Intent versus Face Value: A Few (Shocking) Thoughts about the Bible
I am terrified of a church that applies the texts of Scripture at face value, without a serious and involved consideration of the original audience, the socio-religious context they lived within, and how that context differs from our own. “Take God at His word” sounds cute and all religiousy, but it’s actually quite reckless, extremely dangerous, and often oppressive/abusive.
Here’s the problem at its core. The Bible is not … I repeat… The Bible is NOT the word of God! And this has caused so much devastation today because we have been treating it as though it is.
Now, before you stone me… The word of God is not text on a page. It is a person–Jesus. We know that the word was with God, but also that the word was/is God (John 1:1). So if someone contends that the Bible is the word of God, what you’re saying is that the Bible is God. Not only is that idolatrous (yes, the Bible is an idol in too many Christian lives), but quite simply, your God is WAY too small! And if the word is the Bible, yet the Bible is a done deal (we’re not still adding books and verses), then you’re basically saying that God is done speaking. Considering that He is the Word, it’s hard for me to imagine that He’s not still speaking.
Yes, the Bible contains a portion of God’s word–a suitable, albeit tiny, segment of God’s word, as it was transmitted to specific people, living at a specific time, in a specific society/culture. It is IMPERATIVE that we stop approaching Scripture from the perspective that it is God’s word to us (2016 Americans). It is for us, but it was NOT written to us; and while that may appear to be a distinction without a difference, it’s actually all the difference in the world.
If we think that Scripture was written to us, then we’ll apply everything it says at face value. All of a sudden, forget preaching… Women shouldn’t even be allowed to SPEAK in church, and if they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home. All of a sudden, it becomes a SIN for women to wear gold, pearls, braided hair, or costly attire. There goes pretty much EVERYTHING modern Christian women wear to church. All of a sudden, it becomes wrong for a woman to have short hair, and for a man to have long hair. And, oh yeah, let’s not even get into Old Testament rules about clothes, hair cuts, Sabbath observance, shell fish, and the like. (Funny how we so quickly dismiss that stuff but get sticky with others.)
It is imperative that we stop approaching Scripture from the perspective that it is God’s word tous (2016 Americans). It is forus, but it was NOT written tous; and while that may appear to be a distinction without a difference, it’s actually all the difference in the world.
We have to understand that what we read on the SURFACE of Scripture was right and good TO THE ORIGINAL AUDIENCE ONLY! It is not noble and godly to take what you read and apply it directly. To the contrary, it is extremely dangerous! We have to go BENEATH the surface and pull out the PRINCIPLES that informed what was written on the surface. Then, we must apply those principles to our own specific socio-religious context in a manner that is consistent with the original INTENT of the text (even if that means it’s not consistent with the text itself!). PLEASE read that sentence as many times as it takes for it to sink in, because that right there will transform your Christianity!
When we pull out the PRINCIPLES and apply them to our own circumstances in a manner consistent with the original INTENT, all of a sudden, we find out that women can wear gold, pearls, and costly attire. But they shouldn’t wear daisy dukes, no bra, or a mini-skirt. See, what made for a “hoochie” in Greco-Roman culture 2000 years ago doesn’t make for a “hoochie” today. But if the INTENT of the text was to tell Christian women, “Don’t look like a hoochie,” then that requires that we define FOR MODERN TIMES what a hoochie looks like, and then tell Christian women not to dress that way. That means that the surface of the text becomes obsolete and inapplicable, yet the PRINCIPLE remains eternal, and still needs to be applied, even if HOW it’s applied looks different to us than it did to them (the original audience).
When we continue to pull out the PRINCIPLES, we find out that women can cut their hair, and men can grow their hair out if they want to because the visible representations of patriarchy are no longer necessary since we no longer live in a patriarchal society. Unlike when Paul first wrote those necessary admonitions, society has finally caught up to where God has been all along– where there is neither Jew nor Greek (racial equality), slave nor free (social equality), male nor female (equality of the sexes), for we are ALL ONE in Christ. Hmm… I guess that also means it’s okay for a woman to preach, or pastor, seeing as we’re all one, despite the fact that multiple New Testament passages said otherwise. But it said it for a good reason, and understanding that original INTENT is key! The ancient world was staunchly patriarchal, so much so, women were either considered property, or one step above property. So, in order to ensure that we were the salt of the earth, and not considered the dung of the earth, we had to present an image to the lost world that they could respect. Otherwise, we’d stand no chance of converting them. And it was more important to save the lost than for a woman to preach, so he told the women to shut up. But that was a necessary ACCOMMODATION of mankind’s ignorance, not a divine pronouncement of the woman’s inferiority or inability to be used by God in ANY capacity.
We have to understand that what we read on the surface of Scripture was right and good TO THE ORIGINAL AUDIENCE ONLY! It is not noble and godly to take what you read and apply it directly. To the contrary, it is extremely dangerous! We have to go beneath the surface and pull out the PRINCIPLES that informed what was written on the surface.
But here’s the problem… Failing to grasp the PRINCIPLES and INTENT regarding the role of women will have us continuing to restrict them today, even though it will have the EXACT OPPOSITE EFFECT of the original intention. Rather than the unbelieving world respecting us and being willing to hear and receive the gospel, they’ll call us bigots and knuckledraggers who are trying to oppress women. And you know what… They’ll be right! Maybe that’s not what’s in our heart, but the end result will still be the same. For example, I don’t care if you sincerely thought it was okay to keep Blacks as slaves. Sincere or not doesn’t matter if I’m still a slave. Intentions be damned. LOOSE ME AND LET ME GO!
But here’s another problem… and I’m going to shut up after this. We must be consistent in applying the principles of application that I talked about above. We can’t apply it to “slave nor free”, but choose not to apply it to “male nor female” simply because we believe so strongly in the authority of the one with the penis. If we become inconsistent, based on the topic at hand, then we turn Scripture into nothing more than a tool and weapon that we use to further our personal agenda… rather than as a HOLY revelation–a transmission of a sufficient PORTION of God’s word for us.
This note originally appeared on Pastor Romell Parks-Weekly’s Facebook page.
Photo credit: Klimkin, cc0
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