Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Church and Bible Interpretation



            I admit from the outset that not everyone is going to agree with me, or like what I say on the subject of interpreting Holy Scripture.  I might even get downright under your skin.  But this is an important discussion because no matter what church tradition we come from, there is going to be disagreement as to how to deal with certain Bible verses.  In fact, most parishioners within the same local church do not even agree on how to treat particular passages of Scripture.  Just so you know, I was trained in a seminary that largely looked through the lens or the starting point of biblical authority, as if we had the right view on it all.  Biblical authority, however, is not really the issue, in my opinion.  Before you pick up electronic stones, hear me out.  The issue, as I see it, is this:

No matter who we are, we pick and choose what Bible passages are authoritative and which are not.

Although we Christians say the Bible is our authority, we all have what I would deem as “boss verses.”  That is, verses which control other verses.  For example, I take Matthew 28:18-20 as boss verses that control other verses.  Because of this, I am not willing to concede that the mission of the church is primarily about something other than making disciples.

            Okay, you might be with me so far.  So, let’s pick a hot potato: gays in the church.  When it comes to homosexuality, it appears to me that there are those who would take seven verses out of the over thirty-one thousand verses in Scripture and make them boss verses.  Even if we camp on verses where the world “abomination” shows up, it only ends up talking of homosexuality once.  Things like worry, procrastination, and gossip are addressed much more in Scripture and are also much more prevalent no matter where one goes.  But we do not make boss verses out of these, so we pretty much let them slide.  I don’t see any Christian church or denomination anytime soon talking about biblical authority in the same breath as sins of the tongue; or, looking to bring discipline to gossipers; or, getting upset about chronic whisperings behind others’ backs.  Instead, we just live with it.  We wish it were different, but it does not make our blood boil.  If gossip began to take away our power or authority, then I am sure it would make it to the floor of denominational meetings and local church annual scream-festivals.

            Here’s the deal as I see it: all Christians hold to biblical authority.  To me, this is not the issue.  The real issue is which Bible passages call the shots for us.  Until we are able to confess this practice, it seems to me we will get nowhere.  So, in the meantime, I would rather be looked at as a friend of sinners, or a friend of gays, because that controls my thought and practice more than injunctions from the book of Leviticus.  I take loving my neighbor as a boss verse, so this determines how I speak more than whether I speak in tongues or not.  I will choose to go out of my way to emphasize that all people are made in the image of God because I take the Bible’s reference to God’s creation of humans as a boss verse.  This does not mean I ignore other verses; it just means I have identified which verses of Holy Scripture I believe control other verses.

            I am really not trying to stir the pot (well, maybe a little!).  I am simply making a plea for us to be honest about how we handle the Bible.  And if we have never read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation (and more than once) then it seems to me we are on thin ice to make pronouncements about what are to be the boss verses or what is the clear teaching of Scripture.

            If you need to go pet your dog after reading this, I understand.  Please just do me the respect to think about these things without immediately jumping to conclusions or condemnation.  After all, I believe that grace is the boss of everything in the Bible.

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