More on the “plain meaning of Scripture”

General Convention / Religion

Don’s post the other day to the House of Bishops and Deputies was astartling and sobering reminder to me of why the methods of interpreting scripture (hermeneutics) matter.

There have been a series of posts out on the blog-sphere over the past couple of weeks decrying the use of the meta-narrative method of understanding Holy Scripture to support the actions of the 2003 General Convention. The key idea to the argument was that the Church can not act contrary to the plain meaning of the words of the Bible.

But the problem with that is illustrated in the words of the former Presiding Bishop’s polemic in support of slavery. Or with the arguments against inter-racial marriage. Or against women’s ordination. Or in a less frightening example, the rejection of the scientific method by the young earth creationists.

Tools like the narrative method, the meta-narrative method, etc. grew out of the Church’s realization that a simple reading of the Holy Scripture took us to places we couldn’t go. It led the Church to take stands that are not morally defensible. So over the years we have wrestled with Scripture. We have tried to be like the scribe mentioned in the parables of Jesus who brings out of the storehouse what is old and what is new.

I really need to write something more about all this. I promise to put it on my to-do list. (Or perhaps I’ll find an article from someone else that has addressed this issue.)

But the key point of the post about the “plain meaning” being wrong is that if we are to take the Bible seriously as the Word of God, we are going to have to find a way to understand its contents. We are going to have read it in conversation with the best of modern thought in science, in philosophy and in ethics.

I guess this makes me a re-appraiser – but I don’t know that making a distinction between re-appraisers and re-asserters is really helpful. I strongly reassert the truths that the Bible teaches to our modern world. But I am not going to be afraid to have the Bible engage with modern thought for fear that the Bible’s teachings will be shown to be fraudulent or no longer relevant. It is only by reappraising the Bible’s teaching in light of our present understanding that I can reassert the timeless truths to which it bears witness.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...