewpoints:

1. They interpret the Bible in literal terms. They believe that each and every word as presented in its current format are the words of God, written down by men as the Holy Spirit inspired them.

OR

2. They interpret the Bible within the historical and cultural contexts. They consider when the texts were written, the place, the cultural norms, etc, and see how what they are reading fits within those parameters.

The first one is the easy one because you can say, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” No thinking involved. The problem is, even these people don’t really accept everything as literal. They pick and choose what is convenient for them or they will create a systematic theology that allows them to claim it’s the perfect and inerrant word of God while allowing themselves to ignore many Biblical mandates.

Here are a few examples:
  • In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus teaches: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
My question is this: Where are all of the eye-less, hand-less, penis-less, literal interpreters (LI’s)? Why do they not adhere to Jesus’ remedy for sin? Because they realize that he is making the point not to take sin lightly so as to allow yourself to get into tempting situations. Jesus doesn’t want people to maim their bodies. He wants people to treat each other well.
  • In 1 Timothy 2:11-14, the apostle Paul instructs: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” How many literal interpreters violate Paul’s instruction? (And, on a side note, Paul was very good about saying “I don’t allow this, I don’t allow that.” - He is stating his personal preference, yet people take it as a mandate from God.)

(Jessica Alba - a filthy sinner?) Photo: Getty Images

The reason we see LI’s wearing braided hair, jewelry and costly garments is because they have been taught that the reason they can ignore these verses is because that in Paul’s day, a woman who dressed like that was a prostitute.

Is that a cultural filter that I smell? Because in our culture, a woman like that is normal and a woman like Paul describes is Amish.

Paul also says that women should remain silent in the church. But how many churches would not survive without women teaching Sunday school or in various office and volunteer positions where they not only speak, but also give instruction. This one gets ignored because there are not enough men who will get off the couch to study enough to teach. Churches today ignore Paul’s mandate because the backbone of their empires are built on the the free labor of these strong, insightful and giving women.

How do they explain this to their puppets? They tell them that Paul really meant that women should not ask questions at church, but instead go to their husbands. It also means that women can serve fo sho - just not in any leadership capacity. In other words, "we want your blood, sweat and tears, just not your opinions. We tell you what to do and you quietly obey so you can go to Heaven, okay, little lady?"
  • Exodus 22:25, Psalm 15:15, Proverbs 28:8, Ezekiel 18:13, 17, & 22:12 all forbid the use of banks or profiting from loans and investments.
How many LI’s ignore that? Churches are contstantly profiting from investments and much of the money that is given to them are from people who gained their money from investments. They are also not supposed to borrow money but they do that all the time for building projects and buying land.

They might use their old standby: “Well, those are all Old Testament scriptures. We are under a new covenant.” Translation: "Anything that we don’t like in the pesky rules section of the Old Testament can be ignored by claiming that Jesus erased all laws from the old covenant and replaced them with a new covenant. We know you won't bother to go look up what words like 'covenant' really mean or find out what the difference between the two are so you'll just have to take our word for it."

Two of my personal favorite mandates that LI’s ignore: stoning adulterers & killing disrespectful kids (though I’m sure many are tempted).

The way we read things literally in the Bible can seriously affect how we understand their meaning!

Proverbs 25:21-22 teaches “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

LI’s might read this and think you can make things worse for your enemy by being nice to them because God will see that they are bad and you are good and you will get a special treat while they will be punished.

In the context of the culture and time period when this was written, fire was vital for survival. You cooked, cleaned, heated your home and used it for many chores and duties. If your fire went out, you had to go borrow burning coals from a neighbor. If you lived outside the walls of a city, your neighbor wasn’t going to be too close and you’d bring a metal container bundled in rags to carry on your head. To have a neighbor heap burning coals into that container was to have them share an act of kindness – like someone helping to pay your heating bill.

To heap live coals on a person's head is to make him ashamed of his hostility by surprising him with unconventional kindness. And out of his shame, he will feel a conviction about how he has treated people and have a change of heart. This brings God glory. God recognizes that you could have chosen to retaliate and repay evil with evil, but instead, you chose to show grace. And that makes Him want to reward you.

To study the times, the culture and the writers of the books of the Old and New Testaments is to grasp for deeper meaning and understanding of what their meanings are.

Think of it this way: If I was writing a book and I said that my friend was a 'space cadet', someone a thousand years from now who did not know that in my culture, we use that slang term to mean ditzy, they might think my friend was really a student trying to become an astronaut. But if the future person reading my book knows something of my culture, the correct meaning emerges and changes entirely.

To sum it all up: Even the LI’s don’t take everything literally if they have found a compelling reason. When faced with the concrete evidence that the earth was a sphere instead of flat, as they literally interpreted Genesis 1:2 to mean, they conceded the literal “it was without form” was not the correct interpretation.

Scriptures are meant to be inspiring, studied by individuals for their personal growth and used by God to speak to our hearts as individuals. Someone who wants to try to understand them should spend time learning about them and the history surrounding their formation, not listening to James Dobson on the radio and parroting everything he says because "he's a man of God."

The scriptures, no matter what they are, are never to be used as a legalistic tool for power-hungry people who want to force others to drink their Kool-Aid. Still, there will always be those people who are far too lazy to study for themselves, as the Bible commands in 2 Timothy 2:15:

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."

Intro to this series: CLICK HERE

Next Week: "The Sin of Sodom?"

10 comments:

Teresita said...

Sinnerviewer said: Paul also says that women should remain silent in the church. But how many churches would not survive without women teaching Sunday school or in various office and volunteer positions where they not only speak, but also give instruction.

Not only that, but fully two-thirds of the butts in the pews these days are female. We control the purse strings, and that is an opportunity to wield a far greater power than merely to stand on a few isolated verses in the Pauline epistles to justify an artificial and sexist hierarchy of Church authority and turn the body of Christ into a He-man Woman Haters' Club. Why are women reluctant to convert our check-writing power into a more equal role in the Church? Because we are better at listening. We have heard the gospel and the message has made the journey from our head to our heart. The Son of God surrendered everything, his equality with the Father, his blood, his very life. To truly follow Christ is to lay down power, not take it up.

D said...

Hey,
I think that there has been a little confusion between the first and second statement.
1. The first sounds most like a systematic theology position on the nature of Scripture that more conservative Christians hold, that is, that God did in fact through the Holy Spirit inspire the writings of the prophets and apostles and that he did in fact exercise oversight to ensure that those original documents were recorded without propositional error (the content is true, but "propositional" leaves room for grammatical errors found in places such as the book of Revelation when John uses the wrong case ending in Greek). These writing were written in the author's own language, style, and matched the authors own purpose in writing - God's purpose and the writer purpose were concurrent . . . God is able to do things like that.
2. The second statement sounds more like a hermeneutical principle of interpretation. Yes, we must use a gramatical-historical method - trying to understand the historical context and the author's style (particullarly in regard to document structure) - to understand the author's intent. There are always two meanings attached to the text: 1. What the author meant. 2. What the reader is able to derive from the author's text. The goal is to make the two meanings match up as much as possible. We cannot change #1, so we work on #2. The biggest discrepencies come when we in our heart have decided something is right or good because we like it and don't care what the author says. A good way to guard from that is to keep in mind what the most clear portions of Scripture say to help us interpret the more obscure (for, according to Peter, Paul says some things that are hard to understand!). So, if the Scriptures say that homesexuality in general is good in a very clear manner, then it is ludicrous for some Christians to say that it is not. But if, on the other hand, it says very clearly that it is wrong, then the opposite is true. This principle works the same with having children, drinking alchohol, giving money to the poor, stealing, gossiping, slandering, hospitality, murder, or any other action or though of moral significance.
I challenge the readers of this article, therefore, to investigate whether there are passages that deal directly and clearly with the issue - passages in which authorial intent is plain, and to interpret and apply more obscure or less applicable passages based on the understanding of the clear and direct ones. For starters, one could look at Leviticus 18 (it gives a great list of don'ts from the Torah) and Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6 (for something from the New Covenant era). If these passages clearly stating that having sexual relations with someone of the same gender is sin, well, then it is something that needs to be repented of just as is lying, slander, gossip, murder or what have you. The point of the Bible is that such sins can and are being forgiven through the selfless sacrifice of Jesus (as was mentioned above). John, in his letter, 1 John 1-2, gives a good warning, though, for those who claim to know God but harden their hearts against his ways. So does the author of Hebrews in chapter 6. Well, I hope this is helpful.
Chris

Sinnerviewer said...

Chris, we will certainly get to each of these in the following lessons. But the readers should know that the word "homosexual" wasn't even in existance 200 years ago. So when someone reads it in the greek, the 2 root words used that were translated are words for "male" and "bed". Malebed=homosexual? Hardly! Stay tuned and learn.

Ma'amselle Lezident said...

I'm a total atheist, so I have nothing to contribute to this conversation. I just want to give mad props to Chris above for using the word "hermeneutical"! (That's one of my favorite words.) :)

Fiesty Charlie said...

Wonderful post, it is so great you are doing this!

More, more, more... {smile}

Elaine C. said...

Know also that the literal or "inerrancy of the Bible" mode of reading is very new ... it arises with modernism in the last 100 years or so. Prior to that for the first 2000 or so years of the church and in Judaism scripture was read as allegory, parable, metaphor and spiritual window to the divine (just a few options ... but not a definitive list).

The whole concept of their being fundamentals to Christianity arose in the teens of the 20th century ... so it isn't a deep or central doctrine to Christian faith ... its not really connected to Jesus or how he used scripture ...

Kyle said...

If you're inclined to do the meme thing, I've tagged you with the '7 facts' meme... see my page for details.

cheers!

Liz said...

Wow I did not know the heaps of coal reference I thought it was just do kind to your enemies but hearing the historical context (which I try to figure out all the time while reading the bible) was so interesting and makes so much more sense!! Thanks for doing this!!

QueenTracy said...

Good for you! As a preacher's wife I am often faced with people not only taking a multiple choice approach to taking the Bible literally (I'll do this, but I won't do that!) but people who have heard someone (a pastor, a tv preacher, a loud politician, the nosey guy at the cafe...whoever) say something that sounded reasonable and then believe that whatever this person said was God's truth. That is seriously frustrating and the sign of a simple mind. I frequent your blog and just wanted you to know that your views are well thought out and logical. :-D Have a good weekend.

Grace Chu said...

Renee, check your e-mail!!!

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