“ We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.“
These are the opening words of the Salvation Army’s eleven doctrines. And it is here that one must begin each theological discussion. But perhaps it is not enough to simply have the Bible as a starting point- it may not quite suffice – so perhaps we must first discuss, briefly, our hermeneutics (the study of the principles of interpretation) i.e. how we think and reason: what we believe in the Bible, what we believe about the Bible, how were the Bible’s authors inspired and how do these writings serve as our guide today.
The point is that there is a big difference between claiming that the biblical words were dictated to its authors and is therefore God’s word that bridges cultural and linguistic differences between the original authors and the original recipient, and can without difficulty be read by a contemporary audience with complete comprehension and understanding; it is a whole different thing to claim that God spoke to Moses on Moses’ level and manner of expression, and Isaiah on Isaiah’s level of reasoning and comprehension. Consequently, we must first understand what the Bible passage meant ‘then and there’, before we can apply the words to the ‘here and now’. Hermeneutics
The story of Philip in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter Eight serves as an example. It is a rather banal story about a disciple who follows God’s guidance in order to seek out someone yearning to know God and to help him repent. With a comprehension of the historical context and what a eunuch was (perceived to be) the story moves to a completely different depth and therefore a multitude of different interpretation possibilities surface.
Prior to confronting the LGBTQ issues from a spiritual, Christian or biblical perspective, one must first clarify a few foundational worldview questions.
The first bias that the author maintains in this blog series is that the literal reading of the words of the Bible is not just a faulty approach (methodology) in responding to a translation of an ancient document, but also an affront to both writers, readers (ancient and contemporary) and lastly against God, as one chooses (often unconsciously) not to take Scripture seriously, by reducing the text to its simplest literal interpretation.
Each reading of a biblical text is an interpretation of an interpretation, of an interpretation. Simply through the reading of a (Biblical) text we interpret and add meaning and emphasis due our body language, facial expressions, and choice of pericope (extract or selected text from the Bible) and intonation. If one then adds to the complexity of the original documents (are there any?) copying, language and culture shifts there remain a delicate and difficult (interpretation and comprehension) process that cannot be simplified, ignored or dismissed.
Does this mean that ordinary people should stop reading the Bible, that one cannot understand the Bible’s message without a theological higher education? No, of course not. The Bible is God’s inspired word and as such can be understood through the Holy Spirit and through the fellowship’s application and lives lived as instructed by the words of the Bible.
We have to, in our Bible reading, consider and weigh in (in line with John Wesley’s model) our experience, church tradition and to the best of our ability, understand and reason about the text provided (us).
In the Jewish tradition this process is called the Midrash (Wikipedia, 2011: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) an ongoing dialogue between Jewish Rabbis through the centuries in which Scripture is interpreted, reinterpreted and applied to the shifting cultural currents of the community. Midrash is the Jewish tool to manage overwhelming signs (occurrences), event chronology, parallel narratives (parallelism), language difficulties and text anomalies in the Hebrew texts that make a literal interpretation difficult or impossible.
Perhaps it is from this viewpoint (vantage point) one ought to approach and read this blog series: as a theological and philosophical discussion about interpreting difficult biblical problems, i.e., What does the Bible say about homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender persons, albeit without having knowledge of what was meant (intended) at the time when the biblical texts were written.
Lt. Patrik Olterman
Malmo, SwedenTranslation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm