Biblical Texts We Ignore
I got to thinking the other night about how every Christian position seems to orient itself towards certain interpretations of certain biblical passages while ignoring others. It seems that any doctrinal statement is at the expense of a comprehensive reading of the bible. Why is this?
“Numbers. Nothing good here; just a bunch of numbers…”– Lesley (Tongue planted firmly in cheek).
I posed the thought to my wife over dinner, and that was her response. She then agreed with me that each side of the conservaliberal divide emphasizes certain passages and ignores the ones the other side emphasizes.
What does this tell us?
It tells us that neither side is interested in being biblical. Instead, they are interested in being right. This is why I am not a liberal or a conservative. I’ve no interest in being right, nor in trying to make others think that I am so. I’m interested in being faithful.
It also tells us that our socio/political positions are woefully insufficient and catastrophically inadequate to partner with the God of the bible. If your “biblical” theology ignores part of the bible your “biblical” theology is sentimental bullshit. You can disagree about those parts that are troubling, but you can’t ignore them and call yourself “biblical.”
The bible is contradictory. This is a statement of fact. How many times did David meet Saul? How many animals got on Noah’s ark?
There are three options available in the wake of this revelation: You can ignore the parts of the bible that you don’t like; you can throw out the bible altogether as nonsensical piety; or you can adjust your perspective of what the bible is saying until you can hold all of it together in first tension and finally a dissonant harmony.
What texts do you ignore?
Oh. It's not just Numbers that I've ignored. There's a lot of the old testament that I've…skimmed…at best.
I'm the worst.
I also know what parts of the bible I like and that inspire/encourage me, so I tend to focus on those.
Again, the worst. Good thing I'm not a theologian. 🙂
I've been reading the old testament in my spare time for myself, and I can admit, I find a lot of the old Mosaic law pretty appalling. Leviticus and Deuteronomy, quite a bit of Judges, and there are some choice parts of Exodus and Joshua that never quite sit right.
I don't blame non-Christians for thinking that the Old Testament God is full of wrath, judgement, and condemnation, because a lot of the Old Testament IS wrath, judgement, and condemnation. Frankly, some of it is downright gruesome.
I mean, seriously. Exodus 4:24-26. This is immediately after the burning bush, and it says "At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him."
I had to read a LOT of commentaries to try to make sense out of it, and I AM a Christian! My eyes pop right out of my head at passages like that.
So when it comes to "being biblical" I completely understand eisegesis; people are going to read into the text based on what their own ideas are. If I want to see love, I'll probably stick to the new testament. People who want to see God as someone who hates read more into the old Testament, and round and round it goes.
I can see a fourth option:
One could acknowledge the moral inconsistencies and if not "throw out the bible altogether" instead see the bible for what it might be: a record of the first attempts of moral philosophy by some very superstitious, xenophobic, sexist, tribal leaders from the Bronze age.
Perhaps its wisdom was divinely inspired yet grossly misunderstood by the men of a barbaric culture, who transcribed it to the best of their ability. Or maybe in inspiration came from regular humans who had grown tired of their status quo and wished for a less violent way of life. Maybe they just had very active imaginations and wrote down fantastical stories that were never meant to be taken as fact (like the flood or the exodus from Egypt).
But one could accept the possibility that it's a flawed book because it's authors suffered from a bronze-age understanding of the world around them, and still gleam some value with the good bits. Is that the same as "ignoring the parts that you don't like?"
I think your fourth option, Misha, is "ignoring the parts you don't like." It can be an undercurrent of one of the other two options (perhaps it is a part of the third), but as an option itself it is what I meant by the second.