Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Biblical Authority??

I need to be writing a paper right now but I'm stuck. I'm writing a paper on Leviticus 18 - a chapter dealing with laws of sexual behavior, particularly prohibiting various types of incest. On the one hand, these laws don't seem at all problematic. Our society today has no problems saying incest is wrong (although we don't talk about how often it happens in real life....), but then where is the "interesting twist" for my paper??? I question the Bible's authority in general and yet in this case, I want to go right along with what the words say. Of course, this isn't the only passage where I like what the words say - there are tons, particularly in the gospels.

The problems are more where I don't like what the Bible has to say - such as "eye for an eye" or passages condemning women in positions of authority ove men, or condemning homosexuality. I've learned in several classes, undergrad and seminary, about the ways that the Bible was written (beginning as oral tradition passed down in a lot of cases) and then was compiled much later in history, really only becoming an agreed upon "canon" in the second century. The writers are thought to be a variety of people in various time periods of the history of Israel, the chosen people of God, but these people were all men and were writing for specific audiences and situations. What can a bunch of Jewish men from the ancient near east have to say to a contemporary woman in a same sex relationship??? Many times I think "not a heck of a lot!"

There are many times when I want to write off the Bible as a collection of myths and stories that were deemed important by the writers and some of the their readers, but to which I don't have to ascribe the same level of authority. But the fact remains that I do ascribe the Bible some authority - my sermon was filled with references to Bible passages! I refer to scripture when it suits me, but write it off when it doesn't. One of the biggest values I hold is integrity, and I question whether or not I have any when it comes to the way I read and use the Bible. Does it have authority, or doesn't it?

I don't want this post to come off as too much of a confession (bite your tongue now, BigUnit!) because I know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. We ALL take some passages as being "more authoritative" than others (for example, do you tend to follow "an eye for an eye" or "turn the other cheek"??). We all choose our own "cannon within the cannon" but the question is DO WE KNOW WHY?? What basis do you use for highlighting certain texts and writing off others? Can we know which texts were "inspired by God" as opposed to written by men serving a specific purpose? Can we know which ones are still valid and applicable today and which ones are bound to the time and place in which they were constructed? This class that I'm in is asking me to figure that out and state it explicitly and I'm don't know the answer yet, but I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on this....

14 comments:

Big Unit said...

Good post!

I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and give it full authority through my faith.

Faith, now there's a big word in this discussion. Aren't all of our various beliefs built by faith? Faith in what Budda says, the stars (as they are interputed), in the UMC, in the big bang, creationism, the Pope, what or who ever.

That said: I believe a lot of things in the Bible are misintrepted or used incorrectly. I think it would take a lot of study of the original language, the times, the situtation, etc to know the correct meaning and context of the passages you mentioned and others. That is something most of don't take the time to research or do. We want to do what is easiest for us; to justify our actions; instant gratification.

For me it is that danged free will (free choice)that God allowed us to have that gets in the way. I confess to love God, to believe in Him but some of the time I don't act like it. I will say that I am getting closer again, but still a long ways off - not that I will ever be perfect. Which leads to a pet peeve - saying I am only human - no you had a choice in what you did so take some personal responsibility.

All that being said: I believe God created the heavens and earth in 6 literal days, Noah built a boat and survived the flood, Moses parted the Red Sea, Jesus was born to a virgin, lived a life without sin, died, and rose after 3 days.

Off the top of my head; heres a scripture that is misintrepeted a lot. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. The eye of the needle is an actual place not the eye of a sewing needle.

How about money is the root of evil; really it says the love of money.

Good post

Big Unit said...

BTW, I performed my first wedding ceremony last Friday, October 13 - Friday the 13th. It went well. Funniest thing though was during the reception I was sitting with the maid of honor, her husband, and friends; she was getting ready for her toast and said she was nervous because it was her first time to give a toast like this. I said just think how nervous I was since this was my first wedding (she knew that already). She said but you went to school for this. I said know I didn't, I just typed my name on the form on the internet and hit print. They all busted up laughing.

Eric said...

As you might expect, I'm not sure what to make of the Christian Bible when it comes to what you are talking about. My favorite opinion is that it is not so much literally true as it is eternally true. To me, this means that the spirit of the writing is to teach us about concepts that are timeless, rather than teach us specific details such as when we can sell our daughters into slavery or such. We must find the spirit of the message.

I could go on and on, but that's my two cents. It's an area rich for debate.

Eric said...

As you might expect, I'm not sure what to make of the Christian Bible when it comes to what you are talking about. My favorite opinion is that it is not so much literally true as it is eternally true. To me, this means that the spirit of the writing is to teach us about concepts that are timeless, rather than teach us specific details such as when we can sell our daughters into slavery or such. We must find the spirit of the message.

I could go on and on, but that's my two cents. It's an area rich for debate.

Eric said...

oops!

Big Unit said...

Where's some blogger responsibility with some follow-up to your posters comments? Where's the rest of your posters?

mandyc said...

Down boy!

Unit, I'm intrigued by your post that "I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and give it full authority through my faith." What does that mean? Specifically, how do you work with passages that contradict each other (the ones I mentioned were just a few exmaples)? For me, I look a lot at what the original context was - who wrote it, why and who to? - to let me know whether it has meaning for me or my contemporary situation. Generally, a lot of the Levitical laws don't apply since I am not and never have been Jewish and with Jesus we don't (I believe) have to be Jewish to be in covenant with God. This is a main issue that Paul deals with in his letters.

Eric, I really like where you say, "it is not so much literally true as it is eternally true." I don't believe that creation literally happened in 6 days, or many of the other "historical" events of the Bible. Maybe it's the engineer in me, but I think there's something to be said for the lack of archaeological and scientific evidence of so many of those things. I think the stories that are there are what the people who wrote it believed and that even if they are historically accurate, they do speak to some kind of truth - that God is the creator (I refuse to call God "he" by they way) and is capable of doing amazing things.

My paper took a very different direction. I alluded to Leviticus 18 but focused mainly on the story of Lot AFTER Sodom gets destroyed. He runs to a cave with his 2 daughters who end up getting him drunk and having sex with him so that they can have sons - the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites. These were 2 tribes with whom Israel had constant quarrels. More in my next post...

Big Unit said...

I don't believe there are any contradictions. And Jesus fulfilled the OT law so we don't have to try to abide by it.

Alaina said...

Mandy, as far as contradictions go in scripture, yeah, they are there and like you, I'm having to deal with them in my own life. Contradictions at any time are annoying and even painful, even more so for those of us who hold the Bible with some sense of authority (define authority as needed). Personally, all that I can answer is simply to let faith in God carry you through the tension inbetween the contradictions. Yeah...tensions, life is full of 'em. We keep struggling and we'll all get there eventually.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I stumbled across your blog and I am intrigued. I thought I would put my two cents in. I have often said I like the NT God better than the OT God. The Hebrew bible is about many things, one major issue being laws. Worship consisted of a great deal of checking the boxes- do this, don't do that, etc. It is what Paul was battleing in Philippians 3: 3-6 and Galatians 3: 1-5. If you are looking at Genesis- there was light in the beginning but he didn't make the sun until the 4th day. St. Augustine said in On the Literal Interpretation of Genisis said "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth.....Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for a person without faith to hear a Christian... talking nonsense on these topics.....to the great loss for those whose salvation we toil, the writers of our scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned people." I was too lazy to type the entire passage, but his meaning was everyone knows that this can't be scientifically true and we look like idiots when we pass it off as such. It is believed by many Theologians that Genesis was intentially written this way, so that we could remove the veil of a scientific explanation and look into the wonder and love of God having created us, out of love, with free will, to share in his all encompassing glory. The bible is not the stuff of science, but all about the mystery of faith. Look at all the talk about false Gods- that was a big issue back then. Monotheism didn't really exist except with the Hebrews and I gather they struggled with it. Today, for the most part in Western Civilization, it isn't an issue- what we believe about one God certainly is, but you don't find many people believing in hundreds of Gods in the Western world. Now I know you can go on about the worship of consumerism, etc. But stick on topic with me- we aren't sacrificing to proclaimed gods of the sun, and harvest, etc. I think you have to take the bible in context or you lose it's glory in literal interpretation. I struggle with the same issues as the OP. I do try to look at where the bible was going- from a religion of laws to a religion of love and chairty and I try to view it in that context. I believe the bible is about a journey and so are we. I'm not going to use the bible as a literal reference of civil rights, when the writers or scribes didn't take up Civil rights messages such as condeming slavery. I believe we inherit the mystery of faith- it speaks to our hearts and our souls and that is where the translation lies.

Thanks for letting me crash your blog.

mandyc said...

anon - thanks for your comments. i'd love to have more conversation along these lines. i think there's a fine line we tread here - we have to remember that the OT God (or Hebrew Bible God) and NT God are the SAME God. We don't have a multiple personality monotheism, so we have to reconcile these books' portrayals somehow. But you're absolutley right in that context is important. The question for me is how do we discern what is "contextual" to the writers of the bible and what is "of God"? How much of our sciptures are cultural elements of a society that no longer exists and how much is "truth" about God? There's no way we can possibly know (one of the sticking points of being human) but it gives us a lot to think about!

Anonymous said...

MandyC-
I agree- there is just no way to know. To put it into perspective, did you see the study out of Baylor on religion and ethical beliefs? I think it fairly fascinating. I would attach it, but I don't see where this forum supports that. Basically it looks at how people classify themselves religiously- Jewish, Catholic, mainline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Black Protestant, etc. and then looks at how they feel on various topics such as God, death penalty, religious services, interestingly and boringly enough the DaVinci code, abortion, the military etc. You can look at it and make your own conclusion, but what the results said to me is that they vote culturally i.e. African American, Caucasian, southern, mid-western, male, female- much more so than their identified religious beliefs. If you want to give me your email I can send it to you so you can draw your own conclusions. It classifies God into 4 categories- benevolent, critical, authoritarian and distant. My God is a benevolent God, yet only 23% of respondents believe in the same God I do. 5 something percent were atheist. So roughly 61% of those that believe in God believe in a God that they define differently than I define the God I believe in. So is there more than one God or does God have different personalities- NO, however, when filtered through humanity, He is and can be very different based on who is doing the reporting. Look at just the small sampling of early Christian writings that we have that are not cannon. Early Christianity was far closer to the source and yet far more diverse than I propose, we can even imagine. 2,000 years later and we only have a small percentage of the material the Early Christians had and we still can't figure it out. There are stories in the bible that I don't want to believe such as Lot or Hagar and Sarah, sacrificing Isaac etc. and then there are those I don't know what to do with- like the Giants. Where did that come from and better yet- where did it go and why is it even mentioned given such a short appearance? Someone told me the entire Bible is a love letter from God. It's not that I throw out the parts I don't like, I just try very hard to understand what is the love in the story because ultimately that is where the story began, and where the incarnation brought fulfillment. I chose Paul's words that Jesus is the new Adam and so I try and look at it all through that lens. There is a great deal of love in the Hebrew Bible, for me, I just have to dig harder to find it than in the NT. People way smarter than me can't agree on what is God and what is contextual, but I don't know that finish line on that topic is the goal. I think it is about the journey, not what we got 100% right, but what we gave all to in our journey of understanding. I'll admit, it's a much easier position to have as one person in a theology class or on a blog post. It's much harder when you have to stand in front of a congregation and help them sort it out. I have a friend that was a cradle Catholic as am I. She still attends Catholic mass but goes to Baptist Bible studies because the literal interpretation resounds with her. She says it's easier and more straight forward. Me, I want to read what theologians through out history wrote- all of it, the good, bad and ugly. I want to understand what I believe and what I don't and I want the whole story. I don't think one of us is correct and one of us isn't- it's just a different journey for each. Unfortunately, none of this really answers your questions, but I think the glory is in the questions and the search for their answers.

Thanks for letting me share.

Anonymous said...

PS I enjoyed your sermon!

Anonymous said...

I found the online link to the Baylor religion study. I'll be curious to see what your take is.

http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/33304.pdf