Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mike: Rami's 3/18 Response

Perhaps I misconstrued your point (not an uncommon occurance when communicating via print). I thought you wanted us to share the perspective each of us would bring to the task of dealing with the biblical text, specifically the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. This is nothing more than fair, with regard to our readers. They now have an opportunity to evaluate our individual conclusions in light of our stated assumptions.

It seems to me the first two posts accomplished the goal. Unpacking, evaluating, and even refining our assumptions in an extended preface is beyond the scope of our current task. I'll not deny it might be great fun, even intellectually stimulating, yet remain in the end a diversion from the main job.

I suggest we move on and start to deal with particular texts. That will be quite enough task for one book. Other biblical texts are best reserved for our next project!

Our perspectives, then, will interact as we deal with particulars rather than generalities. No doubt, we'll be drawn into debates from time to time, resolving some and leaving others standing, subject to the judgment of our readers. We might even change one another's minds on occasion.

That being said, I'll provide a summary response to some of your questions and concerns.

1. God inspired the writers, but God never overrode their humanity. In practical terms, this means all scripture accounts reflect the culture, language, politics, economics, science, ethical perpsective(s), etc. of the author's day. To put it quaintly, God seems to have been willing to run the risk of collaborating with fully human authors, accepting the inevitable risks of such a relationship. To put it theologically, God refused the benefits of straight dictation in favor of preserving human freedom. The result is mixed. God shines clearly through in some texts, less so in others, and scarcely at all in many places.

2. When it comes to the Bible, I choose (there's really no other way to put it) to operate within the confines of the canon. That's my scholarly and faith-based position. A significant number of biblical scholars from the last third of the 20th century take much the same position.

3. The danger of Jesus becoming a kind of Rorschach blot is very real, always has been for that matter. Knowing a bit of the history of interpretation may help us guard against the tendency, but it cannot entirely remove the problem. Some disciplines help. For example, interpreting Jesus' actions and words in the context of first century thelogical, political, and sociological currents helps rein in the tendency.

4. I do not distinquish between the God of the Old and New Testaments. The role of particular stories in each, though, may change when interpreted in light of Jesus. Stories which may once have been thought prescriptive now become warnings to the people of God: "Once you thought this was what God wanted you to do or think--you got it wrong--remember the story, and never forget."

It should be interesting to see how or if our different starting places actually influence interpretation.

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