Our Discussions on the Theme
“What are we to make of the Bible?”
The discussion ranged around the four questions on the previous week’s handout. These were:
Did God (and if so how did God) write the Bible and how do we judge what is the “Word of God”? : How would you justify thinking that God spoke more clearly in the past (eg in the Bible) than through the Spirit today? : How important is factuality in the Bible stories? What if at least some are “community stories” designed to convey a truth? : Do we just pick and choose what is “Biblical” – for example women participating in church is OK, but homosexuality is detestable to God (and punishable by death)?
The first four responses below are some advance-feedback from one of the home groups (1-3) and from someone who was unable to be present on Sunday (4):
- “Ours is a living faith, so understandings are going to change with life”
- God’s word in the Grenfell Tower situation might be “Justice for the Poor” (who seem to have been disregarded).
- God is primarily in us and we judge the validity of things through God in us.
- On “Factuality”
- Treating things as “community stories” might be the start of a slippery slope to denying everything supernatural about Jesus – even his resurrection.
- While we might regard something like the creation story as a community-based explanation of how the world began, the stories of Jesus are presented as the testimony of those who experienced him.
Comments made: (On the slippery slope) Should we refuse to ask questions on the basis that we fear where the answers might lead? (On the story/ factuality debate) the structure of the gospels parallels the lives and events of certain Old Testament characters like Moses and Elijah. Is this by accident, by miracle, or by design – to make a point about Jesus? And what is that point?
In our Sunday discussion the following issues came up:
- Point 4b (above) was seen as reinforced by the fact that Luke (at the beginning of his Gospel) claims to have made a careful search of the facts and to be presenting a definitive account of Jesus’ life.
- When we quote scripture we need to quote it in context and not just extract words and phrases that back up our own ideas. The same could be said for the Bible as a whole. Is there an over-arching message of the Bible?
- It might be claimed that surrounding cultural issues (like priestesses in pagan cults) gave rise to the ban (in 1Cor 14) on women speaking in church and for their submission to men. On the other hand, in 1Tim 2 Paul insists that the submission of women is a theological matter relating to the Adam and Eve story where “the woman” succumbed to temptation and pulled the man down with her. Thus they should never be in authority over a man! This might be very hard to receive as “God’s Word” in today’s society.
- It was pointed out that much division had arisen historically over the interpretation of scripture – each party thinking they had “God’s Word” on their side. See especially the Catholic/ Protestant divide over the presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Communion. It was noted that this was actually a political power struggle over whether the Pope ruled or (as in our case) Henry VIII: so it’s a good example of how we use “Biblical Authority” to justify our own side in more basic issues – and especially power. You will not find agreement to the “theological” question if that question is a cover for a political one.
- In the secular world the Bible has no authority whatever, so to quote it can turn people off immediately. This has been evidenced among our own young people who can be energised by a speaker’s insights into life, but turned off when the speaker starts trying to “prove” things from the Bible. We need to realise that there is cultural resistance to “Biblical Truth”.
We finished with a “case study” on how we discern the “Word of God”: looking at the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees accurately quote the “Word of God” (Lev 20.10) which demands that she be stoned to death. But Jesus side-steps this by asking who is righteous enough to enact the penalty. So, is the Word of God judgement and rejection or is the Word of God compassion and forgiveness? Or again, is the Word of God about divisiveness and cheap power-politics: or about understanding., reconciliation and forgiveness? Beware of people who ”prove” their ideas from the Bible.