Saturday, March 04, 2006,9:39 PM
Biblical interpretation
Okay get ready for a long post…
In a recent discussion on women in ministry on Char’s blog I posted the following rambling thoughts about Biblical interpretation:
"I think I get caught up often in trying to determine what was going on historically in the NT church so that I can claim it as a norm for today. but when I take a step back I realize that I generally don't agree with that sort of approach to the bible. I don't think that the NT church was the pure and unadulturated form of being a christian and that we just have to uncover all the facts about it in order to be the real christians we are supposed to be. I see faith and god's purposes in this world as being fluid rather than static.

But that does not mean that the attempt to discover how things were in the NT (as much as that can actually be done) is not a worthwhile attempt. I fully acknowledge that our views of the NT (especially in regards to women) are heavily influenced by our culture. We are looking at the bible through the lenses of years and years of male dominance - there are a lot of agendas that are at stake in the discussion. There see to be many present christians who are literally afraid to even address the topic thoughfully(just look at the knee-jerk reaction to the Da Vinci Code..). I think we have gotten it wrong about women in the early churh and that needs to be made known, but I don't see then that we should necessarily copy whatever we determine what it was that was going on.

I personally prefer the concept of trajectory. If through history God was asking his people to give more love and freedom to oppressed groups (women, slaves, gentiles, children...), and if in different ages his people were pushing what was the norm for their culture, we need to look at where the general approach was pointing and follow that trajectory to where it leads. It took centuries for people to finally grasp the revolutionary things that Paul wrote about releasing slaves and treating them as equals. And it was the christians who led the abolitionist cause because it was fulfilling the plans God had. No one today says that its okay for some to read the bible and think that black people are lesser or cant serve god as well as whites, but that was the norm amoung christians at one point. perhaps someday people in the church will be just as scandalized to hear people talking about women being lesser and not being able to serve as well as men...”

So then I was slowing making my way through N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God and came across this really cool analogy he wrote about Biblical interpretation and the authority of scripture. I’m posting the part about what he compared it to and I think it has some interesting things to say about how we act/live/teach as Christians today. -

“Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play, most of whose fifth act has been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a remarkable wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, what it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who could immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.

Consider the result. The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task at hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that some character was now behaving inconsistently, or that some sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist – could not consist!- in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier parts of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, containing its own impetus and forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in an appropriate manner. It would require of the actors a free and responsible entering into the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency. … part of the initial task of actors chosen to improvise the new final act will be to immerse themselves with full sympathy in the first four acts, but not so as to merely parrot what has already been said. They cannot go and look up the right answers. Nor can they simply imitate the kinds of thing that their particular character did in the early acts. A good fifth act will show a proper final development, not merely a repetition, of what went before. Nevertheless, there will be a rightness, a fittingness, about certain actions and speeches, about certain final moves in the drama, which will in one sense be selfauthenticating, and in another gain authentication from their coherence with, their making sense of, the ‘authoritative’ previous text.”

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posted by Julie at 9:39 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 3/09/2006 11:45:00 PM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    I really REALLY like that analogy!

  • At 3/14/2006 10:02:00 PM, Blogger WarePhreak Wyncoop

    Taking it a step further: using different sets ot makeups of these experts would give you different versions that could all be considered potential completions.

    And continuing to do so and review this would tend to bring them together but also bring out other possibilities that are the result of having seen or experienced these other versions.

    This can be good and bad as it could detract from the other intent or enhance and clarify it greatly.

  • At 4/13/2006 03:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    A fine point about "trajectory." Does that mean that you agree it's time for GLBT people to get equal treatment as clergy, in marriage rights, and in daily life? And can we stop pretending there's something wrong with being GLBT in the first place? This whole "love the sinner, hate the sin" thing is nothing but a smokescreen for prejudice. A good point made: here