As Jim and Liam continue to grow up and understand things, I wonder how they are going to react to certain expressions we use. Will they get really worried if EA declares that she's dead tired? Will they peak at the TV in morbid curiosity when the announcer says the receiver split the defenders? I have imaginary conversations with older Jim and Liam sometimes about these things:
Me: I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!
Jim: Daddy, you’re going to eat a horse?!
Me: Well, no not really. It’s an expression. What I really mean is that I am really, really hungry. So I say that I could eat a really big animal like a horse. Although I’m not actually going to eat a horse. I don’t think I actually could ever be that hungry. It’s kind of confusing.
Liam: Daddy, what does horse taste like?
It’s just an expression that represents an idea. Now I know it’s just an expression and one day Jim will know that too. But what if I said that legitimately thinking I could eat a horse? What happens when the expression meant to be symbolic is confused with the reality? Like…
"The Bible says it, that settles it."
Now the idea behind that expression is that the Bible is an authority for our lives. I agree with that. I think sometimes people take that too far and make it THE authority for our lives as if the Bible is the third person of the Trinity, but I believe Christians should take the Bible very seriously. In fact, that's why I'm writing this.
Yet the implementation of "The Bible says it, that settles it" is typically, “Look at this verse. It is in the Bible. It supports my argument. Your argument is futile. Conversation over.” Basically the idea is if a verse appears in the Bible, then it is a universally agreed upon guide for the Christian faith. Except…
"The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses." - Deuteronomy 14:8
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:26
"But every woman who prays or prophesies with head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head." - 1 Corinthians 11:5-6
The Bible says it. Does that settle it? Under the typical usage of that phrase, should not our churches be pork-forbidding, family-hating, women-must-wear-head-scarves institutions?
"Stop trying to be so tricky, Chris," you might say. "Deuteronomy is under the old law. Jesus was exaggerating to make a point about how much we should love God. And Paul was talking from a specific cultural context."
Yes. Yes because the Bible is not flat. There is nuance and genre and context and interpretations. That doesn’t mean scripture is not inspired by God. Nor does it mean scripture shouldn’t be an authority in our lives. Nor does it mean there are not right and wrong ways to interpret the Bible.
In fact, let's pause at the topic of interpretation for a moment. One of the issues with people that insist on an absolute inerrant reading of scripture is that you could get 10 inerrantists in the room and end up with 12 different readings of a scripture passage. It is functionally impractical. In his excellent book The Bible Made Impossible--which I would recommend to anyone wrestling with the nature of scripture--Christian Smith writes:
"To be clear, the problem is not that theoretical claims to biblical sufficiency or authority are proved to be wrong or erroneous per se; rather, they are defeated in relevance by the undeniable lack of interpretive agreement and consistency among those who share the same biblicist background. That defeat in relevance then gives rise to questions about the truth of those theoretical claims." (xi)
Thus we should respect the Bible—because we are fallible humans with a myriad of interpretations—and not try to flatten it into “God’s Little Book of Trump Cards.” We should read scripture, learn what different people have to say, and discuss it with others. The Bible should be an open door to engage with one another, not a door that we slam in someone else’s face. When we lean on the “Bible says it, that settles it” expression, that symbolic expression tends to become reality. It’s like we legitimately believe we are going to eat a horse. That’s far more than you or I can chew.
So perhaps we should tweak the expression to better reflect reality. Although I doubt “The Bible says this, this is how I/my church/tradition interpret it, and I’d love to discuss those ideas with you” will find its way onto a lot of bumper stickers.
I sometimes get asked what I believe about scripture. This is typically accompanied by me hearing Admiral Ackbar exclaim, "It's a trap!" because people often ask that question looking for certain answers. My answer typically is I believe what the Bible says about itself. It does not say that it is inerrant (I believe the Bible is true, but people often mean something entirely different with that term), but that:
"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." - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Granted this is just one verse, but it is one that people cite quite often. And I believe what this passage says, but there is quite a bit to unpack in those two verses (and its general context). So tomorrow, we'll take a deep dive of Bible nerdery as we dig into some thoughts on what it means to be "God-breathed." That's right, it's a two-parter!
So we'll be back tomorrow: same-ish Bat-time, same Bat-channel.