Monday, April 1, 2013

Interpreting the Bible

So, since Holy Week has come and gone and people celebrated Easter and Christians on social media feel even more persecuted for gay marriage to be before the Supreme Court and Google deciding to put a picture of Cesar Chavez instead of something Eastery, I thought it would be great to talk about religion and the Bible.  Because I don't offend the people who might get offended by it enough yet.  So yay!  It should be a fun week.

A lot of the time I'll be focusing on the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible because that's where I've done research in the past.

Do not assume that I am attacking your religious beliefs or lack thereof.  Do not assume that I agree with the research/findings presented. 

James Kugel wrote a book that is very helpful in interpreting the Hebrew Bible in How to Read the Bible.  Kugel presents four assumptions that ancient interpreters used to interpret the Bible and I'd argue that we still use them today.

1. "They assumed that the Bible was a fundamentally cryptic text: that is, when it said A, often it might really mean B."  This assumption that would also indicate there are hidden meanings seen throughout the text.  You see that even today when people talk about that everything is in the Bible on purpose or that there is another meaning behind the literal text.

2. "Interpreters also assumed that the Bible was a book of lessons directed to readers in their own day."  Or in other words, while it may be superficially about history, the Bible is also giving instruction to what we should do in the present day.  This is used quite often by people in combination with the 1st assumption.

3. "Interpreters also assumed that the Bible contained no contradictions or mistakes."  People describe the Bible as inerrant or perfectly divined from God. This means that everything we see in the Bible is perfectly correct.  This assumption is prevalent among most Christians today. 

4. "Lastly, they believed that the entire Bible is essentially a divinely given text, a book in which God speaks directly or through His prophets." That's pretty self-explanatory.

5. I would argue that there's a 5th assumption from Biblical interpreters especially Christian interpreters.  Interpreters look at the Hebrew Biblical text with a certainty that it connects with the New Testament.  This is a combination of all of the assumptions but it leads us to connect stories like Cain and Abel to the story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

I think that the assumptions of historic Bible interpreters is still very much in effect today. This might pose a problem. But we'll look at it.

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