Taking the whole Bible as the BiblePublished 7:37am Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Having written here about the inappropriateness and even invalidity of picking and choosing from the Bible what pleases oneself or serves ones own purpose, I now consider examples of how futile is this attempt. Our alternatives are either to accept and respect the Bible as the word from God or to pick and choose within it words from humans. When this is done, it is no longer the Bible, the Word of God.
Jon Meacham writes “Of God and Gays and Humility,” an opinion piece, in Time (July 30). He makes an astounding assertion: “If we interpreted all Scripture at the same level of authority, however, we would be more open to slavery, to the subjugation of woman, to wider use of stoning. Jesus himself spoke against divorce in the strongest of terms. Yet we have — often gradually — chosen to interpret the Bible in light of not only tradition but also reason and history.”
The Bible is not the Bible if we are not willing to accept it as a gestalt or the integrity of the whole. We cannot take a single statement out of its context and build a concept on it alone. Though the Bible is not the “pack of lies” one man told me he knows it is, it does contain several packs of lies. It starts with Adam’s lie about eating the “forbidden fruit,” continues by reporting lies of any number of people throughout history — the grandest of all being those Satan told Jesus on the Mount of Temptation. The Bible does not lie, but is certainly gives historically truthful accounts of the lies people have told. The authority lies not in the lies but what the context says about lying and liars.
The moral authority of the Bible is expressed by the integrity and continuity of immediate contexts and by the whole. There are many levels of truth recorded within, and the task of hermeneutics is to identify and assess accordingly. We find many truths within the Bible, but the Truth comes from the whole.
I have also shown here slaveholders read slavery into the Bible and ignored its prohibitions but they did not find it there. This notion seems to be a favorite of some today and they cling to the presumptiion against the facts. Likewise, extra-biblical subjugation of women came from both a misunderstanding and misapplication of the biblical role of women. Stoning was the provision of a deterrent rather than a standard practice. Divorce was never desirable, usually preventable, but reasonable provision was made for it when the lesser of evils. Meacham is factually wrong on every count.
When he rejoices that “we have chosen to interpret the Bible,” he betrays a more fatal error. Understanding any authoritative writing is not a matter of how we choose to interpret it, but what it says and what it means. This is why our Constitution requires the Supreme Court to rule if even Congress has misinterpreted the Constitution and misapplied it into federal laws. Authority is inherent in the document, not the choice of those subject to it.
Again, no one is legally or civically required to believe the Bible or any part of it. What is logically and morally required is that if a person professes to accept the Bible as the Bible, he or she is obliged to obey it. One can believe what Jesus said and disbelieve what Moses wrote, but such does not believe the Bible.
For a person who supposes he knows better than the Bible, there is logic to taking the stance that because the Bible speaks for marriage and, therefore, against homosexuality, he will accept nothing from the Bible and dismiss it entirely. He is on weak logical footing to say he rejects what the Bible stipulates on marriage but accepts everything else. But the person who says she believes the Bible but claims it does not speak against homosexuality because she chooses not to accept this teaching understands neither belief nor the Bible.
Not to believe the Bible as a whole may be borrowing from the Bible, but it is not belief in the Bible as the Bible.