Sunday, April 22, 2012

More Messiness with the Bible

Last week's post generated more comments (on the Facebook edition) than anything I've had to say in awhile.  The overwhelming majority of those comments were positive, as though I was saying out loud some things that many people have been thinking.  But of course there is some danger or risk in what I said, and this was voiced by a FB friend of mine who shares a set of grandparents with me.  His concern was that by admitting that we don't take ALL of what the Bible says at face value, this opens the door to picking and choosing what we want to submit to.  So the trick is to make sure that we're accepting the right bits and ignoring the wrong ones.  The problem is, there's not an asterisk in the text next to the verse numbers that apply in their plain, literal sense to everyone and some other mark next to the verses that are metaphorical or applicable only to the original audience.  And since the Protestant Reformation, we inheritors of the doctrine of sola scriptura have disallowed the church to be the authoritative interpreter.  So to many (especially those on the outside looking in), it does appear that different traditions do in fact "pick and choose" which bits to follow and which to ignore.  I think it is more complex than that and that distinct traditions (often denominational, but not exclusively so these days) guide us into interpretations that are package deals.  But there's no getting around the fact our interpretations are significantly influenced by extra-biblical considerations.

For example, my cousin cites Ephesians 5 as one of the absolute and non-negotiable passages.  He wasn't specific, so it is possible that he means v. 4 about there being no foolish talk or coarse joking; or perhaps v. 18 about not getting drunk on wine; or maybe it was v. 19 where we find an injunction to speak to each other in songs.  I'm guessing, though, that he intended to refer to the passage about wives submitting to husbands, as though this clearly speaks to a universal familial structure that should be adhered to in all times and places.  But I'm afraid that such a conclusion is only possible by doing some considerable "picking and choosing".

For instance, the hermeneutical approach needed to arrive at such a conclusion should equally apply to uphold the institution of slavery since later in that passage Paul clearly gives instructions to slaves and masters.  On what basis do we decide that male headship is universal but slavery is not?  It must be on the basis of something other than this passage.  Of course there are other passages that speak to the distinct roles of the sexes, but I'd suggest these are often selectively interpreted too.  I've belonged to two different churches who restricted leadership positions to males by citing 1 Timothy 3, where it says that an overseer (or elder) should be the husband of one wife.  That pretty clearly implies that the overseers must be men.  But neither of these churches went on take the other clear implications of the passage.  They didn't require that the elders were married, for example.  And they didn't require that the elders had fathered more than one child, even though verse four clearly refers to his children.

Now, I haven't said anything here from which you could infer that I disagree with the Driscollian position on men and women (perhaps I'll say such things in a later post).  All I'm saying here is that it is messier and full of interpretive decisions to come to that conclusion than merely pointing to a chapter and verse and saying that the Bible clearly says this.

May God give all of us wisdom and humility as we do our best to live faithfully according to the Word.

1 comment:

D.C. Cramer said...

I just assumed your cousin was referring to Ephesians 5:21 and the clear egalitarian implications thereof.