>We need to address how we read the Bible. There is a whole study of how we interact with and interpret texts – it’s called Hermeneutics. Many of us (most? ) are taught one way to read the Bible – that can be devotionally, ‘literally’ * or allegorically, etc.
There are many ways of reading the Bible – I am not going to pretend that every way is good or that any interpretation is equally valid, helpful, or faithful. This is why we need to talk about how we read the Bible.
Last week we talked about Jesus and Rome – pigs and water. [link here]
I would like to try and build on that for our conversation here.
One of the truly horrific aspects of Christian History is the anti-Semitism that has plagued the Church
for 1900 years. It started early on in the 2nd century** and it peaked in the Holocaust of WWII. There is no way to escape the incriminating evidence of nearly two millennia but I would like to address something rather odd in the argument that lies behind it.
The Jews did not kill Jesus. This accusation that ‘the Jews killed Jesus’ has been around for 1800 years. It is ridiculous.
Let’s be clear about two things:
- Jesus laid down his life willingly. In that sense no one killed Jesus. In John 10: 17-18 Jesus says “ The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
- If anyone did kill Jesus (which we already established that they did not) it would be the Italians. Romans are the one who nailed Jesus to the cross! The Italians killed Jesus (if anyone did).
So the question has to be asked: why have the Italians not come under condemnation and persecution for the death of Jesus? The answers to that are revealing.
The seat of Catholic power (the Vatican) is in Rome… said another way – those who are in power are in charge of the narrative
It is difficult to punish descendants for the actions of previous generations. (unless they participate in the same oppressive activities)
The reason that the Italians get off scott-free tells me something. It tells me that Jesus and the Bible have almost nothing to do with the treatment of the Jews in Church History. This is one of those cases where we do what we would have done anyway and just find Bible verses to hide behind.
Whenever other religions come up in conversation, somebody will invariably go immediately to John 14:6 where Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now, I love this verse as much as the next choir-boy [I have written about it multiple times] but there are a couple of things that need to be addressed before it is applied thickly to whatever religious wall we are erecting.
Jesus probably did not know about Hindus and definitely did not know about Muslims***. Therefore we can say with a fair amount of confidence that Jesus was not – in any way – commenting on whether Hindus or Muslims had a relationship with God.
Look – Jesus was not commenting on Hindus or Muslims! He was making a positive statement about the potential of having a certain caliber of relationship with God – he was not saying something negative about Hindus or Muslims … ALL that I am saying is that you can NOT use John 14:6 for a proof-text of something that Jesus was absolutely NOT addressing.
Go back and read the story in context. Ask yourself “what was Jesus saying – what was he talking about”. Then draw a circle around it and on the other side of that circle write “everything else” and that is what Jesus is NOT addressing in John 14:6.
There is no easy way for me to ease into this. There is no clever anecdote for me to wade into the subject, so just let me spit it out.
Times have changed… things are different … and we need to learn to listen.
Now, we can all agree that the Copernican Revolution affected the way that everyone – even modern Christians – see the universe (cosmos). Then there is the influence of people like Newton who deeply impacted our understanding of the world and how it works. Said another way …
between the Telescope and the Microscope we know that the world works very differently than those who wrote the Bible thought that it did.
And that is ok! We are fine. Faith is still possible and the church is still intact. We can deal with new realities and we can adjust to new information.
All of this is to say that we know that the world works differently and we admit that things are different than they were when the Bible was written. This is why it is so important that we listen to people when they talk to us about the impact that the Bible has had on them and their communities.
When women talk about passages in the Bible that have been oppressive or hurtful to them…we need to listen.
When African-Americans talk about passages in the Bible that validate or at least assume slavery… we need to listen.
They are telling us something. They are telling us that the world is not the same as it was in the 1st Century and though it may be less ‘scientific’ than the microscope or telescope – it is not less profound, impactful or true.
I have lots to say about how Paul was (in my opinion) a voice of liberation and progressive freedom in his day. But what I have to say about Paul in the 1st century is not as important as what black women may have to say about the impact of those same passages in the 21st century.
* we have discussed over & over again how no one actually reads the Bible literally.
** there are many scholars who say that it started in the Apostolic age already in the 1st century.
*** Islam started in the 7th century.