Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Which Bible?

A thought to ponder today:

1. Because the Bible is made up of diverse books written for diverse situations...
2. Because the cultural contexts of the Bible were different than ours today...

... different groups inevitably hear different "take-aways" from the Bible.

One group says the Bible is clearly against abortion. Another says there isn't any material that even addresses the question in the Bible. One group says the Bible is clearly against homosexuality. Another says the Bible was talking about something different in those passages. One group says the Bible teaches you don't have to sin by the Spirit's power. Another says it's inevitable.

(Let me clarify, I'm not wanting to debate any of these issues. I'm making a hermeneutical point, not a point about these issues.)

Here's the thought to ponder today. Tradition--namely the Christian culture we are part of--always always plays a role in what we think the Bible says and thus in what we think God's expectations are. If we don't make these traditions explicit, then we mindlessly follow whatever interpretations are the most popular.

These unvoiced assumptions and expectations were there in the early church too. We have no evidence that any Gentiles were saved on the Day of Pentecost, for example. The cultural assumptions of the exclusive collection of Jews present wouldn't even have thought of this possibility. They would have simply assumed that the Bible teaches that salvation is a Jewish thing. If you had asked the unthought of question, "Can Gentiles be part of this?" They would have had to think about it and initially said, "Sure, they can convert and become Jews."

So the assumption of the Day of Pentecost would have been that new converts could not eat pork to be in the church. They would have assumed that new converts could not work on Saturday and be part of the church. They did not articulate these requirements because they were unexamined traditional assumptions.

So if you want, meditate today on the fact that traditional interpretations are always involved in the identities of a community. The only time we are lulled into thinking there aren't is when everyone with us just happens to already think the same thing. This is true, for example, of gray evangelicalism today. This is true of most large churches today, which tend to look similar in general beliefs and practices. Most churches in this group have similar beliefs and practices, so you can say "We have no creed but the Bible" because everyone in the group thinks the Bible teaches more or less the same thing.

But this is a set up for mindless drift. Just because everyone is saying the same thing doesn't at all mean there is no room for debate as far as what the Bible says. Indeed, it is exactly when everyone assumes the meaning of the Bible is obvious to everyone that they are most likely not to know what the Bible really says.

P.S. In the arguments between Pharisees and Sadducees, the Sadducees said, "You Pharisees have all these oral traditions. We just follow what the Law actually says." But they were wrong. The Sadducees also had traditions about how to interpret the Law. They just weren't self-aware enough to know it.

1 comment:

Timothy Hawk said...

Excellent post. It is so tiring trying to have a biblical discussion with people who do not accept this premise. They are like the Sadducees, asking why we can't just "stick to the Bible." Thanks for your insights.