So I had an interesting dialog with someone who still holds to a more traditional view of scripture. It started with a conversation about the nature of sin, mainly whether or not sin was wrong because God said so or sin was wrong because it hurts people whom God loves.
Generally speaking, I hold to the latter view.
But I got me thinking a lot about how we approach the bible and how that decision affects our view of God.
My past approach to reading the scripture was to take the bible as the literal, inerrant word of God. There is, of course, some nuance to it, but basically it means that every passage in scripture should be read literally within its context and that means when the bible says something happened, it happened exactly as written.
Now, I do admit, there is a great degree of comfort in this approach. You don’t really have to wrestle with the text that much. And there’s a great degree of certainty with using it. God said it, that settles it. (Because, of course, as one pastor told me, it doesn’t really matter if I believe it.)
But the problems with this approach come about when we start to dive into some of the old stories. Some of the problems are rational: the age of the universe and the age of the Earth invalidate a literal reading of Genesis, as does the current evidence supporting multiple points of origin for human species and our ancient ancestors interbreeding with Neanderthals.
Some of the problems are moral: why would God, the all-powerful, both perfectly good and perfectly just, provide rules and guidelines for slavery instead of just saying, “Hey, Moses, tell them that they can’t own people at all or I’m going to get Old Testament on their behinds.” Why would God prohibit shellfish (He could have told them not to eat them during certain times of the year after all), but mandate that virgin rape victims be forced to marry their rapists? And most troubling of all, why would a God who loved the world order His people to commit genocide (including infanticide) against Jericho and other Canaanite tribes? (That is assuming, of course, that Joshua existed and that he led an invasion of Canaan, both of which currently lack historic evidence.)
My own biblical hermeneutic rests on the supremacy of the revelation of Christ which I derive from among other places Hebrews 1:1ff and John 1:1ff. Jesus, as presented through the gospel writers, is the literal word of God or expression of God. As such, He should be the lens through which I interpret the rest of the bible.
If something God supposedly said elsewhere violates the character or spirit of Christ and His teachings, then we’re probably not getting a direct revelation of God, because as Jesus said “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” Rather, we’re probably seeing God through the author’s eyes, culture, current understand and general revelation.
I’ve found it more liberating because I no longer find myself trying to perform mental gymnastics to justify some rather atrocious things in the name of divine revelation and biblical inerrancy, while still being able to appreciate the old stories and search for Christ within them.
I do admit there is less certainty and more ‘wrestling with God’ (if you will) involved, but I’m okay with that now.