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No Jim, You’re Not Alone

July 17, 2009

Jim West and Matthew Burgess have been involved in a conversation: The Role of Credentials in Biblical Interpretation. Matthew started the conversation HERE and Jim responded HERE. Matthew then posted a second time HERE and Jim once again responded HERE.

I’m of two minds about their discussion: First, I wish that every single Christian had the time, desire, and discipline to spend more time with their Bibles and consider matters of higher theology. However, on the other hand, every single dilettante, horrible, heinous, heretical, insane abuse of the text I have encountered has been from persons who felt they needed nothing but them and the Holy Spirit to interpret the text. For example, everyone’s favorite conservative, fundamental nutbag Steven L. Anderson.

I would like to offer two thoughts on the subject. One theological and one from the world of biblical studies.

First, theological. I would suggest that the biblical model we have of the church is of a body. That means one body but different parts. Perhaps, one of the most single divisive, incorrect ideas that has pervaded many Christians mind sets in the modern era is the church as a single celled amoeba: All Christians should look, act, and be the same way. Mix in the ideology that democracy is Christian and a can of worms for stupidity is opened. Simply put, some have been given the gift of teaching and some haven’t. Unfortunately, in our narcissistic, individualistic culture too many people are ‘teaching’ and have pulpits who clearly do not have that gift… and yes, some are blogging.

I would also add that the best disposition a teacher can take is that of a student. There is no subject on which I am the authority except being the chief of sinners. When I come to a subject matter there is always a voice that I should and will listen to. The hallmark of the amateur is the appeal to no greater authority than themselves. Just as important, every answer should lead to new questions. If you have on your own figured out what a text ‘really means,’ and you do not need any of them ‘book learners’ to obscure the ‘truth’ with any of them there facts: you’re probably a dilettante and should not be teaching.

Second, biblical studies. Heck, I like biblical studies so much I’ll give two examples! First a quick one, from a bad translation of the Bible that is ridiculously tendentious: the Personal Promise  Bible. This translation of the Bible is only possible if you ignore the original languages, and any sort of socio-historical studies, and import modern ideas that would have been foreign and repugnant to the authors of the Bible.

Second, Matthew 18:18 reads “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Now, if like me, you grew up in any sort of charismatic circles you have heard this verse used for all sorts of sermons and arguments pertaining to ‘spiritual warfare’ and binding the devil. As an aside to any charismatics that might wander here: if y’all keep binding the devil in Jesus’ name how the Sheol does he keep getting free?

Anyways, if one bothers to do any sort of investigation on this verse one will find out that Jesus is using Jewish court language. Basically, legal issues were decided in Jesus’ time by elders in the synagogue. Jewish people believed that the authority of heaven was invested in their decisions, and that Torah observant leaders would make decisions that were already decided in heaven in accordance with the heavenly court. Therefore, Jesus is giving his disciples the freedom of deciding on legal matters and declaring that whatever they conclude will be in accordance with a heavenly decision.

I believe this has all sort of implications on theology and interpretation; however, it becomes pretty clear, pretty fast that this verse has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with with some modern, misguided attempt at control by control freaks played out in the spiritual realm. Listen to their language: “I”M binding, I’M casting down, I’M claiming… in jesus’ name.” No thank you…

So Jim, you’re not alone: the Bible is dangerous in the hands of the untrained, those who do not have the gift of teaching should listen to those that do, and those that are untrained in the field of biblical studies should listen to those that are. Only the untrained believe training is of no use, and that is the core trademark of the dilettante.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 11:23 am

    Interesting post, as always. Have you ever read Stanley Hauerwas’ “Unleasing the Scriptures” where he basically argues that we should take the Bible away from American Christians?

    • July 17, 2009 12:02 pm

      Thanks Josh. I haven’t read that book but I imagine that I would probably like a lot of it.

  2. Jim permalink
    July 17, 2009 11:57 am

    the scriptures are ‘leased’? who owns the rights????

  3. July 17, 2009 6:32 pm

    yeah, the whole binding and loosing thing is pretty crazy – it never really made much sense to me either.

  4. Jake permalink
    July 18, 2009 4:48 am

    Jim, the bible was leased as part of the deal that saw Michael Jackson pick up a sizeable portion of the Beatles song catalogue. It will now be auctioned off piecemeal as part of his estate.

    $20 bucks for Habakkuk!!!

    • July 18, 2009 1:33 pm

      Admit it, Jake… You visited the Neverland Ranch. You switched out the sleeping meds. You got burned on that Yoko Ono collection, and you were out for blood.

      And I, for one, say thank you, sir.

  5. Jim permalink
    July 18, 2009 9:40 am

    ah sweet

  6. Jake permalink
    July 19, 2009 8:55 am

    Brian, that stays between you and me. And the internet.

    • July 19, 2009 10:46 am

      OK, dude. Extra points for making me spit coffee on my screen.

  7. July 19, 2009 6:27 pm

    Heck, even in the hands of atheist biblical scholars has the Church benefited.


  1. Are you really qualified to Interpret the Bible | The Church of Jesus Christ
  2. Some Clarifications (I Hope) on the Subject of Credentials: Part I « confessions of a bible junkie
  3. Amateurs and Studying the Bible: Once More « Ecce Homo

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