Smart people saying smart things about the Bible

Brian McLaren: “John 14:6 and more”

John 14:6 has nothing to do with the uses to which it is normally put (asserting exclusivity of the Christian religion). John 14:5 does not say, “Thomas asked, ‘Lord, what about people of other religions, or people who have never heard of you?'” To pretend it does is to ignore the larger context. …

… We have been taught to quote and misapply that verse because our teachers had imperial-colonial interests (consciously or not), and that verse served those interests (just as Colossians 3:22 served the interests of slaveowners and racists, and Colossians 3:18 served the interests of chauvinists, etc).

That’s why I believe it’s time for us now to teach people other verses to quote when questions of the claims of Christ and Christian identity in a multi-faith world come up. Imagine, for example, if we quoted 1 John 4:7-8 whenever the question came up. Or even John 14:9 — followed by the question, How many people did Jesus torture, imprison, burn, or kill? (Truth be told, though, I’m not a fan of “versification” — proof-texting with verses, which too often involves taking them out of their full context).

Kelly Nikondeha: “The poor will always be with you”

Jesus intended his tableside friends to remember Deuteronomy 15. … Jesus reminded them that they had the economy of their own choosing. And as such, the poor would remain. The opportunity (well, command, really) for them to give with an open-hand would remain as well. No alabaster jar was going to change that truth.

If they really cared about eradicating poverty, as good Jews, they knew what to do. Moses told them the strategy – regular debt cancellation and economic empowerment would end poverty. But if they weren’t up to radical restructuring then they better be up for a lifetime of generous giving to the poor.

Ari Kohen: “Cherry picking”

Any time a law from the Torah seems difficult or unclear, these fundamentalists simply say that it’s unnecessary to pay attention to it because Jesus’ arrival on Earth supersedes it. These are typically laws or mitzvot that are incumbent upon individuals and that many Jews continue to practice (keeping kosher or celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, as innocuous examples). But the laws that never seem to be superseded are ones that Jews no longer adhere to (or haven’t adhered to for centuries in some cases); these also seem to be ones that are binding upon others (the death penalty, as an example) and that seem to fit with right-wing (political) positions.

In this sense, I read it as cherry-picking because it seems to me to amount to consulting a religious text that isn’t generally considered binding by this group in order to find laws or rules that fit their previously-held (political) positions and then using the authority of that religious text as justification for one’s beliefs about, say, vengeance or homosexuality or women’s rights or whatever else. The authority of the very same text does not apply to the strictures that might impact their own lives in the way that they desire to impact the lives of others.

Roland Martin: “Why my Bible seems to differ from Billy Graham’s”

What has happened over the last 30 years is the religious right has perverted the Bible to fit its narrow view of what Christians should pay attention to. Abortion and homosexuality. Nothing else matters.

Well, my Bible is bigger than that. My faith is bigger than that. And my Jesus Christ cares about more than abortion and homosexuality. Please, make your case about those two issues. But don’t talk to me, Rev. Graham, Franklin Graham, or any other right-wing evangelical, about the sanctity of life when you are silent about such things as Trayvon Martin being gunned down or police brutality taking the lives of innocent Americans.

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