Okay, I can’t help it. When a thought gets into my brain, I just have to get it out through writing! One of those thoughts has lodged deeply after attending a talk recently. So here goes…
Biblical interpretation is at the core of many, many, church and denominational disagreements. If we are to live by the Word of God, we do need to have an idea of how to read it.
Here are a few (of many complex variations) understandings of biblical interpretation:
1) The Bible – in any translation – is perfect. God, who is all powerful, directs all aspects of writing, editing, publishing and interpretation of the Bible, therefore we need to take it literally. (A variation is that some is literal, and some is spiritually literal – meaning while it may have not exactly happened that way, it is how God wants us to remember/know it.)
2) The Bible – in any translation, including the original – is not perfect. The Bible is the spiritual and historical record of the human relationship with God. It is written, edited and interpreted by human beings (mostly men), who are and were influenced by their environment and their own personal characteristics. While God is revealed through Christ, it was humans who wrote the Gospels about Christ – after the events. While God inspired the original and translations, God did not directly write the Bible. Therefore, we need to discern, with the Holy Spirit and within the whole text, how the Word applies to our lives and society. (A variation is that the original was perfect, but then humans got in the way.)
(The understanding I recently learned:)
3) The Bible, original and translations, were perfect. God, who is all powerful, directs all aspects of writing, editing, publishing and interpretation of the Bible, therefore we need to take it literally. However, as God’s arrangement with Satan is to leave it up to us to determine who we want to align with, Satan uses his powers to trick us into going against God. One of these ways was to get people to burn Bibles or deny God all together. However, as that isn’t completely working anymore, Satan is now in the business of creating and spreading new translations of the Bible. Therefore, while we can take the original and earlier (King James) translations literally, we can not rely on later versions (including the Message) as they are inspired by Satan, not God.
Okay – is your head spinning? Mine is.
So, here is my attempt at working it out, and please add your ideas/observations in the comments! I would love your input!
I have grown up and been trained in the Christian tradition that leans towards #2. While God is integral in the writing, editing, and interpretation of the Bible, there is a continuing understanding that I/we/you may have it wrong. Therefore, to hold to tightly to any specific understanding that results in essentially creating it a law that may go against God’s Will – and then we are committing a sin. So how does this interpretive tradition find direction through the Bible? They are in continual group discernment, focusing on God’s Love for all creation and the mysterious and unpredictable presence of God in every individual life.
I understand the power of #1, thanks to a number of deeply faithful individuals. If God is all powerful, why would God want us to be led astray by the most important means we have to direct our lives by God’s Will? Why would a loving God who craves our salvation allow us to be deceived when the Holy Spirit is fully capable of creating perfect translations?
I also “get” #3, but still getting my head around it. If God did strike a deal with Satan, then it makes sense that even the Bible itself would be open to manipulation by Satan to lead us astray. It seems to me (note using a lot of “I” language here”), that this third understand embraces #1 even more deeply in the sense of focusing on Satan’s presence in the world as emphasized in the Bible, yet in the end leaves us with the hesitation and doubt of #2 when interpreting the scriptures.
No wonder so many people walk away from organized Christian traditions! Who is right when each group says they are? If you are new to the Bible, is it all or nothing?
Or somewhere in between.
This is where my own training in political theory, theology and an engineer/creative mind comes into play – can’t they all be right?
The Author of all existence may be doing one of these, or all of these, as God plays by God’s rules, not ours. Perhaps God is working in all of us as individuals (yes, #2), helping us all to live by God’s Word and Will, and the interpretation method we accept is exactly the one we need for our journey.
In other words, while we may not agree, and in some cases sincerely and fully way others to adhere to what we believe is correct, is it our will or God’s Will that we are ultimately striving towards? Dialogue is essential, but as in Matthew 5:23-24, let us make peace with our brothers and sisters when we are in conflict. As does not conflict open the door to more sin?
Lord, help us to discern how to follow You – let us uplift one another on our journeys, coming together, rather than creating divisions within your kingdom. Amen.
So, what do you think, as it is in community we can discern – and I definitely don’t have a corner on the market!
- How to Not Worship the Bible (matthewruttan.com)
- The Inerrancy of Scripture (pilgrimpassing.com)
- Allow Me to Re-Introduce the Bible. (tillerjessica.wordpress.com)
- What Do You Really Believe? (ninaroesner.com)
- Holy scripture from God? Ethics and Religion Talk on the source of sacred texts (mlive.com)