One of the blogs I follow on my RSS reader is Otagosh. I think that Gavin, the author, is in New Zealand, but since there is no “about” page, I’m not sure. Gavin, if you read this, can you provide more info? In any case, Gavin offered his perspective on the question, What is the Bible and how do we use it?
[It’s not fiction, like a novel], but by the same token it’s hardly factual writing either, whether New Testament Gospels or Old Testament “history.” If you want to take the Bible seriously you have to meet it on its terms [as an ancient text].
The problem then isn’t with the Bible. The problem is with post-Enlightenment people trying to shoehorn ancient texts into contemporary categories. The Bible isn’t meant to be read in the same way as an instruction manual, recipe book, or newspaper report. Nor is it like some kind of weird jigsaw puzzle where you have to string together bleeding chunks of text from all over with the aid of Cruden’s concordance.
Fundamentalism provides the most egregious “all or nothing” example: the Bible is either 100% reliable in everything, or it isn’t “true.” An army of skeptics happily rise up to accept that thesis, and conclude – quite rightly if you follow the logic – that as there are errors, the Bible is useless.
Lutheran Pastor and blogger Doug Kings of Chicago is critical of Christendom’s (and especially our own ELCA) wishy-washy failure to confront the often simplistic, naive, and literal assumptions of the folks in the pews.
[L]et the Bible be what it is: the collected thoughts of a particular ancient people, containing their prejudices and ignorance but also some genuinely profound insight into living with God and with one another in our paradoxical world of beauty and pain, purpose and confusion.
Modern scholarship has actually discovered a great deal about the Bible but much of it is ignored because it doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. Modern biblical study’s totally unsurprising conclusion is that the Bible is theology, through and through. Thus, it isn’t history, biology, geology, astronomy, economics, political science, psychology or any of the other contemporary subjects which so fascinate us and about which we have so many questions. For answers to them, we must look elsewhere.
Professor emeritus Walter Brueggemann is one of the most esteemed and influential Bible scholars around, and I previously offered a blog post on his Christian Century article in which he posited that Scripture is “Remembering an Imagined Past.” Brueggemann has authored the leading work of Old Testament scholarship of the past generation entitled Theology of the Old Testament: testimony, dispute, advocacy. In his preface, he offers the following explanation of his methodology.
I have focused on the metaphor and imagery of courtroom trial in order to regard the theological substance of the Old Testament as a series of claims asserted for Yahweh, the God of Israel. All of these claims share a general commonality but also evidence considerable variation, competition, and conflict … where truth is at issue and at risk, testimony is given by many witnesses, witnesses are vigorously cross-examined, and out of such disputatious adjudication comes a verdict, an affirmed rendering of reality and an accepted version of truth.
Biblical scholarship is serious business, not amenable to simplistic sound bites or proof texts. As someone who has been drawn to this discipline for the past generation and as an ELCA Lutheran active as an LGBT advocate within my denomination, I take particular offense at the Lutheran CORE putdown that the ELCA has become unbiblical. From Lutheran CORE talking points comes the following tripe:
“The ELCA is the one that has departed from the teaching of the Bible”. “Lutheran CORE intends to remain with the clear teaching of Scripture”. “Lutheran CORE would like to help those in the ELCA who continue to uphold the authority of Scripture to find a way to continue to maintain basic Christian teaching as revealed in the Bible.”
Following a recent meeting of the big shots of CORE, WordAlone, and Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMS), a press release was issued containing a revealing paragraph about CORE’s attitude toward the Bible and scriptural interpretation:
Confessional Lutherans accept the Bible as the sole, divine source and norm for all Christian teaching and endorse the 1580 Book of Concord—the statement of Lutheran doctrines—as being accurate interpretations of Holy Scripture. The Bible repeatedly condemns sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.
There are learned persons, Biblical scholars and professors, who stand behind CORE; for that reason, this quasi-fundamentalist statement is stunning. Let us parse this paragraph a bit.
Sole: only; exclusive; standing alone. No room for reason. No room for conscience. No room for experience. Simple. Just consult the ancient book of rules to answer all modern questions. Even Luther would have disagreed with such simplicity.
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason … Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience [informed by Scripture] is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
Divine: not human; perfect; beyond question. I guess Brueggemann was wrong—there is no “variation, competition, and conflict” present in this perfect expression of God’s will, nor CORE’s perfect interpretation of it. To refer to the Bible as “divine” smacks of rank Bibliolatry, but in reality it is a political maneuver meant to limit debate or dissent from a fundamentalist view. Much as the ancient Hebrews could not bear to look upon the face of God, one probes the divine Word at one’s peril. Dare not ask questions of the divine text.
1580 Book of Concord: I confess that I am not well-read in the Lutheran writings of the sixteenth century. What I find astounding in the statement, given the scholars that are part of CORE’s hierarchy, is CORE’s static interpretation of scripture according to a document dated 1580, which establishes the pre-modern worldview of the reformers as preferable to the insights of the past four centuries.
The Bible repeatedly condemns sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman: If the fundamentalists say this often enough, will it come true? Proving the falsity of this statement is like shooting fish in a barrel. One example, that of Father Abraham, shall suffice, but we could go on and on.
So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived. Genesis 16:3-4a
Episcopal Priest Susan Russell recently offered a blog post in which she quoted an article from Professor Rosemary R. Reuther, entitled A Biblical View of Marriage: One Man and Several Women.
The point here is not to mandate either patriarchal polygamy or New Testament celibacy, but to dispute the notion that God in the Bible mandated one view of marriage, from the beginning and for all time. Rather marriage is a human arrangement which has varied over time, according to human (mostly male) views of their needs for sex, relationship, kinship alliances and progeny. In the West in the last few centuries the need to cement social alliances through marriage and to create (male) heirs has decreased, and the primary purpose of marriage has come to be seen as love, preferably between two people in a permanent relationship.
There are smart and educated persons in CORE, and they ought to know better than to spout such unscholarly and fossilized views of the canon coupled with accusations that the rest of us are unbiblical. It is not that we don’t take the Bible seriously, as CORE alleges, it is that we take it too seriously to avoid challenging questions informed by reason, experience, and the lessons of scholarship, both traditional and modern.