Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Plain and Unmistakable

In a comment to one of my recent posts someone said the language of the Bible is "plain and unmistakable. " If that is the case, then why are there thousands and thousands of Christian denominations around the world? Each of those denominations was born out of the belief that other Christians were misreading or misunderstanding the words of scripture; they believed that they had got it right. Throughout history Christians have been willing to imprison, torture, and execute other Christians in the certainty of their reading the bible. There are still Christians today who, if given their way, would be booting other Christians out of their churches and denominations in the certainty of their understanding of scripture. If the scriptures were plain and unmistakable in their meaning, this would not be happening. There is nothing plain and unmistakable about what the scriptures say.

It is quite possible, of course, for anyone to pick up the bible and read it for their own edification. No one needs a biblical scholar to help them read it. But the moment one Christian says to another: "You are wrong in the way you are reading the scripture" we have entered the realm of biblical interpretation. Then our method of interpretation, our sources, our own personal and cultural biases come into play.

I have been a church member all my life but there has never been a moment when I simply believed there was a simple meaning to the scriptures, in part because I am by nature a skeptic, but also in part because it quickly became apparent to me that even my own family members and church members and the pastors I had growing up did not all agree on how to read the Bible.

It wasn't until I became familiar with the tools of modern biblical scholarship, and I began to understand better the historical setting and worldview of the biblical writers, that I became able to both keep my intellectual integrity intact and claim Christianity as my own spiritual path. But I still don't think for a moment that I have the corner on the truth of the Bible. There is more than one way to be a Christian, just as their is more than one spiritual or religious path to the truth.

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