Sometimes I forget what Bible College has taught me.
Or maybe it’s that I forget that people haven’t been taught the same way.
I don’t mean it in a bad way. There are many good things and, crazily enough, bad things I learned while in school. When I was finished with my first semester of my sophomore year, I was confused as to how I went this long not being equipped with what I learned up to that point. Every new thing I learned was like another tool on a utility belt, and I was the Dark Knight of biblical exegesis, preparing myself for when I would go out into the world and defeat Falsehood with the Truth of the Gospel.
Then something happened.
The bible ended up becoming a textbook to me. It was hard to balance the scales of seeing the pages of my bible as inspired text while learning about textual criticism and the like. I became cynical of speakers and preachers and teachers and commentators. I started to only read the ESV, because it was more literal to the original text, and if ever I saw an ambiguous passage, I knew I could just look it up in the original Greek (or Hebrew… if you’re into that stuff).
The bible is a crazy thing. Some people see it as an inspirational text. Some people use it as a justification for war, sexism, racism, patriotism, and capitalism. And some people see it for what it is – the Word of God. The Bible was given to us to share with us the story of Salvation History and our place within it. It is a guideline for how we are to walk in the Spirit. And to mishandle or misrepresent what the bible says is to potentially misrepresent the God who orchestrated the words in its pages.
Just because it is true doesn’t mean it is biblical:
This is an interesting statement, but what I want to address is “exegesis.” Exegesis means, “to lead out” and has the idea of drawing an interpretation out from Scripture. Many bible college students know that the opposite of this is “eisegesis” – or “putting in” one’s own interpretation to a text.
What this means is that someone could be saying all the right things, but not using the right proofs to do so. A classic example of this (and one MANY of my professors used) would be when Jesus calms the storm. By reading this passage in context, the author isn’t trying to say: “Jesus will calm the storms of your life.” What the author is trying to say is clear at the end of the text: “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”
Now, it is very well true that Jesus will bring peace to those who suffer. He says it in one of the Beatitudes. But to say that this is what Mark is trying to say in this passage takes away what Mark and God intended – that Jesus is divine. Not only does he cast out demons, and not only is he an incredible teacher, but even the weather is subject to him. For who else can control the weather but God himself?
By putting our own interpretation into a text, we run the risk of being able to justify anything with the use of smoke screens and poor context. Almost every text has one interpretation (for possible exceptions look at prophesies or the idea of sensus plenior). What makes a text different is how we apply that single interpretation to our lives.
Just because it isn’t biblical doesn’t mean it isn’t true:
This is something I find myself saying to my roommate a lot. He laughs at me, because we both know it really doesn’t make sense without an explanation. It honestly makes me feel like a heretic sometimes when I say it. But everyone knows that this is true. There are many ideas, and there are many things that are true that aren’t included in the bible. I know abortion is wrong. I believe that a fetus is actually a person, so it would be wrong to terminate a pregnancy. That isn’t anywhere in the bible.
Smoking isn’t anywhere in the bible.
Swearing isn’t anywhere in the bible.
The word “trinity” isn’t even in the bible.
If we believe that God is truth, then it must also be true that all truth is God’s truth… I’m sorry if you had to read that twice to get the full force of what I was trying to say. It’s scary to admit, because this leaves a big open gray area for a lot of things not mentioned in the bible. But God gave us the bible so that we can make godly judgments regarding these other things. The bible has nothing written against slavery, but we all hopefully know that it is wrong to own a person and to treat them like property.
The bible is the greatest guideline we could have on how to live life. It helps us to understand what God has brought humanity through. It shows us examples of the early church, so we know how to restore God’s kingdom to earth and know how to live Spirit led lives as well. The bible isn’t a tool used to bind people. It isn’t an instrument meant to control people. And it isn’t a book full of passages we can fill with our own “revelations.” This is the greatest physical tool we have for living out the Greatest Commandments. Let’s remember that it might not have all the answers, but it helps equip us to discover them for ourselves.
11 thoughts on “Truth and The Bible”
My hopefully not disingenuous quibble is concerning slavery. Certainly Paul counseled slaves who could become free to take advantage of that opportunity, and we do well to remember that American and Islamic slavery, to give two examples, could be very different from slavery in the Roman Empire, to say nothing of servitude under the Torah Commonwealth of Israel.
The Epistle brings into vivid focus the whole problem of slavery in the Christian Church. There is no thought of denunciation even in principle. The apostle deals with the situation as it then exists. He takes it for granted that Philemon has a claim of ownership on Onesimus and leaves the position unchallenged. Yet in one significant phrase Paul transforms the character of the masterslave relationship. Onesimus is returning no longer as a slave but as a brother beloved (Verse 16). It is clearly incongruous for a Christian master to “own” a brother in Christ in the contemporary sense of the word, and although the existing order of society could not be immediately changed by Christianity without a political revolution (which was clearly contrary to Christian principles), the Christian master-slave relationship was so transformed from within that it was bound to lead ultimately to the abolition of the system. (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1970], p. 640)
I don’t think of any of your comments as “disingenuous quibble.” I love that you use those pairing of words still.
I think to say that Roman slavery could be very different from our recent understanding of slavery is somewhat true. However, I don’t think it matters. For Paul and the Roman world, slavery was still seen as antithetical to freedom (Colossians 3:11, “neither slave nor free…”).
Dunn writes on Colossians 3:11 – “[The] distinction here was an unavoidable reminder that slavery was completely antithetical to the Greek idealization of freedom, with the slave defined as “one who does not belong to himself but to someone else” (Aristotle, Politica I.1254a.14) and as one who “does not have the power to refuse” (Seneca, De beneficiis 3.19). Not surprisingly, freedom (manumission) was the goal of every slave (“it is the slave’s prayer that he be set free immediately,” Epictetus 4.1.33) and, it should be added, was often achieved (K. H. Rengstorf, TDNT 2.261–64; H. Schlier, TDNT 2.487–88; OCD 994–96; S. S. Bartchy, ABD 6.58–73; see also on Phm. 16). The point here, then, is once again that Christ has relativized all such distinctions, however fundamental to society, its structure, and its ongoing existence.”
I think you make a great point with the Guthrie quote. By looking at Colossians though, it makes me wonder if Christ did away with the distinctions, or if he is saying we shouldn’t look down on others due to those distinctions, because Christ is still in them. To say that there is neither “Jew nor Gentile” doesn’t get rid of all Jews and Gentiles. But it shows that both are equally valuable in the kingdom.
Dunn again says regarding Philemon 16:
“Once again, however, we have to ask: What was Paul asking for? A literal reading would suggest that he wanted Philemon to free Onesimus: “no longer as a slave” (Lohmeyer 189; Friedrich 196; Bruce, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians 217; S. S. Bartchy, ABD 5.308 and 6.71). But it is just as possible to read the request as a plea for a transformed relationship between master and slave—still between master and slave, but transformed by the faith they shared in common (so particularly Schulz 416 and Binder 36–40).28 This latter alternative is strengthened by a possibly deliberate allusion to Exod. 21:6/Deut. 15:17 in v. 15 (“have back forever”; see on v. 15; and note also v. 11: more useful than ever), by the implication of the end of this verse that their relationship will continue to have a double dimension (“in the flesh and in the Lord”), and by the broader implication of such passages as Gal. 3:28 that relationships “in Christ” transcended even if they did not abolish distinctions of race, status, and gender (see also on Col. 3:11 and 4:1; cf. the also ambiguous 1 Cor. 7:20–24).”
I’m not trying to show that you are wrong just that there is a possibility that the Bible is not necessarily against slavery (in the broader definition of the term). These are just things I think about. I do think it is a strong possibility that Paul was speaking for liberation in the biggest sense that he could – hoping that one day there might be full liberation. I also think this is true of Christ. But whether this full-liberation is spoken of explicitly or not is something I have yet to see, though there is again a possibility it is implicit.
All good thoughts. I think what I was getting at was that Paul was still counseling that one should seek to be free even under Roman slavery, which was arguably less brutal on the whole than the American slavery. I did not articulate this properly and so in 20 years, when I become famous, someone will lift that out of context and say that I am pro-choice on the slave issue.
Not to be overly polemical, but … the idea that slavery was far more benevolent in ancient Rome than in 17th century America is largely a product of conservative apologists trying to exonerate the New Testament. Read modern works by classical scholars, such as K.R. Bradley, rather than conservative New Testament scholars and this becomes clear. Or if that doesn’t convince you, read original sources and the picture becomes quite clear. The well-being of slaves was completely at the whims of their masters.
I know you studied a lot the slavery in Rome during that time period, so I am sure you are pretty well-versed on that stuff, and I trust your judgment. Regardless of the situation, being free was antithetical to being a slave – this is true whether you take your stance or a more conservative stance. This should suffice to further the point I was trying to make in my blog.
In theory (meaning at law) that was certainly the case. Not sure that in practice it always worked that way.
To add a small objection, I think you are working from an overly modernist epistemology in this post, to speak very imprecisely. You argue that we need to let the text speak for itself. I contend, however, that texts cannot speak for themselves. Even if we are using historical methods of inquiry, this is still one particular way of reading the text. I agree that we ought to be self aware about how we are reading texts, which I think is at least a part of what you are getting at, but it is impossible not to read into the text. To illustrate this, I would suggest that reading divinity into the calming of the see passage is already going beyond what we cannot say about that text using historical methods (at least if we’re reading Mark). I agree that the passage is making a statement about Jesus’ identity, but can we really go so far as to say it is about his divinity? Okay, that’s enough from me. Good post.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that my point is to “let the text speak for itself.” I think it is more precisely that, “the author wrote with intent, and it is our job to figure out what that intent is.”
To do this, we must actually go above and beyond just looking at a text. We need to understand the culture, the rhetoric, the sitz im leben. Sometimes this is looking at all the writings of some authors, sometimes this is studying the setting or the audience to the letter (if we know it).
So, I do think it is hard to say sometimes what an author is trying to say, and sometimes I think you do have to make an interpretation, but I would say it isn’t blind guessing or blank allegorizations, but it is done with studying and contextual insight. By doing just expository exegesis, I don’t think the Jesus calming the storm passage points directly to his divinity. However, I do think that by looking at that passage through the frame of the entire letter, this hypothesis can be made.
I’m writing during staff meeting, so I am sorry if some things don’t make sense. I know I wrote a good post if you comment on it. Thank you for challenging me and encouraging me.
**beyond what we can say**
Reblogged this on Justin Chase Canavan and commented:
Good word, Bobby! 🙂
Thanks for the Reblog! I appreciate! Good luck with the cinematography and such – hope to see you become the next Terrence Malick! (unless you aren’t into that whole Tree of Life-y stuff)