It is a question that – as a minister – leaves me in a cold sweat; not only because it calls for a google-like ability to instantly filter through each and every sentence of the sixty-six books and 1000 plus pages, but because of the type of thinking that has often emerged out of the ensuing conversation: that each phrase and paragraph are to be understood as representing the voice and instruction of God speaking directly to the reader or listener.
And so what if it does?
And while one can appreciate the importance that this view places on the Scriptures in the life and work of the Christian Faith, there are obvious shortcomings when it is universally applied.
For example – How does one approach the dozens of verses that address the issue of slavery and that regulate its practice, and what does one do with the passages that say that children who curse and strike their parents or who are persistently rebellious should be put to death, or, that if a woman is not a virgin when she marries, the men of her town are to stone her to death?
Was such a magnificently complex library of books – written over a period of about 1200 years, on different continents and in different languages, through the eyes of a variety of authors, and representing a number of genres (some sections to be read as history, some as poetry, some as teachings) – ever intended to be view through a narrow lens?
Beneath the surface
A probing question to consider in this light, and one that must surely be asked by each of us of ourselves – at repeated intervals – is whether we come to a service of worship (at which the Scriptures are read and expounded upon) or to a private time of reflection, with an open heart and mind, or simply with a view to adding divine authority to a pre-existing position or prejudice, and in so doing, drawing bolder lines between “us” and “them”, providing enough space for “us” to be “us”, but not enough for “them” to be “us”.
If we, for example, are uncomfortable with the idea of two people of the same gender being attracted to one another and sharing a common love for each other, we may well latch onto/look for “a biblical explanation” that that justifies and supports our unease.
If we have grown up in a family where alcohol was a catalyst for an abusive atmosphere, it stands to reason that the words in Proverbs: Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise may resonate far more than the description offered by some of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew: The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
A most remarkable collection of writings
The Bible asks to be handled with a disciplined care and integrity in the process of attempting to understand the respective settings in which it was written, the “world within the text” and the filters that the reader/hearer brings with them. It is in and through these things that we are given to ultimately discover the Great Mystery to which the written words point…