Interpreting The Bible
by The Liberator (Ordained Minister of the ULC)
Do you know anyone who religiously studies The Bible? I certainly do. Well, for those people I have just a few Bible entries to share. I think that you will find them to be interesting, regardless of how you interpret The Bible.
Genesis 4:17 Cain has intercourse with his wife. Where did she come from? The only people that were created were Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. Did God create people and not provide that information in The Bible? If that is true, then The Bible does not contain enough information to accurately piece together history. So we should study other books as well as The Bible.
Exodus 22:16-17 Like property, virgins can be obtained by paying the going rate for virgins. Can we assume that women should be traded against their own will, like livestock? In that case, the whole equal rights movement of the sixties is not only wrong, but in direct violation of God's word! Someone should tell Gloria Steinem.
Numbers 15:32-36 Moses, by direct communication with God, orders a man to be killed. His crime was that he was found collecting wood on the Sabbath. Does this mean that God is a proponent of capital punishment? Should we kill those of us who work on the Sabbath? It would open things up a bit. There wouldn't be so many cars on the road. Although there would be a whole bunch of bodies lining the streets, one for each Sabbath-breaker.
Numbers 35:34 We must not defile the land in which we live. Is God an environmentalist? There go all the nuclear power plants, cars, chemical weapons, ...
2 Peter 1:20-21 The prophecy of Scripture does not stem from interpretation but from the holy spirit. I have a gigantic concern with this. 1) Peter wrote that particular part in The Bible. 2) He wrote that the Scriptures were written by men who were inspired by God. 3) Peter must have been inspired because his writings are in The Bible. 4) Everything that Peter wrote was the word of God. Are Peter's words being used to validate his own words as well as the whole Bible?
Just how much latitude for interpretation is there with The Bible? In order to answer that question, I must ask another. How many different religions use The Bible for a basis and still claim to be following "the true path in which God intended?" I, along with Biblical scholars, philosophers, and scientists, hope that all of us come to informed conclusions by studying as many sources as humanly possible. By doing so, it can allow each source to be even more enlightening.
For instance, a number of scholars1 got together with The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) to produce a piece on Frontline: From Jesus to Christ2. I had the pleasure of viewing the work and it was a definite eye-opener for a number of historical reasons.
There are passages in The Bible that contain historical differences. John placed Christ's death on Passover which is opposed to the Mathew/Mark/Paul version. John also differed from Mark concerning Christ's capture by an army at Jeruselem. John portrayed Christ being in control of the situation; Mark wrote that the army was in control of a subdued Christ.
Of course these and other differences, however small, may be revolutionary to some Bible fundamentalists. They claim that The Bible is without error and is virtually perfect. It is well known that the writers did consider the political nature of the time and let that influence their pens. They also considered their audiences too and let that influence their Godly inspiration.
Clearly without reasonable interpretations of all the works of man, mankind will be reduced to its core being, its animal nature.
What was most fascinating was the 1945 discovery of the manuscripts at Naghammadi. In a hidden cave multiple scrolls were found. On the scrolls were conversations with Jesus and multiple gospels. The Gospels of Thomas3 focused on recognizing oneself as a problem solver of sorts. The Gospels of Mary Magdalene4 expressed a controversial view, even by today's standards: women should be allowed to teach. The discovery proved that Christianity was once diversely studied and certainly was not monolithic, as we are sometimes led to believe today.
Historical differences aside, the historical evolution of Christianity was interesting to learn. The whole development of the philosophy and power of Christianity was worthy of investigation in of itself.
The diverse yet strict nature of Christianity--monotheism, chastity, inability to perform in other non-Christian ceremonies--was a problem for The Roman Empire. It disrupted day-to-day operations. The problem was recognized by Pliny in 112 A.D. when he had to settle property disputes involving Christians.
By 250 A.D., Christians were being killed for their lack of total allegience to The Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Christianity could not be destroyed by killing Christians. Christianity was around too long to be totally squashed.
In order to be accepted more readily within the mainly Paganistic Roman Empire, Christians adopted December 25th as a day of celebration for Christ's birth. There is no date in The Bible that specifically names that date as Christ's birth. Therefore, there must have been some intent on behalf of Christian leaders to choose that day.
It turns out that the 25th of December was an already established day of celebration closely tied to nature from Egyptian mythology--the solar festival of the equinox--which Paganism accepted along with all other religious ceremonies. One scholar argued that as Christianity became part of the Paganistic Roman Empire, Paganism found its way into Christianity. Was it a matter of survival on behalf of Christian loyalists or was it simply the unavoidable melding of religious faiths? Geopolitical religion might be a term worthy of using here.
The growing Christian faith survived and began to flourish for at least two reasons. The Church helped many needy people that The Roman Empire did not aid. The Church also learned to broaden its religious stand to allow philosophically opposed Christians to live with each other under a less stringent system of beliefs. Ironically, Christians have Constantine, a Pagan Roman Emperor, to thank for his knowledgeable integration of Christianity into The Roman Empire.
The last of the two reasons why Christianity flourished most probably happened as a method of survival under the looming threat that The Roman Empire exhibited. Roman officials did not accept Christianity as a true faith because Roman law stated that faith must be based on ancient practices. Christianity was a "new" faith and was regarded as superstition. Therefore it became the center of attack since it disrupted the Roman lifestyle and military campaigns of the time.
Later on in history and beyond the scope of The Frontline piece and this article, we know that The Crusades5 indicated that Christianity was more than just an idealic faith. Not only was it a religion engineered by man but it was also composed of man. It plainly demonstrated the shortcomings of both man and his faith. Clearly without reasonable interpretations of all the works of man, mankind will be reduced to its core being, its animal nature.
1 Some of those scholars include: Allen Callahan (Boston University), Elizabeth Clark (Duke University), John Crossan (DePaul University), Paula Fredriksen (Boston University), Holland Hendrix (President, Union Theological Seminary), Wayne Meeks (Yale University), and Micheal White (University of Texas).
2 There is an on-line version of Frontline's piece: From Jesus to Christ. It contains information that was broadcast as well as supplimentary information. The site is at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/.
3, 4 Go to http://members.aol.com/amminadab1/temple/gnostic/mary.htm and http://members.aol.com/amminadab1/temple/gnostic/thomas.htm to see a version of Thomas' and Mary's Gospels, respectively.
5 In order to learn more about The Crusades, go to http://www.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/History/Middle_Ages/Crusades__The/.
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