Thursday, November 5, 2015

[BTT002] Biblical Theologies and the Bible

Previous: [BTT001] Genesis 1:1

Augustine speaks of this very phenomena in his Confesions. Now, if you've ever read any of Augustine's writings, you know that the man was not blessed with brevity. So I'm going to quote from him at length because he lays it out much more beautifully than I could ever hope to, but feel free to skip it if your eyes start to glaze over.
First, Augustine admits his inability to know exactly what Moses meant when he wrote Genesis, or why God moved him to use those particular words:

"But which of us, amid so many truths which occur to inquirers in these words, understood as they are in different ways, shall so discover that one interpretation as to confidently say that Moses thought this, and that in that narrative he wished this to be understood, as confidently as he says that this is true, whether he thought this thing or the other? For behold, O my God...can I, as I confidently assert that Thou in Your immutable word hast created all things, invisible and visible, with equal confidence assert that Moses meant nothing else than this when he wrote, In the beginning God created. the heaven and the earth. No...

"For his thoughts might be set upon the very beginning of the creation when he said, In the beginning; and he might wish it to be understood that, in this place, the heaven and the earth were no formed and perfected nature, whether spiritual or corporeal, but each of them newly begun, and as yet formless. Because I see, that which-soever of these had been said, it might have been said truly; but which of them he may have thought in these words, I do not so perceive. Although, whether it were one of these, or some other meaning which has not been mentioned by me, that this great man saw in his mind when he used these words, I make no doubt but that he saw it truly, and expressed it suitably."

The greatest danger is not that we should believe one of many valid interpretations, but that we should allow these valid interpretations to become points of argument and hatred between us.

"Let no one now trouble me by saying, Moses thought not as you say, but as I say. ...O my God, life of the poor, in whose bosom there is no contradiction, pour down into my heart Your soothings, that I may patiently bear with such as say this to me; not because they are divine, and because they have seen in the heart of Your servant what they say, but because they are proud, and have not known the opinion of Moses, but love their own—not because it is true, but because it is their own.
"... When, therefore, we may not contend about the very light of the Lord our God, why do we contend about the thoughts of our neighbor...when, if Moses himself had appeared to us and said, “This I meant,” not so should we see it, but believe it? Let us not, then, “be puffed up for one against the other,” above that which is written; let us love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourself.

"...Unless we believe that Moses meant whatever in these books he did mean, we shall make God a liar when we think otherwise concerning our fellow-servants' mind than He has taught us. Behold, now, how foolish it is, in so great an abundance of the truest opinions which can be extracted from these words, rashly to affirm which of them Moses particularly meant; and with pernicious contentions to offend charity itself, on account of which he has spoken all the things whose words we endeavor to explain!"

There are arguments cannot be settled short of Moses or God descending to Earth and explaining exactly what they meant in a given passage. Since these arguments are not essential to the faith, what gain is there in hating a fellow Christian because they believe a different possible interpretation? What is meant by "the heavens" is debatable, but the essential Christian duty to "love another" is not up for debate. Moses did not write Genesis so that we could hate each other about it!

Lest you think I am relying solely on Augustine for this argument, in Matthew 15, Jesus confronts the Pharisees for favoring their own interpretation of Scriptures over the Word of God.
"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

"He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ but you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—  then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
            And honor Me with their lips,
            But their heart is far from Me.
            And in vain they worship Me,
            Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

The Pharisees were more concerned with their interpretations of the Scripture (you must wash hands before eating) than with the actual contents of Scripture (you must honor your father and mother). The tradition of hand washing was intended to avoid accidentally making yourself ritually unclean - not a bad thing! Tradition and interpretation only become blasphemous when they are elevated to the level of doctrine, replacing the actual Words of God.

The point is not that we should all live in a feel-good cloud of moral relativism. The point is that the explicit, unassailable command of God that we love one another supersedes all human systems of dogma. Our interpretations of the Bible are always subordinate to the Bible itself.

Next: [BTT003] The Wages of Dogmatism

No comments:

Post a Comment