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Is “this is the clear teaching of Scripture” an acceptable phrase?

Is “this is the clear teaching of Scripture” an acceptable phrase?

Photo of emotional intelligence mind-map exercise via Tracy Rosen

Writing about emotional intelligence and the fundamentalist interpretation of sola scriptura, author Richard Beck asserts that the mark of a fundamentalist is the lack of awareness of their own hermeneutic.

Beck identifies several statements that demonstrate this; he cites “this is the clear teaching of Scripture” as a perfect example of someone failing to identify their own cognitive process at work, implying that the phrase should be verboten.

From his blog post:

I once quipped at a conference that a fundamentalist is a person who thinks he doesn’t have a hermeneutic.

I don’t want to rehash that point as it’s a point that has been made many, many times. We all have a hermeneutic. We are all interpreting the text to some degree. We are all privileging–deferring to–certain values, doctrines, creedal commitments, traditions, or biblical texts. Something somewhere is trumping something else. In a document as multivocal as the Old and New Testament this is unavoidable.

So we all have a hermeneutic. The only question is whether you are consciously vs. unconsciously using a hermeneutic. Fundamentalists are interpreting the text unconsciously. Fundamentalists are interpreting the text right and left, they are just unaware that they are doing so. This lack of awareness is what produces the sorts of statements described above.

What do you think of his points? The comments section is hosting a lively discussion about his post, with some readers contending that he isn’t demonstrating enough humility or emotional intelligence in his critique, and others contending that “this is the clear teaching of Scripture” is a perfectly acceptable phrase to use after study and deliberation.

Do you think “This is the clear teaching of Scripture” is a useful phrase? If you’re using it, is it really clear to the person you’re speaking to, or is it only clear to you? What would you propose someone say instead? How do you seek to teach and share the word of God?

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Prof Christopher Seitz

Well that would certainly make it exceptional, if not specious. To'ebah in Ezekiel and elsewhere is never 'inhospitality.'

The entire history of interpretation--Jewish and Christian--has read 'abomination' with reference to the sexual sins of Sodom. Which is not surprising in the least. It is the main crime and denouement of the story itself.

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Ann Fontaine

Seems like the big Sodom issue is rape -- not because there is an allusion to sex between men. "I can't send out the men but will send out my daughters" is how Lot puts it. It is a hospitality issue even though it may involve sex acts. How you can continue to support your beliefs that somehow the story of Sodom is about the same thing gay and lesbian persons are asking for defies logic.

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Professor Christopher Seitz

Dear David,

The Hebrew word for 'abomination' in Ezekiel's ensuing verse is the same word in Leviticus 18:22 and everywhere else for sexual sin. To'ebah.

The history of interpretation on this verse is unequivocal. Sodom committed sexual to'ebah.

You may call this a 'purity code' or whatever the most recent version of discounting looks like.

The modest point being made is: Ezekiel--from chapter 1 to the final account of the new Jerusalem--is not a friend to be quoted on behalf of non-sexual abomination at Sodom.

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Bill Ghrist

Is this the passage?
Ezekiel 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. (NRSV)

It may be that the word for abomination with reference to sexual sins is always To'ebah, but that word is also used for many other things that are not sexual. On the face of it, it is not at all obvious that it must refer to sexual sins in this passage.

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David Allen

So to'ebah always means sexual sin?

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Prof Christopher Seitz

Read the entire Ezekiel passage, please.

I suspect you should avoid referring to Ezekiel on Sodom.

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David Allen

I'm not sure why, nothing the passage says undermines Cynthia pointing out what Sodom's great sins were according to that writer. However, that great leg-spreading slut, Jerusalem, (the nerve of her, she didn't even charge for her services) was reported to be even worse.

That's quite the pornographic "Word of God" there.

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Mark Mason

Re: "Jesus never condemns the outcasts, he condemns Pharisees for misusing the Law to oppress people."

Jesus certianly wasn't big on condemnation. He didn't condem the adultress. He didn't condem the stone throwers. He asked for forgivness for those that nailed him to a cross. Jesus told the adultress to go and sin no more. Jesus told the stone throwers to let the one without sin cast the first stone. Jesus talked a lot about the Father's commandments. Jesus was obediant, even unto death, even unto death on a cross.

God gave us the Law to show us what sin is. Sin exsisted before the Law. Jesus himself commanded us to both repent and forgive. Jesus quoted scripture all the time. He traded virses with Satan. The eunuch asked how he could understand scripture without someone to teach him. I've always understood that to be the reason we are an apostolic church. How far off am I?

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Cynthia Katsarelis

Sounds reasonable Mark. The issue, of course, is what is sin and what should others do about it? When it comes to loving same-sex couples, there is nothing from Jesus about us. In the Bible there is only Leviticus about men, and that's the same bit that forbids tatoos and eating shellfish, and supports slavery. Being gay is not described as a sin in the Ten Commandments or anywhere in the life of Jesus. Those passages attributed to Paul, in Greek, are highly debatable and likely meant things like rape and temple prostitution at the temples of foreign gods - by no means do they refer to loving same sex couples.

There is a lot in the Bible about divorce and adultery, stealing, and the sin of not caring for the poor and offering hospitality to strangers (the later being the sins of Sodom, according to Ezekiel).

So who is deciding what is sinful? And do we perpetrate exclusion and even human rights violations (Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya...) on a class of people based on a very fast and loose interpretation of "sin." We don't advocate for exclusion and human rights violations for divorcees or adulterers, or greedy people who won't feed the poor, which is all mentioned far more often. Why do some people INSIST that gay people be obedient to their personal interpretation? That's called coercion and judgement, neither of which is Jesus like.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

I was addressing divorce and the churches changing attitudes towards it. I did not mention adultery, nor did I do away with a moral code. We have a Baptismal Covenant, which embeds a great deal of morality. Social justice is a highly moral issue. Leaving women and children in dire straits (which still happens) is immoral. Body slamming children, injuring them, for not handing over their cell phone is immoral.

The tone of the fundamentalists seems to be that sin is exclusively personal sin, and if you can tick off all the right boxes, you're OK. But a great deal of the Bible speaks of sin as communities who don't do justice.

I most certainly have a Bible based moral code. And it was offended when GWBush interfered in Haiti, arming thugs who made life miserable for many for a long time. It's offended when African religious leaders advocate for human rights violations against LGBTQ people. It's offended when armies use rape of women and girls as a weapon in their wars.

It brings us back to the question of what filter we use in reading Scripture? Sin is something that hurts others. Thus, it is absolutely impossible for me to believe that my loving marriage is sinful in any way. I'm sorry if it "hurts" people who like to judge others. But hateful rhetoric is sinful because it does hurt vulnerable people, as evidenced by data such as the high rate of suicide amongst LGBTQ teens.

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Mark Mason

Re: "In that time, women couldn’t bring about divorce, only men could, and that often left women destitute and vulnerable, not being under the protection of a male household."

In that time 'mommy's baby was daddy's maybe.' The adultry laws and marriage laws were meant to insure praternity. Today by DNA we can establish paternity. Women can provide for themselves and their offspring with no compulsion from the State to marry. By that reasoning there is no need for adultry or marriage restrictions. We know for certian who mommy and daddy are.

Christ said that adultry is sin and that the lust that leads to adultry is sin. That changes the argument. What was God's intention in that time and this one? Because times have changed does that mean God's intentions have?

When we say times are different so a three thousand year old moral code no longer applies, I remind myself that the people in those times didn't accept those moral codes either. It makes you think doesn't it.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

I was just bringing up the question of what sin is, who decides what it is, and what's there to be done about it?

About the "hardness of hearts" thing. In that time, women couldn't bring about divorce, only men could, and that often left women destitute and vulnerable, not being under the protection of a male household. Jesus was expressing a justice and mercy issue for women at the time. I don't know what it means in modern times. If neither your daughter or her past partners cast each out to be homeless, hungry, and exploited, then that "hardness of heart" guideline may not apply.

The biggest reason to bring up divorce in the context of the discussion about Scripture and our readings, is that there actually is a lot in the Bible about it. And our society and our church has accepted different practices, probably for very good reason. That should give us pause when anyone takes up exclusive views today. We used to use Scripture to justify burning witches, anti-semitism, and slavery. So that "yellow light" might make sense.

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Mark Mason

Way back in the day I had a gay roommate. I got asked if I thought his sexual activities were sin. I replied, “If it is sin when I do it, it is going to be sin when he does it!” Times were different back then. I use to tell him and his friends that they should have to get married. They always said, “Why would you want to do that to us?” Like I said, times were different back then. I would explain that if same-sex couples got divorced it would cause an end to the presumption of maternal custody in cases of divorce. We were all guys so that made sense to us. Social justice and all that you see. So I approached same-sex marriage in reverse order if you want to call it that.

I held that view for decades even after it was proving not to be the case. Then my daughter asked me if I thought God blessed her marriage since she was twice divorced. She was seriously concerned about it. I pointed out that Christ made exceptions. She quoted His speaking of the hardness of our hearts. Oh darn!!! Had I been so wrong for so long? Maybe I had better rethink my thoughts on divorce and the hardness of our hearts and what ‘SIN’ is.

All those years I never got called a bigot or a homophobe, not even a homophile for that matter. I did get called “Not really a Christian” pretty often. Now that I’m in the process of combing through scripture and praying about what all that means I get called all sorts of things from members of my own church.

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Paul Woodrum

The yellow light may be a good metaphor for reading and interpreting the Bible. Proceed with caution. Be prepared to stop. Check the context.

Saul is condemned for not committing genocide against the Malakites right down to their last chicken. Should that guide national policy in dealing with enemy nations?

Ahab is condemned for supporting his wife Jezebel's foreign Baal religion in Israel. Should this example guide national immigration policy?

The Israelites justify military conquest of Cana by claiming the land was promised to them by their god. Should this impact our support for Israel?

Yellow light, folks. Yellow light.

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Anne Benedict

Uh...Paul...This may come as a harsh surprise but religious Jews take those passages to indicate exactly what you suggest. I say this as one who lived in Israel. These statements are made every single day.

But here is a late breaking piece of news: We are Christians, not Jews. There is actually a difference. Further, the Talmud, which is post-biblical but is binding on all Orthodox Jews, explicitly modifies those statements as they apply to Jews. But note that the Talmud doesn't say "well, obviously God could not have meant that so therefore that's not what it means." It says "then was then, now is now, and here is what you are to do now."

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