Are the actions being produced by so-called wisdom death-dealing? If they are, then we need to rethink what we have deemed to be wise.
I want to apply this to our faith tradition in a practical way for a moment. We can apply this principle to our expression of Christianity, our interpretations of the Bible, and the Bible itself, as well as the Jesus story within the Bible.
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Let’s begin with the Bible. The Bible is not monolithic. The more one actually reads the Bible, the more one encounters passages in the scriptures that are life-giving and passages that are death-dealing. The Bible authors were trying make sense out of the world they were living in, within the bounds of their own time and space.
So this impacts how we relate to the Bible as a whole. I want to caution against an all-or-nothing kind of thinking. We can be honest about things in our sacred text that are not life-giving but destructive (its affirmation of slavery and texts of terror used against women are just two examples). And we can at the same time hold on to the things in the Bible that are beautifully good. We can hold on to the things that are life-giving, deeming them of enough positive value for us, yet not throwing our entire sacred text out because not everything in our sacred text has proven life-giving.
By their fruits we will know know them. Jesus practiced this method of interpreting his own sacred texts (cf. Luke 4:18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2). We can take the good and let go of the bad by rightly discerning, or, to use Biblical language, “rightly dividing the word of truth” by testing passages by their fruit.
We can follow this same practice as we interpret specific passages as well. Sometimes it’s not the passage that is the problem but the way we have interpreted it. So we can hold our interpretations of texts to this same test: whether their fruit is life-giving or death-dealing, healing or destructive.
We can apply this to Christianity, holding its practices and doctrines to the test of “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” And we can evaluate our interpretations of teachings we credit to the historical Jesus too. We can affirm the life-giving value of the Jesus story while also being honest about where the authors writing that story reflected the concerns and struggles of the early Jesus community out of which these stories evolved more than they reported direct transcripts from the historical Jesus. We can begin to embrace the humanity of Jesus himself, who “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people” (Luke 2:52).
We’ll respond to objections, next.
(Read Part 3)