Thursday, November 05, 2015

One Time = That Time

One of the hermeneutical problems of our day, I increasingly believe, is that American Christianity has gravitated toward focusing so much on individual verses that bigger principles can be undermined (cf. Matt. 23:23). I've explored this topic a little here.

It is on the level of an individual verse that a truth is most likely to be 1) ambiguous and 2) most contextual. We understand the broader principles of Scripture more clearly because they appear over and over. And individual verses are much more likely to be "that time" rather than "all time" or "one time" even, for the specific moment in history of the biblical writing in question.

Rather than rehash the overall idea and rehash my criticism of American fundamentalism, let me present two examples that have recently come home to me.

1. How do we decide what in Revelation is hyper-symbolic and what we should take as a symbolism that corresponds more closely to specific events or characters? One possibility is to use the "one time" rule. If a concept in Revelation is relatively unique in the whole Bible, then it should probably be taken as hyper-symbolic.

The millennium comes to mind. As far as I can think, there is nowhere else in the Bible that divides a period with the Messiah ruling with resurrected martyrs from a more general resurrection and judgment that happens when Christ returns. The "one time" nature of the millennium might suggest that it is a hyper-symbol of the reign of Christ rather than a literal 1000 year period.

2. If 1 Timothy 2:12 refers to women teaching men (which I don't actually think it is. I think it is another husband-wife passage), then it is the only passage in the Bible that says anything like this. 1 Corinthians 14 has to be about disruptive speech (because women pray and prophesy in worship in 1 Corinthians 11). There are other headship passages, but they don't say anything about women not teaching other men.

Given that Priscilla does teach Apollos in Acts 18 and Acts 2:17 predicts that women will prophesy in the new age, 1 Timothy 2:12 is a highly odd verse, the only verse of its kind in the whole Bible. If it even refers to women teaching men in general (which I don't think it is), it is entirely unique in the Bible.

So as we try to peal back the fundamentalist era of the twentieth century, here is a crucial element in that equation. This individual verse impulse was used in the 1800s to argue for slavery, where individual verses were used to trump more important kingdom principles. Like the Pharisees, its tendency is to undermine bigger principles with "clobber verses." It's not the Jesus or Paul approach to Scripture.

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