We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Bible: What it Says & What it Teaches

It is part of our human nature that we tend to see what we are trained to see and want to see.  Just as our eyes tend not to see things that don't move, so our minds tend to overlook what is not obvious to our training and inclinations.  Thus, the Bible is filled with passages that support the role of good works in faith, but Protestant eyes have long been trained to read past them and, instead, notce those passages that support the idea of grace alone.  The works-righteousness passages lie hidden in the weeds while the grace alone ones stand out like lone trees on the prairie.

Failing to see the implications of a passage or a verse in the Bible because it is obscured by the reader's values, attitudes, training, and beliefs is nothing new.  Titus 2 provides an example.  Reading from N. T. Wright's translation of the New Testament, The Kingdom New Testament, Titus 2:5 instructs young wives to be submissive to their husbands, and 2:9 enjoins slaves to be submissive to their masters.  Since ancient times down to the near-present Christians lived in hierarchical and patriarchal societies, and they took note of the obvious message found in these two verses.  They undergirded hierarchical and patriarchal values and attitudes. In antebellum America, slave owners used this and other biblical passages to justify chattel slavery and all of the actions they took to suppress resistance to it.  Even today, some Christian groups intentionally treat women as second-class members because of what "the Bible says."

Meanwhile hidden away in the weeds is Titus 2:11, which Wright translates as stating, "God's saving grace, you see, appeared for all people."  For women as well as men.  For slaves as well as masters.  God's saving grace was already egalitarian in the age of the early church, and it has remained so in the face of the values, attitudes, and behaviors of societies that reject the very idea of social equality.  The Bible "says" women should submit to men and (black) slaves to their (white) masters, but it also says that Christ's sacrifice and God's love is equally for women and slaves.  The disturbing questions raised by verse 11 lays there in the weeds waiting patiently to be noticed—namely, if God in Christ sees no essential difference between slaves and masters, women and men, then how can we as humans claim that one is greater than the other?  How can we in all good conscience place them in marital or economic bondage?  If we then look to the example of Jesus of Nazareth, the one who persistently defied social conventions for the sake of the folks at the margins of society—if we look to his example, we find ourselves rejecting the "commonsense" attitudes, values, and behaviors of societies that turns people into second-class categories—woman, slave, colored, gay, not us.

Suddenly, we notice that there is more to the prairie than that lone tree that seems so obvious.  In the grass, there is another kind of life.  We discover, amazingly, that the Bible "says" women and slaves are second-class types of people, but it teaches that they are not—not in the eyes of God.