Thursday, August 23, 2012

Which parts of the Bible do you ignore?

The Pixar animated movie "The Incredibles" made recently famous the line, spoken by the boy-Buddy-turned-evil-villain Syndrome:

"If everyone is super, nobody is."

It reminds me of the teacher I once heard say "Every one of our students is above average." If our teachers don't understand basic statistical truths, then what's the hope?

But recently this thought, or some generality of it, had me thinking about the Scriptures. Are all the Scriptures equally the words of Jesus? The battle over the Bible in my tradition was more or less won out by people who would say "yes, they are." Strict inerrantists would argue (or at least some have with me) that every verse in the Bible is equal to "the Word" and has equal impact and importance on our lives. This argument is made in at least a couple of ways:

  • Every reference to some part or form of Scripture in the Bible is unilaterally applied to the book as a whole, as it exists today. Some examples of this include 2 Timothy 3.16 (all Scripture is God-breathed...), where the word "Scripture" is literally "Writings" and which was written when only the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was available. Or take Revelation 22.18-22, again written several centuries before the New Testament was collected into one volume, and seems to more clearly refer to just the "book" of Revelation itself. Or all of Psalm 119, which talks about the Law of the LORD, referring to at most the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, yet we often apply the verses to all of our Bible.
  • Mixing up the Word with our use of the religious phrase "the word." Jesus in John 1 is introduced as the eternal Word (logos) of God. There are some specific theological and philosophical reasons he does so, but since our pop Christian slang for the Bible is "the word" we've sometimes come to equate the two. I shouldn't be quite so cheeky, there are certainly places in the Bible that refer to the spoken word of God, but again, in context they don't apply to the whole collective book we have today, but to what God was speaking at the time.

Recently an acquaintance argued that the Sermon on the Mount had no application to foreign policy in the US, and that Jesus certainly never intended for us to "turn the other cheek" to a terrorist. Is this true? Can we choose to ignore what my friend started off saying was "the most elegant sermon ever preached" (something I agree with)? What other parts of the Bible can we dismiss by saying it doesn't apply to certain aspects of public or private life?

Every person I know has made a choice about which verses in the Bible are commands we need to follow and which ones are ignorable, for one reason or another. Which parts of the Bible do you ignore? And what's your reason for ignoring them?

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