Being biblical and being a fool

“This article is rubbish! Go read the Bible and stop listening to fools. If I have time, I’ll post a breakdown of why everything you’ve put is un-biblical”

This was a comment left about one of my blogs I wrote a while back (they only left the comment last night and on another site I posted it to). I read it on the train at half 6 this morning and in my pre-caffiene state, got a bit upset about it and deleted it. Now post-coffee, I wish I hadn’t because looking at it closer, it’s actually quite funny in a way but also raises a serious issue.

Firstly, lets just quickly take the statement that the article was rubbish. It probably was. Compared to the many eloquent and thought provoking pieces out there, mine are the equivalent of a 3 year old with a crayon (no disrespect intended to artistically gifted 3 year olds), but even Van Gogh had to start somewhere. I write these blogs because they help me to work through questions and issues I have about my faith, and the comments help me to see where I’m going wrong or allow me to say “I don’t see it that way” and then elaborate. I have yet to find a better way  to learn than to exchange ideas and have reasonable discussion. If I can help others by sharing what I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made, then it’s worth putting out there. Not everyone can get a degree in theology but we do all have to wrestle with things.

This brings me onto the next 2 parts of the comment and the main point for writing this. I’ve written previously about how people who are considered heretics have helped save my relationship with Christ and in the blog in question, I drew on what I’d learned and tried to bring it all together in my own words. Clearly the commenter views these people as fools who profess themselves to be wise, as those who are leaning on their own understanding and not allowing the Spirit to reveal the meaning of the passage to them. I shouldn’t listen to them apparently but note what he goes onto say; I’ll post a breakdown of why everything you’ve put is un-biblical. In other words; don’t listen to them, listen to me because I will be biblical. The insinuation here is that I don’t believe the Bible if I disagree with him. Sometimes articles are titled “A biblical response to….” or “A Christian response to…” Again, these give the impression that you neither believe the Bible or are a Christian if you disagree with the article. Theologians, scholars and philosophers have been debating the meaning of scripture since it was first written down and there has never been unanimous consensus in 2000 years. Which view is the correct Biblical one? Have we all just waited for someone to come with full knowledge and guidance of the spirit and explain it all to us? I thought that person was Jesus. There’s also the obvious question of what position are they putting themselves in to decree they are fools and he isn’t? The emperor’s clothes come to mind.

The Bible can seem so complicated that you need a masters degree to even start [1]. My main problem though is not with what the Bible says (though that’s part of it) it’s with what it means and how I’m to apply it. This comes into play when we start talking about viewpoints being biblical. What does it mean to be biblical? When people say they’re going to be biblical, what they actually mean is they’re going to give you their view point based on their understanding of scripture and may quote the passages to support a view. This sounds good in theory, it’s always good to support your view with references and Jesus was not adverse to quoting scripture, but this approach of cutting and pasting scripture reduces it to soundbites to be rolled out in any given situation. It also doesn’t help with the questions of “what does it mean” and “how do I apply it” There were 2 statements on Twitter that I found to speak to the heart of all this:

The problem with people “using Bible verses incorrectly” isn’t just that they’re wrong; it’s that they’re “using” verses at all.

“”Look! Book/chapter/verse says this! I’m right!” – unfortunately, theology is much more difficult than this”

Scripture has been used to justify some horrendous and oppressive acts in the past, so just how should the Bible be used? Great question, I’m still trying to work that out fully, but I’ll come back to this.

There’s another problem we face when quoting the Bible in this manner, or possibly at all. The Bible was not originally written in English, Jesus was not quoting an English translation. It was written in Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew. So we’re quoting text in modern English that is a translation of text written 2000 years ago (and more with some of the books) in languages that only a select few understand. A lot of trust is needed there, but we do trust them because they have the relevant qualifications and experience; we’re not fools for doing so even though we’re relying on human understanding. Not even they though, totally agree on the correct translation as the number of translations available show and debates rage on about which one is the best and most accurate, even though they’re all translating from the same text.

I think we all want to get this right, we don’t want to end up being false teachers and we want to know how to avoid them. More often than not though, when people get accused of being a false teacher, what is actually meant is that they disagree with the viewpoint or interpretation that is being expressed. Andrew Wilson gives a very useful illustration of this [2] but there are aspects that he deems are incorrect teachings that I would disagree with; and we’ll both believe our interpretations of scripture will be the correct one.  Everyone believes they’re right, no one believes something they think is wrong and some people are going to know more than others, that’s just a natural consequence of people studying a subject for longer than others, but the trap of believing something is true just because someone says it is needs to be avoided.

The last thing that’s needed is for someone to just slap you, brand you a fool and tell you just listen to them; oh and read the Bible more. That’s not going to help!! That’s the equivalent of the following classic Dr Cox approach:

I don’t have an issue with being told that I’m wrong; if I’m wrong then I like to know. It’s more about how I’m told that I have an issue with. Perhaps the problem is not our approach to the Bible but our approach to each other. We’re all in the same boat in many respects. The Bible doesn’t come with an instruction manual. We all go to its ultimate author but we can get things wrong, misunderstand what we’re being told. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and we’re inevitably going to come to different conclusions as a result. We all have a relationship with Christ, that relationship is unique to each person, I think our emphasis should be on that relationship [3], and building that relationship up in others.






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