Actively Disliking Parts of the Bible

Actively Disliking Parts of the Bible December 28, 2013

Towards the end of a post about the Bible and interracial marriage, Fred Clark wrote this helpful summary of how liberal Christians like him and myself approach the Bible:

The so-called conservatives tend to complain at this point that those of us who recognize and accept the diversity of the Bible are just picking and choosing the parts of the Bible that we like and ignoring the other parts. That complaint is quite a concession — an admission that we’re right about the diversity of the scriptures, because we wouldn’t be able to do what they’re accusing us of unless the Bible does, in fact, contain such an array of diverse perspectives. But set that aside. Is that really what I’m suggesting? No. I don’t ignore the parts of the Bible that make the case for Team Jonah, I contend with them — I contend against them. Yes, it is true that there are parts of the Bible I don’t like, so I dislike them. Actively.

Given that the diversity of the Bible is a fact, this is the only honest approach. The long argument between Team Jonah and Team Book of Jonah presents two incompatible sides. I’m picking sides. I’m siding with one side of the argument against the other side. Anyone who thinks that constitutes dismissing or ignoring the other side doesn’t understand what the word “argument” means.

Click through to read the rest.

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  • SpyPlus

    Yes! “..making our interpretation of the Bible as the final arbiter of all things.”

  • Steve

    That is a keen insight regarding the difference between the Bible being inerrant and the individual interpreter being inerrant.

    However, I think most Evangelicals would say that the intent of the original authors of Scripture, which was under the inspiration of God, was inerrant. The effort, therefore, is to try to ferret out what that was.

    • TomS

      ISTM that one method of interpretation, endorsed by its use in the NT, depends on the text meaning something which the author didn’t intend. The author was inspired to say something which could only be understood at a later time.

      • TrevorN

        As opposed to the author being inspired to say something which made sense at the time and is as good as incomprehensible at a later time.
        It seems to me that my alternative is no more or less disrespectful of the Bible’s audience than yours, seeing as both options involve an inspired text and an unenlightened audience for vast periods of time.

        • Steve

          Well, I can think of instances where both of you would be right. For instance, Hosea 11:1 says, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When the prophet originally wrote that, he was clearly speaking of the nation of Israel. But later on we find there was another embedded meaning (which was likely unaware of) referring to Jesus coming out of Egypt.

          For yours, Trevor, my mind goes to the references to the “sons of God” taking wives and creating Nephilim. Theories abound about what all that means, but the precise meaning may never be known. There’s also instances in Paul’s letters where he was referring to events which we simply don’t have the background on. Then there’s the book of Revelation… which is very mysterious also.

          • Hosea 11:1 is an interestingly screwy example of prophecy that has come up on this site before. Not only is Hosea clearly talking about Israel, the second half of the verse is about this same “son”, Israel, turning away from God. For the gospel writer in Matthew 2:15 to apply this prophecy to Jesus, meant taking half of the prophet’s statement completely out of context. Compare the two contexts side by side:

            Hosea 11:1-2

            1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
            and out of Egypt I called my son,
            2 But the more they were called,
            the more they went away from me.
            They sacrificed to the Baals
            and they burned incense to images.

            Matthew 2:-15

            14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

          • I’m open to the possibility that the NT authors simply didn’t care about the original contexts of passages they quoted such as in the early chapters of Matthew. But another possibility worth considering is that what Matthew meant by “fulfillment” is more like what we today would call “typology.” In that case he would be depicting Jesus here and in the temptation story (among other places) as recapitulating in himself the story of the people of Israel, rather than as fulfilling predictions.

          • Matthew also invented a literal interpretation of Zechariah 9:9, having Jesus ride into Jerusalem on two animals because he misunderstood the poetic parallelism in Zechariah. It makes me wonder both about the writer’s intentions and ability to understand the texts he was appropriating.

            I understand the idea of a typology – that these “fulfillment” passages in Matthew compare Jesus to Israel – but is that the whole story?

            Was Matthew following a traditional form of story-telling that we would now call typology? Did he expect his readers to understand that the stories were simply inventions to help Jesus fit the type, or did he expect his readers to believe that Jesus was taken to Egypt to avoid an infant massacre for which we have no historical evidence?

          • You would think that at least Matthew would have known that the story was made up. But it is possible that even he thought that, since Jesus was a great figure like and yet unlike Moses, his infancy must have been of this sort. It is hard to know from our standpoint in history.

          • You mean it’s hard to know whether Matthew believed the Herodian infant massacre? What about the original source for the massacre? Was the story made up by someone to fulfill a typology?

          • Someone certainly invented it. I’m not sure whether it was the author of Matthew’s work in its entirety, or drew on some earlier traditions. But either way, the author may have assumed that Scripture provided a legitimate means for filling in the gaps in his knowledge about Jesus. Or he may have recognized that the story was not what we would call historically factual. I’m not sure how we can hope to tell from our standpoint in history what an ancient author thought about something like this.

          • This reminds me of Bart Ehrman’s discussion of pseudepigrapha in FORGED. He is dealing with the fact that NT scholars are in the habit of referring to pseudepigrapha as an acceptable practice in the first century, something that honored the purported writer, an attempt to carry on his purposes by falsely ascribing his name.

            Ehrman goes to great lengths to argue that this is wrong, that although the word “forgery” would have been unknown in the first century, the practice was certainly known, and was considered just as dishonest as it is today. He gives examples of pseudepigrapha that were exposed and condemned by early Christians. Ehrman is arguing that pseudepigrapha was considered a lie in the 1st century.

            I’m sure that you are right that we can’t entirely understand all 1st century ways of thinking about inventions such as the infant massacre in Bethlehem. But I don’t see any reason to think that such an invention (if exposed) would be have been considered a lie in the first century, just as it is today.

          • Yes, I was not really trying to dispute that at least some people would have viewed such creative writing as lying. I was just trying to acknowledge that there was more than one way that the author of the story might have understood what he was doing.