Attacking the Bible

Pete Enns attacking the Bible

I thought that the above quote from Pete Enns was worth sharing. Especially the last bit, since it really does highlight a central issue in a lot of discussions that I have, too. Sometimes people seem to completely fail to recognize that, when they talk about “what the Bible says,” what they really mean is “what I think that the Bible says, assuming that I have correctly interpreted the meaning of the relevant passages, and ignoring those other passages that might suggest matters are more complicated.”

The inability to distinguish “what I understand” and “what the Bible says” is, when you get to the heart of it, idolatry, the arrogant assumption that one’s own human understanding of what other human beings have written is in fact the inerrant Word of God.

Of related interest, see Randal Rauser’s post on the objection “That’s not Biblical.”

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  • SongBookz

    It’s not just the Bible, Tradition can be just as big a club in the hands of conservatives.

    In both cases, I think (there’s that again) we should be careful to look at the intent behind the passage or tradition, the historical context of it, and how it was interpreted by the audience it was first delivered to.

    And, if we don’t have time for that, you would rarely go wrong taking the path of most compassion or interpreting everything in terms of the Golden Rule.

    • jh

      And we should always keep in mind that the stories, the prescriptions, the taboos and the moral codes were meant to keep a illiterate war mongering tribe of people together at a specific point in time in a specific part of the world. The tools that were useful then are not going to be universally useful to all humans in all societies in all times. The ones that are universal (don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie) are found in all societies, religions, and times. If anything, the OT and Judaism are johnny come lately to the moral codes if they required a tablet with explicit commandments. Other religions and cultures had already figured out the whole “don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t murder” rules that are required when larger groups than just immediate family co-exist in the same area.

      (And it never made sense if you assume the events in Exodus were historically true. Moses was scared because he had murdered an Egyptian guard. He knew that was murder. The Israelite would have had to know this because they had lived in Egypt for decades. So why would their god not place something such as “don’t rape people” or “be excellent to each other” as one of the commandments?)

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Yes, this is exactly it. I have a Meta-Bible in my head that is functionally equivalent to the actual Bible.

    • charlesburchfield

      meta Bible in your head? I think I know what you mean. I may have one too. I’ve read the Bible for more than four decades intensely, compulsively. I seldom read it anymore. I go on Google and look at Bible Hub for individual references. but sometimes when I’m reading blogs or I’m in a conversation with my spouse, a passage of scripture a will come to mind that exactly fits! It is uncanny!! It’s as if a third person from the realm of the word has joined the conversation. could this be what is meant by having the mind of Christ? I believe God is still speaking to us and is not confined to the pages of a book.

  • jekylldoc

    So, at the risk of undermining a brilliant point, I feel some reservation about the whole “attacking” bit. The example set for us by God in becoming vulnerable as a human, and by Jesus in becoming vulnerable to the cross, may be the most important hermeneutic of all.

    It may be that what is most vital in our relationship to the Bible is not some “correct” understanding of it, but the way we are able to make its witness vulnerable. If that sounds kind of threatening, kind of foolish, kind of heretical, well, that is my intention. I think most of what is wrong with Christianity comes from its embrace of violent power: the power to compel, the power to silence, the power to judge, the power to fight. That embrace has twisted our worship life and our community into something that I fear God might ultimately reject.

    So aren’t we called, in the first place, to affirm a Bible that only works by inspiring and persuading, not by compelling and condemning? Aren’t we called to question the whole enterprise of deriving “rightness” from the Bible? If a view and a value are right and true, they are capable of persuading without any compulsion. No boycotts, no courts, no organizing, no discipline, no condemnation, no labeling, no ostracism, no rejection, no superiority, no anathema, no judgment, no slogans, no spirit that feeds on making others wrong. Just a straight look into the eyes of another and trust in the mercy of God.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      It’s a good point, and if I hadn’t assumed that the “I’m not attacking the Bible. I’m attacking you…” was a quip, a snarky barbed comeback that was not meant entirely seriously, I probably would have commented on it to. Perhaps I should have taken it more seriously than I did…

      • jekylldoc

        Sometimes unguarded moments show us gnarly issues that we need to deal with.

  • Russell Carter

    Unless we are from the first century with an understanding what life meant, we cannot truly understand what was written or orally transmitted. However, how we interpret the Bible in the 21st century is the only thing that can matter to us, now! today! This can only be personal; I cannot understand what your innate interpretation is, no more than you can understand mine. The only thing we can do is listen and respect each other. This way, the Bible and our understanding of it, will be a win-win, instead of a win-lose proposition.