Its All In The Interpretation
I briefly wrote about how others have been hurt by scripture in my first post in August. I feel like scripture especially interpretation of scripture is extremely important to revisit. As with any religious organization, scripture is what grounds our foundational beliefs about the world and who God is. The Bible is the primary scripture used in Christianity. It is known as "God's word" which contains the history of the Hebrew people, the writings of the prophets, the gospels, the beginning of Christianity and many other stories about God's interactions in the world. Since it was canonized it has provided great guidance and direction to people across the world. At the same time it has caused much pain and division based on the interpretations used. I believe one of God's greatest gifts is in allowing us to interpret scripture responsibly.
Let's explore scripture interpretation together and see if we can answer a few questions.
Using Our Flaws
I have heard so many arguments say "That's not what the Bible says." It's important to note the Bible was translated from Greek and Hebrew into other languages such as English. Some of the words do not match the English language and some of them lose the meaning depicted by the original author. The Bible as we know it is an interpretation based on translation. Now there are many people that strictly adhere to the literal words written because they believe the Bible is inerrant. What I find interesting when thinking about the Bible this way is that almost every character aside from Jesus was imperfect. Abraham, King David, Peter, and so many others had flaws and yet God used them. Why must we think the authors of the Bible or their writings must be inerrant as well? God uses our imperfection to make powerful, improbable things happen. It is through the mistakes, imperfections, and challenges in life where God works. Thinking about the Bible this way helps me understand I am reading through someone else's perspective which may have errors and misperceptions. However God continues to speak through it using what there is to create good in this world. Historically the gospels were not written until way after Christ's death which means the people were recalling what they could from the experiences.
When we take the Bible literally we end up pushing people away instead of bringing them closer to Christ. Literalism is looking at scripture in its most basic sense instead of diving deeper into the text. Specifically thinking there is only one meaning for this scripture or the interpretation has to be this way. I think it's important we are open and honest acknowledging we do not have all the answers. God is a mystery and with the Bible we catch glimpses of who God is and can be. And for some reason I do not believe God ever intended to have others judged and condemned in a church for their prior decisions in life. Despite my belief literalism surfaces. The best way I can think of expressing literalism is from the 2004 movie "Saved" starring Mandy Moore. If you haven't seen it, please rent it. It's a comedy about taking the Bible literally. Here's a small gif from the film. If you can't tell Mandy Moore is throwing her Bible at the girl.
So how do we interpret the Bible responsibly? I think this is a personal struggle for many of us however there are some things we can do to help us get a deeper look at the text. 1. Look at the genre of the text. This will pull out the reasoning behind the writing. What was the purpose for this text? What was the writer intending? 2. Historical criticism. This a a method trying to picture what the world was like during the time of its writing. It helps us identify the context of the passage? 3. Meaning/ Discernment of the text. What is the obvious meaning and the writer's intended meaning? What words stick out to you. Words carry many thoughts that connect us to other experiences. What theological themes stick out to you? 4. God Revealed. Scripture unfolds who God is. What does the text reveal about the nature of God? How does that apply to our relationships today?
Whenever we look deeper at scripture we find the richness of the stories, the beauty of the characters, and the relevance for today.
The great thing about scripture for those in CofChrist is that it is still being revealed to us. We believe God is still shaping who we are as a prophetic people through continued revelation. This is guidance for how our church and people should act in the world along with God. It's a belief that God is continually revealing God's self to the world. I love the imagery of God breathing in us to take action into the world, to fight against poverty, to uphold other's worth, to live community in it's wholistic essence.
How has scripture shaped your journey?
What ways do you interpret scripture responsibly?
How do you work through scriptural literalism?
How is God still revealing God's self to you?
I hope all of you had a wonderful Labor Day Weekend. This week please open your Bible and study a paragraph of your choosing. Search through the text and find meaning for yourself and your journey.
9/4/2018 04:13:19 pm
Years ago, members of a local, non-denominational evangelical church, visited my home to invite me to church. I thanked them for the invite, and said that I already belonged to a Christian church; I had been baptized, and actively followed Christ. They asked which church and I said Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ). They asked if I believed in the Book of Mormon? I affirmed it as scripture along with the Bible and Doctrine and Covenants as witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ. They informed me that the Bible was the inerrant word of God, and the cannon of scripture was closed. They then sought to prove their point by quoting the following scripture:
9/5/2018 05:03:37 pm
Jim thanks for sharing another great story. Yes the line in Revelation has been given time and again for not adding to the Bible. Knowing the genre of the book and the canonization process really helps with this. The genre was an apocalyptic writing and many times people would find the scroll and add to them. Most likely the writer said this to ensure others did not write further into his words. Also the various books being used throughout the area were most likely canonized between 300-400AD. I love how you added D&C 163 to your story. What do you find most powerful about that scripture?
9/7/2018 05:17:23 pm
Doctrine and Covenants Section 163, puts into scripture what I have witnessed throughout my life as a disciple. As in my story, I have witnessed multiple professed “Men of God” utilize scripture to diminish, marginalize as criticize others, who may not follow their point of view. I have talked to many who have professed that God dictated the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I personally have been criticized because I believe in continuing revelation.
9/8/2018 10:39:03 am
Thank you for sharing your struggles with accepting the changes made throughout the years in your walk with the Community of Christ. Most people have times where they struggle with what they have been taught and their current or new understandings. This can come from the smallest belief to more significant ones. I know when we struggle with faith changes it is a process and takes time just like you indicated. I think it goes back to 163 1d.
9/9/2018 10:44:39 am
Thanks Craig ☺️
9/9/2018 10:45:15 am
Thank you Craig and Jim.
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The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.
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