This semi-rant/explanation came about as a response to someone I felt was preaching at me (and everyone else) on the message board. It’s something that you find with a number of people that decide they understand the Truth and they’re going to prove it to you by throwing biblical verse after verse at you in attempt to validate whatever point they are making.
There are pretty much 2 ways of looking at the Bible (or any other religious text for that matter). The first is that the entire thing was written by God, Himself, and therefore is not subject to human error or intervention. Everything that happened in the Bible is therefore literal Truth and everything happened the way it was written down. The second, which is the approach that I take, is that an author (or a number of authors) wrote a piece that was specific to what was happening in his life at the time of his writing it, similar to why I am currently writing this blog Ã¢â‚¬” there was an action that sparked my desire to write something to explain the situation as I see it and my commentary in regards to it. A specific action was the cause that initiated my desire to respond.
The first, as many of you probably have been confronted with, takes a specific point of view and backs it up with a variety of different biblical verses from different books and authors. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why these particular verses were chosen nor does it take into account anything else each passage author was saying along with the verse/chapter, but because each passage was found in the bible, it can therefore be interpreted as the preacher sees fit.
I attribute this to deciding that I’m going to talk about, say love (odds are, just about any book you pick up will have some type of love interest). I then pick up any book I want and flip to 5 random pages. I take a sentence from each page and string those sentences together to support that the author of this particular book supports my point of view on love. End of story. IRL, it’s never this simple, right? How many times have you been warned about ‘putting words in someone’s mouth’ or misinterpreting what they were saying in day to day life?
Or, take the Lord of the Rings, for example. I know a number of people who did not like The Two Towers as much as Fellowship because they thought the movie deviated from the book in its interpretation of Helm’s Deep and some of the other events and therefore did not remain true to Tolkien’s story. Their expectation for how certain scenes was not met and therefore their overall satisfaction with the movie was diminished because of some deviations that made the movie more interesting but did not follow the book 100%. Tolkien is not alive to defend or criticize the changes to his book, just as the biblical authors will never be able to say “This is what I meant when I wrote that,” however there are a number of the ‘faithful’ who will forever criticize the movie because of these interpretations. Just imagine if LOTR was written by a number of authors over the period of 500+ years. Do you think anyone would ever come to a consensus over how it should be interpreted?
But back to my original point… I view the Bible as a collection of writings from different authors written several hundred years apart, and therefore, each book (or section of a book as a number of books most likely share a number of authors) should be taken as a historical piece like any other piece of literature and analyzed in the context of what the author is saying, what is happening at the time of his writing it, etc. Each person writing would therefore have his own reasons for writing that piece, and the situation at say 600 BCE (when, say Ezekiel lived and around the time of the destruction of the 1st Temple) is going to be different from the situation about 70CE (when the gospels were written and the Romans destroyed the 2nd Temple).
I follow the scholarly approach in that each section should be viewed in light of its historical commentary, other writings from that time period, and archeological evidence we have that that supports/refutes those claims. It’s not like the Israelites lived in an isolated setting…
So anyway, my point in this rant was to try to explain different methodologies of interpreting the bible. Ultimately with more fundamental, religious fanatics, you end up with the first – the Bible was divinely written by God himself and therefore Absolute Truth. I (and the vast majority of the Biblical scholarly community), on the other hand, believe the bible is a collection of stories written by a number of different authors to deal with the circumstances they found themselves in at the time.