Open Bible

I am very grateful to Dr Katie Marcar. At the recent Anglo-Catholic Hui, she presented a Bible study and introduced The Art of Reading Scripture (I have ordered the book). A dozen eminent scholars formed The Scripture Project and from that developed nine theses on interpreting biblical texts:

1. Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging, and saving the world.
2. Scripture is rightly understood in light of the church’s rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.
3. Faithful interpretation of Scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old rightly be understood apart from the New.
4. Texts of Scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that Scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.
5. The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.
6. Faithful interpretation of Scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God’s redemptive action — the church.
7. The saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret and perform Scripture.
8. Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.
9. We live in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom of God; consequently, Scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh rereading of the text in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.

Once I have read the book, I will be (I hope) in a better position to engage with individual theses. Certainly, number 3 leaps out as having significant issues. And number 6 is also questionable. Surely the scholarly interpretation of texts has some sort of “objective” (whatever that means in our post-modern world) validity? Does a person really need to believe in God, really need to participate in church life, really need to subscribe to the creeds in order to give an intelligent interpretation of biblical texts? I am going to need some persuading to be convinced of that. I think good biblical exegesis can be done by an atheist. [So, I’m much more a number 8 sort of person!]

In this series of posts, I am going to contend that one can disagree with what the Bible says, that faithful Christians can disagree with what the Bible says. In discussions, some people are very perturbed at such a suggestion. To them, once you have ascertained what the Bible says – that must be understood to be correct. For them, the Bible cannot be wrong. About anything.

In my ordination vows I am asked:

Bishop Do you believe that the Bible contains all
that is essential for our salvation,
and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ?
Candidate Yes, I do.
God give me understanding in studying the Scriptures.
May they reveal to me the mind and heart of Christ,
and shape my ministry.

And, I sincerely adhere to that.

But, the Bible also contains stuff that is not “essential for our salvation”, and, in such cases, I believe I am at liberty to agree or disagree with what it says. This frees me from bringing a conclusion I want to find in the Bible. If I do not think of myself as being bound by the result of my research, then I am free to study unencumbered by my hoped-for conclusion. Those who need to believe everything the Bible teaches will be less inclined to treat the text honestly when such honest reading leads to conclusions that are uncomfortable to them. Or clearly false in the understanding of our contemporary world and its disciplines of science or history.

An example: recently I studied the word “have dominion” in Genesis 1:28. Had it come up with a conclusion that humans can simply pillage and abuse the environment, I could be honest that that is what the text meant, without needing to feel required to abide by that in our 21st Century environmental crisis. As it eventuated, I don’t think that that is what the word means.

I can research the biblical texts to understand whether they thought Pi is 3, or the world is a disc on pillars, or there is a dome with water above it and holes to let the rain through, or Adam and Eve are historical people… I can be honest as I approach the text, unconstrained and unconcerned by the need to find that Pi actually was revealed in the scriptures as an irrational number, or that the world is going around the Sun in the outer reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy…

What do you think?

To be continued…
at Disagreeing With The Bible Part 2

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