Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Let the Bible Interpret Itself

I was reading an interesting article by a Mr. Darrell Lackey. Mr. Lackey has been a lead pastor, currently manages a small law firm, and is a graduate of the University of San Francisco and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway).

His estimation of "fundamentalists or evangelical churches" is that they are narrow minded and arrogant in self-righteousness. Quoting him: "You’ve probably heard some variation of the following from the pastor or leaders: 'I don’t preach my opinions, I just preach God’s word;' or, 'I just want to know what the Bible says;' or, 'I just believe what the Bible says;” or my favorite, 'The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.'”

His estimation of what the real situation is: “Let’s be clear about what is really happening when we hear the ‘I just go by what the Bible says’ types of statements. What’s really being said is: ‘I just go by what I have been taught, by what others have thought or written about these passages, and all that is still further interpreted and understood through my own personal, cultural, educational, family, geographical, social background and history.’”

He then makes the following warnings:
Remember, the Bible doesn’t “say” anything until someone articulates what they think it is saying. The last time I checked, the Bible did not literally and audibly just start speaking in English to me as I read it. We are the readers. We must do the hard work of hermeneutics, of interpreting, which is both an art and science. Furthermore, we should always be aware that our interpretations could be wrong. We might completely miss what the author wanted us to hear or understand. Instead of claiming that we are speaking for God or just “going by what the Bible clearly teaches,” we need to be humble and admit that we are trying to interpret and understand as best we can–and that it is us who is speaking.

Why is this important? One need only look to the issue of slavery or the way women have been treated historically to point out how wrong the church has at times found itself when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Are there issues in our present day where the church could be making the same interpretive mistakes?

So, don’t be fooled when you hear pastors or church leaders claim, “We are just going by what the Bibles says” or that a passage “just means what it means–what it says.” Smile to yourself, and think: “Yeah, right, sure.” In the meantime, in private, you may want to respectfully challenge such thinking and ask those making such statements to reconsider how they talk about reading the Bible.

Some of his points I can agree with, but not completely.

First, his claim that “the Bible doesn’t say anything until someone articulates what they think it is saying.” Even in Nehemiah’s day interpreting for the spiritual benefit and growth of the people had value. The Bible does indeed "say" something. It has key messages that are easily recognized. I have yet to meet anyone that would disagree that love, justice, and salvation are those major threads. However, I will admit, there are other essential details that cause contention from one person and one religion to another. Especially after having spoken to so many people from so many religions, I see that it is true most people interpret the Bible to their own preconceived ideas -- how they were raised.

Mr. Lackey further states (in the same paragraph): “We should always be aware that our interpretations could be wrong. We might completely miss what the author wanted us to hear or understand.” Absolutely agree. What I personally have done to reduce wrong or incomplete understandings is:

1) study and research constantly,

2) consider the context (ALL the Bible),

3) consider the intent of a passage -- WHY is this in the Bible?,

4) use numerous Bible translations to ensure you are not fixated on particular words or phrasing,

5) consider what conclusion(s) is/are reasonable, intelligent, God-praising and not God-insulting,

6) ask myself how this fits in with the “big picture” of what God wants us to know and understand; and finally,

7) make an attempt on paper to refute viewpoints that disagree with the conclusions I’ve reached to ensure I can find no holes in my viewpoint.

It is these points that I so seldom see in proponents of other religions. They simply accept things because they’ve been told to do so. Which brings me to the last paragraph quoted above that we should challenge even what those in religious authority claim to be true and research it for ourselves. The sad truth about this is that most people just don’t have time and are too tired to look at details. They view it as if it were an election where everyone is making radically different claims. Those proposing candidates or law changes are counting on the very large probability that the majority of citizens just won’t take the time to read all the details of the proposed changes for themselves. Adding to this is the legal jargon that befuddles and makes people’s heads spin and ache to the point they just throw their arms in the air and give up -- which is exactly what lobbyists want us to do. Unfortunately, treating God and his Word (the Bible) that way will have much more dire consequences than merely making a wrong decision in an election (and many people are already regretting decisions they’ve made in the last round of elections). Although it may seem inconsequential at the moment (“Oh whatever, there is good in all religions!”), God is holding each of us accountable for knowing and doing what he wants of us.

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