Thursday, August 08, 2013

Geocentricity, Polygamy, Blood Revenge, And The Interpretation Of Scripture

by Sakae Kubo

In “Slavery, Circumcision, and the Subordinate Role of Women,” I had considered adding a paragraph on the topic of the present article. It was intended to help us understand how we ought or ought not interpret Scripture. I chose to omit it because I felt it would be too brief to be helpful and that it might take away from the thrust of the article. But it is a topic that is closely related to that subject. I am expanding it now because of the comments raised with hopes that this might further help to explain the point of my article.

We need to be conscious always that the Bible was written about events covering thousands of years, many different cultures and societies, and by many different prophets and writers who were living in these different times, cultures and societies. There were periods of darkness and periods of light. Some of the prophets lived in more enlightened times than others. Some cultures were not as morally enlightened as others. Different cultures had different standards and different practices.

The Jews living as slaves in Egypt were not able to live the ideal Jewish life with their Sabbaths and lifestyle. The kind of laws they had before Sinai does not seem to have been clearly laid out or understood. The wilderness period was full of setbacks and apostasies. The period of the judges is well described by the last verse, Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” The kingdom period had great apostasies and failures leading to the captivity of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians and later of Judah by the Babylonians. It is difficult for us to understand how they could apostatize to the point where they would worship images and fertility goddesses and partake in sexuality as part of religion. The period of the captivity was not conducive to great religious understanding. The return from captivity led to a return to the law with Ezra and Nehemiah but with the end of the prophetic period we have the intertestamental period when except for a short period Israel was again under the influence of pagan foreign powers, Greece and then Rome. God has to speak to people in these various cultures and situations and he uses prophets from these cultures with all their baggage.

We find as we study the people God used in the OT that they were flawed people like the rest of us. Noah became drunk, Moses was a murderer, Abraham was a prevaricator, Gideon distrusted God, and David committed adultery and murder.
God condescends to use earthen vessels to present himself to people and sometimes their limitations show in how they present God to us.

We should also keep in mind that while never in a straight line there is development and understanding as time goes on. It is clear that sometimes people thought that if we did good, we would prosper and we did evil, we would suffer. But the book of Job set this straight that even the good suffer. It is clear there is development from the Old to the New Testament when the author of Hebrews writes, Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son (Heb 1:1-2). Christ’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood since it is of the order of Melchizedek that comes not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:16). Development is also seen with the establishment of a new covenant (Heb 8).

But the greatest development is the understanding of the work of Christ with regard to sin, Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? (Heb 10:1-3)

The fact that there is development shows that we cannot just select any Scripture and consider it to be of the same value as any other passage from any place in the Bible. In the New Testament we have a better and clearer understanding of God’s plan.

Solomon, David, and many others does not mean that it is all right today. Because they sought blood revenge back then does not mean it is permissible today. Cities of refuge were set up so that accidental manslayers could find protection because blood revenge was practiced. We do not establish cities of refuge today. We’ve already mentioned slavery, circumcision, and the subordinate role of women in our previous article.

The greatest example of one who sees that what was valid in the past is not always valid was Jesus himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again anyone who says ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Jesus is clearly saying that the morality of the past is insufficient for today. It is not sufficient to avoid the act but one must remove the anger in one’s heart. In this and in what follows Jesus was establishing a new morality that does not deal with acts alone but with inner thoughts and feelings. In actuality we know from Jesus’ teaching elsewhere, he is not only teaching a negation, not to have feelings of anger, but a positive, i.e., we should love our neighbor as ourselves. In effect, he is saying we should do all we can to preserve and extend the life of our neighbor.

The second thing that he elevates concerns adultery. It is not only necessary to avoid the actual physical act, but one must not have the lust. The new morality goes beyond the act to the heart. Again here the positive would be, we must do all we can to keep our hearts pure and to safeguard the person of another.

He goes on to deal with divorce, oaths, an “eye for an eye morality,” and loving our neighbor. The new morality removes flippant reasons for divorce, no constant swearing of oaths as proof one’s integrity, no more eye for eye morality; the new morality involves turning of the other cheek, no more just loving just one’s friends but also loving one’s enemies.

Jesus himself does not say that what is found in the Old Testament or previous practices are sufficient for his day and the future. The greatest and most dramatic example that we need to move beyond the Bible in some things is the church’s encounter with Galileo.

Richard Osborn sent me notes of a talk he has given in several places and contexts entitled, “The Case Against Galileo: Lessons for a 21st Century Church.” What he presents is germane to our topic and is included in our title, geocentricity. Here again the Bible was used (1 Chron 16:30; Josh 10:12-13; Ps 93:1) to support the position of those who opposed Galileo and Copernicus who were teaching that the earth was revolving around the sun and not the other way around. We have to remember that the Bible was written in a pre-scientific period and that we should not use it to support ideas that are no longer valid as the church did in its conflict with Galileo. If we were living at the time of Galileo, it would have been difficult to go along with Galileo since the Bible was considered revelation, and therefore, a superior source than telescopes and scientific observation. Cardinal Bellarmine who was appointed to meet with Galileo responded, “Scripture is the immediately revealed word of God and was written as dictated by God. . . There can be no error in Scripture.” (Richard J. Blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible, p. 31) Luther said, This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy, but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.(Jerome J. Langford, Galileo, Science, and Church, 3d ed. , p. 35)

We assume that when the Bible says the sun rose or set that it is only speaking figuratively or visually and not literally as we do today but when it said that it meant exactly what the words signify. They thought the sun actually rose and set because the earth was the center of the universe and the sun circled the earth. They not only saw the sun rise, they actually believed it. This is really a test case of whether we take the Bible as a source of scientific knowledge or recognize that it was written without the kind of scientific information that we have available today. The people in Galileo’s day chose to follow the Bible as a source of scientific information and yet today everyone accepts Galileo’s observation that the sun revolves around the sun, even people who believe the Bible as a source for all truth.

God communicates with people in the situation where they are. In a world where they believed that the sun rises and revolves around the earth, how could God communicate with them if he spoke to them in terms of our understanding of the universe. They would be hung up on trying to comprehend this aspect of the message rather than on the real message that does not change regardless of how far and fast science changes. The message that is essential does not change; that is, God loves us and he want us to love one another and that he has demonstrated his love in Jesus Christ and what He did for us. Whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa does not affect this truth.

God has to use people where they are and as they are. His message is present truth whether science advances or not. Therefore, in interpreting the Bible we need to recognize that the Bible is not a flat plane from which we can pick arbitrarily and expect the same type of sublime truth. We need to realize that customs and cultures change. What may have been acceptable at one time may not be at other times. Things have changed through the years. New understandings replace old ones. Those who wrote the Bible lived in situations that reflect their cultures and their understanding of the universe. For the author of Hebrews, the Old Testament types find their fulfillment in the New Testament. Jesus himself said, But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you (John 14:25). Some of these things apparently include the fact that circumcision will no longer be necessary for entrance into God’s church, and that slavery should be abolished, and women should be considered men’s equals.

Slavery was practiced in the past though regulated in a humane way in biblical societies, circumcision was a requirement to become a member of the Jewish faith, and women were not considered equal with men but new understanding led to change in all these respects. In New Testament times the requirement of circumcision ceases for the Gentiles. Later on slavery comes to an end, and hopefully, in our time, women are given all rights that men have, including ordination.

First of all, I want to thank all of those who responded negatively or positively to my article, Slavery, Circumcision, And The Subordinate Role Of Women.

One criticism was that the analogy between the items mentioned was lacking. For example, one criticism was that slavery was never the condition of membership, as was circumcision. The point of my presentation was to show that the analogy was the use of Scripture to defend these practices mentioned in the Bible. Scripture was used to defend slavery, circumcision and the subordinate role of women. And it seems to me that analogy is obvious.

One serious concern was that what I was doing put everything up in the air and threatened the inspiration and authority of Scripture. However, if this approach is valid, it means that Jesus should not have brought in the moral changes he called for, that circumcision should be maintained, and that slavery should be practiced today.

Some mentioned that the biblical support against women’s ordination should be seriously considered, and, therefore, women’s ordination should not be allowed. The point of the article was that sometimes biblical support is not adequate to maintain a practice that may be due to the culture of the time. Circumcision could not have had greater support yet it was not required for new Gentile Christians. It is ironical that Paul who is used as biblical support for women’s ordination today was the leading opponent of the biblical injunction to continue to circumcise those Gentiles who were joining the church. In other words, Paul, who is being used to oppose the support of women’s ordination did not use biblical support for the practice of circumcision.

The recent actions by the Trans-European Division and the North American Division granting women the right to hold executive offices are encouraging signs for the ordination of women. However, It points out the inconsistency of our position. A woman can lead ordained male ministers as president of the conference but she cannot be ordained. This kind of inconsistency cannot last long.

Adventists are conservative and that leads to slowness in accepting changes. This was very apparent in our acceptance of full integration and equality of African Americans in our church. We know that in the 60’s Adventists lagged behind society in general in granting full equality to African Americans in the church. Blacks were not allowed to eat with their white brothers and sisters in the Review and Herald cafeteria, and were not allowed to attend white churches in the South. African Americans were hardly represented in our white colleges. When I preached on this topic in June of 1964 at the Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University, it caused an uproar since it was considered meddling in politics. I was never again invited to speak at that venue.

I hope that we will not be lagging behind on the issue of the full equality of women, particularly in the ordination of women, as we were regarding racial equality. My hope is that soon our church will grant women all rights that they give to men so that the church may benefit from one hundred percent of its membership rather than less than half.


Post a Comment