Reading the Bible for Those Who Have Been Victims of Weaponized Scripture
Led by the Church’s Pastor, Rev. David Albert Farmer, Ph.D.
All peace-loving people who are interested are welcome to attend. There are no fees.
Week One, May 3, Introduction
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Notes from Today’s Study. Keep in Mind that the Footnotes Are Very Important for a Full Understanding of What I Tried to Present.
- The “Bible” is the word most Christians use to refer to the combined Hebrew and Christian canons. Together, they contain 66 units depending who is counting, written over a period of some 1300 years in multiple cultures by authors holding to widely varied and sometimes conflicting theologies.
- Some groups think it’s important to explain the conflicts believing that conflicts of any kind nullify the possibility for any parts of the Bible to convey truth; other groups let the materials stand as we have them and try to understand what the author or authors was/were trying to say to their original hearers (in most cases but not all) and later readers.
- Theologically conservative Christians rely heavily on what they claim is a literal translation and interpretation of something Paul wrote to Timothy about scripture (2 Tim 3:16), and they apply it to everything that is considered scripture today even though the Hebrew canon wasn’t determined when Paul wrote to Timothy though we can be relatively confident that Paul had in mind Torah and Prophets plus at least some of the Writings that came to be confirmed as official Hebrew scripture probably no earlier than the end of the first century after the birth of Jesus and possibly much later. The Christian canon wasn’t finalized until CE 367. Second Timothy, written CE 66-67(?), possibly Paul’s last letter with his execution following soon thereafter. Second Timothy 3:16 NRSV: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
- The Bible is not a rule book; there are many actions in the Bible that principled people, followers of Jesus for example, should not emulate. Even Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people” (Luke 2:52).
- The most important interpretive tool anyone needs for trying to understand the Bible is often referred to as “progressive revelation,” meaning that those who first began to suspect there was just one God didn’t know as much about God as did those who had a few centuries to observe and reflect on how God was/is related to the world. If one is a follower of Jesus based on what can be pieced together about Jesus with the limited materials about him that have survived down to our time in writing, then there are parts of scripture that must be rejected. For example, Jesus reached a higher pinnacle of spiritual enlightenment than did Paul; so if there are differences of opinions between the two, Jesus’ mature perspective has to be taken as most influential. Scripture portions that are “rejected” for these reasons are indeed often horrifying, but we can still use them to learn something about how a person or some people was/were thinking about God at a given moment in time.
- There are many literary forms in the Bible; as with any literature, regardless of one’s faith perspective, interpretation begins with understanding the literary type: when it was initially shared, the context in which it was first shared, how it was understood by those who first heard or read it, and as much as we can know about the writer or writers, if anything at all.
- No part of the Bible has any awareness of, or any understanding whatsoever of, modern US American experiences or values. There isn’t a part of the Bible that speaks directly to every ethical dilemma with which a modern US American may have to wrestle. Neither God nor Jesus, for example, love the United States or Israel more than any other country. Neither God nor Jesus buy into American materialism. Neither God nor Jesus think democracy is superior to other forms of governance.
- The idea that every part of scripture is to be read as a modern person reads a trusted journalist to present the basic, bare truths about an incident or person leads to tragic misunderstanding much of the time. Many of the biblical accounts are fictional; not all of them by any means, but fiction is one of several pathways to truth.
- Until these are clearly in one’s consciousness, no real interpretation can take place.
- Admittedly, not every scripture reader wants to do any interpretation; rather, she or he thinks that as the reading takes place, God will interpret, which sadly often means interpretive Rorschach exercises. The reader reads, sort of, and the first thought to pass through her or his mind is taken to be the message God has given. A passage of scripture can’t mean anything the reader wants it to mean or necessarily the first possible interpretation about which she or he thinks.
- There is no justifiable way to interpret the Bible from a Jesus influenced perspective that allows anyone to condone harming another human being except possibly in self-defense. THERE ARE NO POSSI BLE EXCEPTIONS TO THIS FACT.
- A few quick facts about Jesus: a. Jesus was only mildly critical of the evil of oppressive Rome; he was highly critical, however, of the religious right in his time: the Pharisees and the scribes, who did their best to turn religion AND spirituality into nothing more than keeping rules and believing the “right” facts with a greater emphasis on keeping rules. b. Jesus experienced and expressed anger, but never at outsiders or those caught in compromising situations. c. He was non-violent and endorsed non-violence; he did not endorse violence. He did endorse affirmation of human dignity even when mighty Rome tried to steal it from oppressed people like himself and his sister and brother Jews, but not through violence. d. Jesus would not allow scripture to be weaponized. e. Jesus hoped to reform Judaism, but he loved Judaism and was never part of any religion other than Judaism. He never heard of Christianity or attended a church (or even saw one). f. He was preoccupied with people in physical, emotional, and spiritual pain; not doctrinal matters. g. The ONLY form of leadership he affirmed within a faith community was leader as servant. h. Freedom for Jesus rested not in any political or governmental situation, but in truth.
 The word “canon” refers to the books among many approved as official scripture. The “approving” individuals, groups, processes vary widely between Hebrew Scripture and Christian Scripture, and there never has been complete agreement among Christians about precisely which books may be considered as scripture.
 “Explain”: explain away, justify, functionally erase
 The Greek word translated “scripture” here, graphe, literally means a writing. Many scholars say that every use of the word in the New Testament refers to whatever Hebrew books were recognized as scripture when the word was used. Some would say all books that would ever come to be regarded as canon; some would include all books that would eventually be considered part of the Christian canon even though only Paul’s letters and one of the Gospels, Mark, at most was circulating.
 What is translated “inspired by God” by the NRSV translators is a single word in the Greek text: theopneustos. “God-breathed” is a fine translation. But because God inspires someone to take up a project doesn’t mean the end result will be perfect as God is perfect; it more than likely will reveal the human catalyst through which it came.