The interpretation of Scripture is at the heart of many of our societal and denominational woes. As much as I enjoyed A.J. Jacobs’ book, The Year of Living Biblically, and its experiment of Jacobs trying to follow the Bible verbatim with resulting hilarity at times, I am disturbed by our culture and church’s extremely low view of Scripture. With as much information as we possess, we are terribly ignorant of God’s Word.
I even need a fresh start. We all do, so I’m going to buy a new Bible. Thirteen years ago I bought 3 identical Bibles so that they could be interchangeable with the same translation, format, print size and font. I wish that I had bought 5 or more. It’s time to replace these tattered and well-worn treasures with my illegibly scribbled notes obscuring the printed words. I hit Amazon a few minutes ago to see if I could purchase my favorite and was shocked at the prices.
My Bible of preference is published by Oxford University Press, New International Version, single-column, and no red letters for the words of Jesus. The words of Jesus are important, but if we believe, like Paul, (2 Timothy 3:16) that ALL Scripture is God-breathed and inspired then I don’t want to have red-letter highlights that distract me from the whole message.
Speaking of The Message, the Bible paraphrase by Eugene Peterson, it is easy to understand its popularity. It sounds cool, hip, up-to-date, but I prefer a translation over someone else’s paraphrase any day. There’s a big difference between interpretation and translation. I had 2 semesters of classical Greek at USC, 3 more years of NT Greek in seminary, plus 3 years of Hebrew. I like languages, have a knack for them. In college, I minored in French and took two semesters of German so I could pass the German Reading Test to get into grad school. French and German haven’t been that practical, although I pull out my French Bible once and awhile. Spanish would have been much better! Greek and Hebrew have been invaluable!
A good translation, therefore, is important to me. None are perfect. All have some bias, but they at least address the latest textual and linguistic discoveries when offering us a fresh translation. Some are downright unbearable to me. I was asked a few years ago to review the CEB (Common English Bible). That didn’t go well. I couldn’t get over their switch of Jesus being called the “Son of Man” to “The Human One.” The Human One – give me a break! The New Revised Standard Version is good, albeit, more politically correct in places as it stretches the meaning of the actual Greek or Hebrew. Just an opinion. The New International Version does a better job of translation and doesn’t shy away from textual variants when it offers, for instance, that the Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT, might have a different word in a certain text.
One of my personal tests of a translation’s quality is to look up certain texts. A key one is Revelation 2:23b, “Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds…” which actually in Greek is Νεφροὺς καὶ καρδίας, “kidneys and hearts.” In the King James Version it reads “reins and hearts.” When I think of reins, I think of reins on a horse, when the word actually means “kidneys” as in renal failure. The actual meaning in Greek thinking is that your soft parts á la kidneys/belly is the seat of emotions as in “belly laugh,” “butterflies in one’s stomach,” or “punched in the gut” with a sudden death. The heart was thought of as doing our thinking. So the text should appropriately be translated, “I am he who searches your thinking and your feeling…” Therefore, I may not like the KJV’s rendition of Revelation 2:23 and its use of “reins,” but I do like the King James’ poetic rendition of the 23rd Psalm.
Why is any of this important? The subject of Holy Writ, the Bible, Scripture, and inspiration versus infallibility is terribly important these days as people of every denomination determine their position on hot-button issues. What does the Scripture say about homosexuality? What do “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” really mean? Did Jesus talk about same-sex marriage? Are same-sex relationships condoned or condemned in Scripture? Bottom line, how far does our Biblical hermeneutics (methods of literary interpretation) allow us to pull a Thomas Jeffersonian Jesus Seminar-like cut and paste of what God’s Word contains? Is the Bible God’s Word or just contains the words of God?
Adam Hamilton, well-respected UM pastor and author, does not impress me with his attitude toward Scripture. I appreciate him, but his notion that there are “three buckets of Scripture” is past the point of orthodoxy in my opinion. His book Making Sense of Scripture contends that one bucket of Scripture contains “Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for human beings.” Bucket two, he says, contains, “Scripture that expressed God’s will in a particular time, but are no longer binding.” He describes his last bucket as containing, “Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.”
That statement is beyond my personal ability to comprehend so I am not going to waste my words undoing his undermining of the Word. Rather, I will take heart in what the UMC’s Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith say. Article V of the “Articles of Religion” says that “Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required…” Article IV of the Confession of Faith says similarly, “The Holy Bible… reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for salvation.” Further it is the “true rule and guide for faith and practice…”
I think that these statements of the UMC promote a high view of Scripture that does not leave room for separate buckets that diminish the ability of the Bible to speak accurately and completely to both salvation and current issues. To use Hamilton’s words that there are, “Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God,” is very contrary to Scripture’s own self-declaration and to the God who inspired it all.
Anyway, I’m going to read on and pray for the Holy Spirit to open my mind and heart (thinking and feeling), to God’s message to me today. I need it, and I don’t need a personal veto to muddy the water! There’s enough there that I fully understand to keep me from tripping over the parts that I can’t.
9 thoughts on “Scripture, Me and the UMC”
Tim, I appreciate what you have written. FWIW, I, too, have a higher understanding of Scripture than what is merely “politically correct.”
I have some other markers of scriptural interpretation beyond what you wrote that I would lift up. They arise from my very first Bible class in college, where one of the great saints of Scripture, Dr. Willis Fisher (The first Professor of Old Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont, before his retirement there) made the Bible come alive to me.
It started with what we all learned about JEDP. That was one way scholars could interpret not just where, but when, the words of the Old Testament were written. More importantly, it taught that as the Israelite community grew through their experience, the higher their understanding of the nature of God grew. The Israelites started with a form of polytheism that was far different from that which came out of the Greek and Roman cultures, and of the cultures that used an anamistic understanding of multiple gods of things they could see on earth. The Israelite form of polytheism was based on their understanding of the nature of community. To them, each community had IT’S own God.
From that, in time they grew to a form of Henotheism: there may many Gods, but the God of Israel was chief among the Gods.
The “Babylonian Deportation ” taught them that at least their God wasn’t tied to a particular piece of real estate, such as their “promised land.
By the mid 4th century BCE, they had evolved into a belief in the fact that there is only ONE God, which led them into a true monotheism.
As their understanding of the nature of God grew, their understanding of how to interact with God changed—and how God wanted them to behave and interact with each other, and with other cultures, evolved.
Therefore, if we are to interpret the Scriptures with integrity, on any given passage of Scdipture, we need to ask ourselves a) about when in history do most scholars believe that passage of Scripture was written, and b) what was the understanding of the nature of God that was prevalent in the Jewish and/or Christian communities at the time that Scripture passage was written?
Seen in that light, the Scriptures become both easier to understand, AND for us to understand the context in which those who wrote any given Scriptural passage were living. That gives us a more authentic way to interpret any given passage of Scripture.
Yes, I grew up in a more “Progressive” (in today’s terms) Protestant Christian tradition, but I don’t think anything I just wrote would be contrary even to the most Evangelical understandings of Scripture taught in any Theological Seminary that today is approved by the University Senate of the UMC.
It is encouraging to know that we have some clergy outside of academia who know at least one Biblical language. For several years I participated in a weekly Lutheran pericopee study. Most of them could pull out their pocket Greek NT, sight read, and discuss variant meanings. I had to settle on being self taught to use an interlinear, theological wordbooks, and online resources to struggle through an exegesis.
As a local pastor, I spent 23 years serving a call to be a placeholder while clergy are recruited and trained. I am disappointed that our seminaries took those who were allowed three or more years of their life to devote solely to the things of God, and rather than teach a biblical language, or classical texts, or even Wesleyan standards, loaded them with curricula that could be described as churchified high school social studies. How many of the subjects are more important than having at least two semesters of one biblical language.
Also, how is it that we can study the Christian faith and never read a book over five years old. We have 4,000 years of literature in our faith. There is a lot of good stuff that was not written by Adam Hamilton.
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On Sep 15, 2016, at 8:25 PM, A Potter's View wrote:
madge this is from Josh’s dad. it is about bible translations and his opinion of some of them out now.
On Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 11:46 AM, A Potter’s View wrote:
> wtmcclendon posted: “The interpretation of Scripture is at the heart of > many of our societal and denominational woes. As much as I enjoyed A.J. > Jacobs’ book, The Year of Living Biblically, and its experiment of Jacobs > trying to follow the Bible verbatim with resulting hilarit” >
“There’s enough there that I fully understand to keep me from tripping over the parts that I can’t.”
Yes, but if we trip others up – over the parts we can’t understand -then we are at risk of becoming modern day religious zealots who believe we are protecting something holy, while we are actually on the other side of Jesus’ strong admonitions against certainty and sanctimonious fervor.
I’m not thinking about buckets of scripture or how exactly God inspired the words we canonized. I am thinking about someone….. The Human One. 🙂
Humility and sacrifice, born of pure love, are The Way God leads us. Christ’s broken and patient heart are The Truth that guides us. Living in this sacred space of perfect love that casts out fear is The Life we are invited to embrace and to relish! The Bible shows our Jesus modeling humble love and pointing, not to religious leaders for godly wisdom (in fact, often pointing away from them), but rather to simple, even “sinful” people who had likely never studied a foreign language or even learned to read or write. Jesus lifted as righteous those who could simply learn to trust that God is love, and that to love your neighbor, sacrificially and hospitably, without condition, is the epitome of intimately knowing and pleasing God.
I love studying and intellectualizing! Though I formally answered my call late in life (a process in which you were instrumental – thank you!), and though I was constrained by responsibilities to family and a life to which I had already committed here in SC and therefore pursued theological education through the awesome Pfeiffer/Wesley program, I am confident that I could have prevailed with honors as a student in any other seminary, as well. That’s part of my hard wiring – I am an intellectual. I even love God intellectually! But I am also deeply intuitive, and open to the mystic within – in tune to the spirit in me that bears witness with God’s Spirit – and I consider myself first and foremost a lover of God and creation. I am a practical theologian. It is through the vulnerable and tender parts of myself that I have become aware of a profound truth- my soft parts where I involuntarily belly laugh, catch butterflies in my stomach, and feel the proverbial punch in my gut with heart wrenching news. The Bible teaches this truth, and I have read about it there, but that’s not where I learned it. I became aware, through silence in still places that seized my mind and opened my soft parts, that all of our “knowing” and intelligence, all of our efforts toward accuracy and protecting “the Holy Writ” is worthless without humble, Christ filled love.
The energy, the healing, the hope, the now and everlasting, the meaning, the very content of anything that pertains to God with humanity ….is in the love. All else is only our tiresome striving. And just noise.
What is pertinent to The Way, The Truth and The Life? When I die – I will leave nothing behind, save the love I have given, preached, nurtured…..my life offering. Only love never ends. Tongues will cease….. and then all this talk about translations will just vaporize into nothingness.
What are we thinking, feeling, doing, offering…. today…. that is born of the Spirit, purely and simply motivated by the kind of unmerited love God has poured out on us? What else will last? What else does God require? What else is worth Christ dying for? What else fuels RESURRECTION!? What else ultimately matters?
What else but love has any real say?
“I am he who searches your thinking and your feeling…” remembering this and hoping to be faithful in what makes me laugh. tremble and ache so as to honor God with my gut.
Much love to you and your family.
Wow, Meg! Profound thoughts and thanks. We probably differ in places, but share much more in common. Blessings on you and the fam, tim
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On Sep 21, 2016, at 2:32 PM, A Potter's View wrote:
A Methodist who shall remain unnamed asked me of my opinion of Hamilton whereupon I came upon “Scripture, Me and the UMC”. I found my head nodding in agreement throughout and told myself here’s a person who writes about the Bible with an admirable flair I thoroughly enjoy and who has an IQ way above most of us. And I no longer struggled with any dilemma as how to address a request for my opinion of Hamilton.
The only thing I quibble with is that many years ago a minister, who (whom?) I highly regard as also having an IQ much higher than most of us, responded to my question, saying the New American Standard Bible is the most accurate translation from the original languages. Therefore, I slavishly stay with that version down through the years and I continue eternally to give all praise and honor to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
A terrific posting, thanks very much!
A.J., Thanks and do avoid A.H.! As for accurate Bible translations, we could use the New American Standard Version in Hebrew and follow right along. It’s a word for word parallel with Hebrew. With the NT, the old Revised (Not the New RSV) Standard Version was helpful in Greek NT class because it was word for word Greek. God bless you in searching the Scripture. They are life-giving! Tim
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