Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Biblical Dilemmas: Solved

For over a year I've had a nagging complaint with the Bible. *Gasp*! Don't lay prostrate on the floor for me just yet. Inside the group of Christians we went to church with a year ago it was hinted that because the *Pastor* had so much Bible training and I didn't, I couldn't possibly trust myself to read the Bible and interpret it correctly (so little faith in the Holy Spirit, I realize!).

This distressed me greatly. I was angry at God. Why give us a book, call it His Word, treat it like a manual-for-living, say it's inerrant, and then say Sola scriptura. I didn't know how to deal with my anger and confusion, assuming that if I did ever actually talk to someone about my doubts in the Bible that I'd be labeled a heretic, or worse, in rebellion.

I tried to play with the word "inspired." Does it really mean God-breathed...in the *Greek*? And finding out that's just exactly what "inspired" means, what does God-breathed really mean? The only conclusion I could come up with was that I was stuck believing in a Book that had all the answers, was full of stories and instruction directly from the mouth of God, even though hardly anyone could completely agree on it's meaning. These are the things I had been taught. They're the truths that most of my fellow believer-friends continue to hold dear to.

I began to look into other people's ways of interpreting the Bible. I found that many people disagree with the traditional way women are viewed, and I realized that maintaining cultural integrity was actually very important. Take, for instance, this article on Household Codes. Mr. Kruse does an honorable job at revealing the way Greeks & Romans understood words, metaphors, and associations. I hope you read it (at least Greco-Roman Households, The “Head” metaphor, and The Household Code: Ephesians 5:18-6:9), but here is one of his conclusions regarding the structure of the family and what Paul had to say in regards to it:

For those of us living in 21st Century democracies with a range of options for how to govern our social institutions, it is hard to appreciate just how unalterable social structures must have seemed to Paul, at least until Christ returned. Social structures were not on Paul’s radar. What Paul was concerned about was how we live within the given structures. If people lived in genuine submission to each other, then the power inequities of the structures would be rendered meaningless.
As Molly said in regards to the article, " Whatever conclusion one comes to, this is certainly important background information."

Then I came across Michael Spencer's A Conversation in God's Kitchen. He introduces us to his model for understanding the Bible, interpreting the Bible, and applying the Bible- all based on what Literature Scholars recognize as "The Great Conversation." Viewing the Bible as a "great conversation" between writers helped me realize that (as Michael says, ) "it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn’t say only one voice can be heard as right."

Here's a snippet from his section on "What is the Bible?"
Genesis isn’t twentieth century science. Leviticus is primitive, brutal and middle eastern. The Old Testament histories are not scholarly documentaries, but religious and tribal understandings of God and events. Proverbs comes from a mongrel wisdom tradition throughout the middle east. Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and not much else. The prophets spoke to their own times, and not to our own. The scholars who help me understand these books as they are, are not enemies of truth, but friends. Call it criticism, paint it as hostile, but I want to know what the texts in front of me are saying!
Most importantly, this model says the Bible presents a conversation that continues until God himself speaks a final Word. In other words, I do not expect this conversation to go on endlessly. It has a point. A conclusion. And in that belief, the great Biblical conversation differs from the Great Books conversation. There is not an endless spiral of philosophical and experiential speculation. There is, as Hebrews 1 says, a final Word: Jesus.
Under his next point, "How Can I Say the Bible is Inspired?" I cannot express to you the relief that washed over me when I read,
I am not shocked that Catholics and Lutherans find the words “This is my body” to mean something different than Baptists do. I am distraught that any of these parties would fail to see that we are all listening to the same texts, and disagreement isn’t because some of us are all that much smarter or better listeners. It’s because we listen to different parts of the conversation, in different ways, and we are allowed to do so.
In the very same little church I was a part of that tried to teach me I was incapable of really understanding what the scriptures were saying, I was taught that people who did not believe the same interpretation of the Bible that we did were not simply wrong, but "teaching [sic] by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." Especially Catholics. I was taught that people like me who could see why believers had different views were being blown by the winds of false teaching. I was convinced for a while, but when I realized that I was coming to drastically different understandings from the Scriptures than the little church itself, I began to doubt everything they taught and search for a better Biblical understanding.

Now to the final admission I had planned to make: I do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture. *Gasp* again! It has taken me quite a while to get to this realization. I feel like a heretic just saying it! But I have come to believe that while scripture is inspired by God, it was not dictated by God as Joseph Smith claims about the Book of Mormon. Throughout the New Testament the writers say very human things, back-tracking in some places (see this post at Adventures in Mercy), clearly explaining others as something *they* do not permit (see also 1 Corinthians 7:12).

Again (and as a last thought) I'll refer to something very telling from InternetMonk:

[W]hat has inerrancy done for all those individuals and churches who embrace it? I’ll let BHT [Boar's Head Tavern] fellow Bill Mackinnon call the roll.

Those who hold to inerrancy usually qualify it by saying it only applies to the originals. Great. We don’t have them.

Inerrancy is supposed to help us achieve unanimity in doctrinal matters, yes? Has it?

Common doctrine of God? No. (There’s a guy at IM taking Michael to task about inerrancy who has doubts about the Trinity)

Common doctrine of Baptism? No.

Common doctrine of Communion? No.

Common doctrine of Church organization? No.

Common doctrine of Spiritual Gifts? No.

Common doctrine of Biblical interpretation? No.

Common doctrine of Salvation? No.

Common doctrine of Creation? No.

There are all kinds of people who hold to inerrancy who vigorously disagree on the issues above. And there are people who are on both sides of the inerrancy question who hold common agreement on the doctrines listed above. There are inerrantists who don’t know, read, or rely on the scriptures as much as some who don’t hold to inerrancy.

Do inerrant originals guarantee inerrant transcription? No

Do inerrant originals guarantee inerrant translation? No

Do inerrant originals guarantee inerrant interpretation? No

7 thoughts:

adventuresinmercy said...

This is a VERY thoughtful post.

acceptancewithjoy said...

I followed a link in Molly's blog to this post. I think the last three points contain the key...

I don't know that I ever believed in sola scriptura, at least not the way I have found this doctrine interpreted by many. I think the idea of prima scriptura is more what I had in mind. When we study writings from our historical past, we study them like we do any other work of intiquity. History is a story with interesting characters, a culture, a language to communicate that culture's values and ideas... while I can get a lot out of just reading the Scripture, it comes into clearer focus when I study it in its historical place and time. So, I use a concordance, I read the Mishna to learn about the Jewish worldview that the Bible was written to... I have a lifetime to learn it all!

I have also decided this year that I am really not too overly concerned about doctrinal differences. I have learned the most from people who disagree with me the most. When they present an idea, I go back and see if I can support it from a careful study of Scripture. So far, I haven't found anyone that is totally right or totally wrong... not even me. And, I thought I was always right! :o)

Acolyte4236 said...

Just FYI, Inerrancy has to dowith truth and falsity. All it says is that everyting the bible teaches with respect to the intention of the author is true. If the authors intention is to rearrange historical material to make a theologial point as in the geneaologies of Jesus, then while it is unhistorical, it is still inerrant. Moe importantly, inerrancy, at least in its modern form, either Catholic or Evangelical Protestant denies a dictation theory of inspiration where every single letter is given by God as you have in the case of Islam for example.

It would be helpful to find out what idea you are actallyhaving a problem with, because it doesn't really seem to be inerrancy.

melissa @ the inspired room said...

Wow, this is something to come back to when I have more time to read it! Really interesting, thanks!


bonnie: said...

Regarding what acolyte said, and to some questions others had over @ adventuresinmercy: The general (trouble-making) idea, lumped together as the term “inerrancy”: the Bible has no errors, it is a perfect document, and every word in it was meant to be there by God.

We are fallible, and when we assume that the words of a man-written document are *not* fallible, I think it leads to trouble (disunity, prejudice, us vs them, etc). I just don’t know if the Bible is supposed to be viewed as the “word-of-God”. Isn’t that Jesus? *He* is who the scriptures refer to as the Word. The Bible never calls itself the Word-of-God, does it?

It is “useful,” yes, for all the things mentioned in 2 Tim 3:16&17, sacred, set apart, holy; but accurate to the point where all we have to do is open it up and read it and wham! it’s all clear?

I guess perspicuity is a part of the inerrant equation in my mind, but what do I know?! This is where I am, and I expect Father will continue to lead me into all Truth (whew!).

There's a good little discussion going on over there, so head on over & throw in yer .02

Annie said...

Ah, I am so glad I came here to read your post (I first got involved in this discussion through adventures in mercy's mention of your post). The very end of your post is EXACTLY what I was trying to get at in my comments over there. Inerrancy of the original text is a moot point, it doesn't matter!

And acolyte, the thing is, people have different definitions of inerrancy. While yours may be the accepted definition among biblical scholars who uphold inerrancy, you'd probably find that the average Christian not formally trained in biblical studies but who upholds inerrancy would be upset by the idea that people claim the Bible to be inerrant even in situations where they don't believe it to be correct historically.

And even if we could get all of Christianity to agree to that def of inerrancy, there are still situations where it is more than a matter of an author rearranging historical events to make a theological point (the first example that comes to my mind are some of the teachings on women's roles in the church). Now I don't want to open a debate on that issue, but just to say that there is also that possibility that some biblical writers were writing within a particular framework and we can't apply everything to our situation today across the board without hitting some major obstacles in interpretation.

Also, even if we could say the scriptures we have today are inerrant by your definition, our translation and interpretation of them is certainly not inerrant. So again I have to ask myself if it really matters whether or not the bible is inerrant by any of these definitions, either in it's original texts or the current texts--because even if it is we are still not inerrant and we still have to translate and interpret the Bible every time we go to the text. Even if we could identify inerrant translations (and you'll find some people who do have an opinion on that), we still have the problem of interpretation.

Anyway Bonnie, thanks, I find your post so insightful and thought provoking. This is a subject I haven't thought about in a long time and it's good to think it through again. I'll be visiting your blog more frequently!

Marcia said...

Great post; I really appreciate your thoughts. This is certainly something everything thinking believer struggles with at some point.