Feb  2017 21
Which Bible Do You Read?

You can find support for nearly any interpretation of the Bible you want.

If you want to believe or do any of the following, you’ll find what you are looking for in the Bible:

  • The earth is about 6,000 years old.
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman only.
  • Marriage can be with one man and more than one woman.
  • Believe that the only valid reason for divorce is unfaithfulness, and anyone who divorces and remarries for any reason other than the unfaithfulness of one’s spouse has sinned.
  • Disobedient children should be warned and, if they don’t change their “glutton and drunkard” ways, stoned.
  • Witches and false prophets should be killed.
  • Justice means retribution due to those who have wronged God or another person.
  • Human beings should exercise their dominion over the earth, meaning that all of the earth’s resources are meant for the benefit of humankind primarily.
  • All nations should declare their allegiance to God, either as known through Moses and the prophets or specifically as known through Jesus Christ.
  • Every leader of every nation is there because God has a reason to put them there.
  • There are no contradictions in the Bible, only mistaken understandings.
  • Don’t pay taxes for everything belongs to God.
  • Revelation to an individual is often more valuable than collective wisdom.
  • The Way of Jesus is humankind’s exclusive Way to God.
  • Hate those whom God hates.
  • Build a wall, separate from the foreigners whose ways and gods have polluted the people.
  • Take an eye for an eye.
  • Handle poisonous snakes.
  • Believe there will be 144,000 people, in total, saved from “the wrath to come.”

And, if you want to believe or do any of the following, you’ll find what you are looking for in the Bible.

  • God is love.
  • Justice is both the plumb-line and the outcome of building a society on doing good work, protecting the vulnerable, sharing in times of plenty and scarcity, and caring for each other.
  • Jesus’ mission was to demonstrate how to love God and love each other.
  • Human beings should be good stewards of all life systems on planet earth.
  • Love, commitment, mutuality, reciprocity should define human relations, rather than norming the sexual/biological activities that result in pregnancy.
  • Every society is judged by God for how their most vulnerable members are treated.
  • Now is a good time to build bridges, to seek justice and reconciliation.
  • The ways of God are different from and trump the ways of Empire; we should pray for God’s Empire to come, always.
  • We should practice hospitality, meaning to make space in our lives for persons who are different from ourselves without requiring that those persons become like us (a paraphrase of Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out.)
  • Every human being should be treated with dignity and respect, including both parties when one person has to be protected from the evil or potentially evil actions of another.
  • The messages of the biblical writers differ over time, and sometimes one biblical writer flat out disagrees with the message of another writer.
  • Turn the other cheek, rather than returning evil for evil.
  • Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you.
  • It is good to seek education and wisdom.
  • The Way of Jesus is Christianity’s understanding of the way to God, offered to all humankind.

Admittedly, I’ve drawn the contrast between the two bulleted lists as sharply as I can. There are many more possible readings. And, I have not (and will not) take the time to “proof text” each claim about what is in the Bible. But I could match each bulleted point with one or more biblical texts.

So, what makes a difference in what one finds in the Bible?

  • Who I am. How I construct reality, what my life experiences have been, where I’m from, and the like.
  • Who I read with. The 16th century Reformers rightly held the solo reader in high suspicion. We need to read in community, and which community you read with matters
  • What my interpretive lens is. What is my “text within the text” that I take to be the corrective lens through which I read the rest?
  • What my moral dispositions are that I bring to the text. We will tend to find that which we seek, to support our point of view.

What we bring to the Bible makes a great deal of difference in what we find there. Therefore, to some extent—and I would say, to a great extent—what we find in the Bible is a choice. And each of us should take responsibility for our choices.

We should avoid saying, “The Bible says.” The Bible does not say. We read. We listen. We make judgments. We embrace, reject, ponder, wrestle. And, we interpret.

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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