Reading the Bible
September 14, 2006
This post is probably going to get me in trouble.
I’ve been in seminary for all of 3 days now, so I’m by no means an expert on the topic about which I’m going to write.
But, more and more I believe that there are really no “experts” on Biblical interpretation; only those with stronger opinions.
I’ve been learning this week to put some language around Biblical interpretation, another word for which is hermeneutics.
I’ve learned about the hermeneutical circle. (Every time I hear that, for some reason I start bursting into song in my head to the tune of Elton John’s “Circle of Life” from the Lion King.)
Anyway – the jist of the hermeneutical circle is this: We have the text of the Bible, we have what lies behind the text (the author’s intent), and we have what lies in front of the text (all of our own psychological, cultural, and other stuff that causes us to read the text the way we do). Without getting all fancy and trying to draw it, the circle would look something like this:
our modern view->text->ancient “truth”->text->modern view
One hermeneutic we can use is to use what we know about historical facts and cultures to get “behind the text,” understanding the ancient intent of the text, then apply that to the modern view. That’s what my Bible professors want us to do.
That’s great. I like it. Sold.
But wait, there’s more.
Just as I believe so fervently, and articulated here, I don’t believe God ever works in just one way. If the text only has one meaning, what makes Holy Scripture different from any other text? What makes it sacred?
The answer to me is that there are multiple hermeneutics- multiple ways of interpreting the text.
Just as Jesus has many faces, so we can read Scripture through many lenses and get many different results. This is what makes it such a rich, wonderful, document and testifies to its Holiness. That is what gives it authority- the fact that nobody can conclusively say that it authoritatively says any one thing.
Using only one hermeneutic is exlcusive. We must be careful not to invalidate other experiences of the text when we choose one interpretation for ourselves, just as we must be careful not to invalidate other experiences of God just because we have had certain experiences with God ourselves.
I believe that is what has happened to our church. As I’ve said elsewhere, the issue before us isn’t (at its heart) about sexuality. The boiling point may have been sexuality. But this is about hermeneutics. This is about the nature of Holy Scripture. This is about theology. (I happen to think it is about power too, but I’ll leave that aside for a moment.)
We have spent far too much time talking about the symptoms (gay bishops, ordination of women, and so on) and far too little about the crux of this problem.
My reading of the Bible doesn’t give us the option to take exclusivity as a course. Early Christianity did not require uniformity. Somehow that has become threatening. I believe that is a false fear. Diversity is good. Diversity of hermeneutical choice leads us to greater understanding of God. Through it, we can be lead to new insight from each other that we might not have otherwise gained. If we separate into uniform groups, we will only get the same old thing, over and over again. How is that of benefit to the body?