Monday, July 7, 2014

Biblical Inerrancy and the Test of Love

In reading an article by Barbara Brown Taylor, author of The Bible and the Seeds of Imagination, I came to the realization that she was touching on some points that have been troubling me for a long time.

Rev.Taylor is a professor of World Religions at Piedmont College, a small Congregational Church school in Georgia. She is an ordained minister and a member of the progressive Christian community.

I guess that description strikes some as oxymoronic, especially since the Republican party has had so much success in radicalizing and co-opting religion in order to augment the 1% of the population actually standing to benefit from their core values into a viable political force. But, in spite of that Taliban-like malice, there actually do exist caring, compassionate, intelligent – progressive – Christians still holding to the teachings of Christ.

 “Remember this book (the Bible) was written by human beings with agendas,” Rev. Taylor tells her New Testament students. Like her, I’ve questioned the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy every since the Civil Rights Movement brought out the worst behavior among Bible thumping hate groups, all backing up their bigotry by quoting very carefully selected snippets of Scripture. I still see a lot of that today, with different targets.

There were a lot of books considered for Canonization in the early Catholic version of the New Testament. The Old Testament had already undergone an evolutionary process among various Jewish sects, and it was also revised by the early Catholics.

There was always debate about a group of books known as the Apocrypha, as to whether they should be canonized. They ended up being put into a sort of Supplemental Reading status by being included in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments in the late 4th Century Bibles. And of course, of the books that made it into the New Testament, Revelations was the most divisive, followed by Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude.

We are familiar with the Anglican split with Catholicism over the issue of serial annulments for Henry VIII as he made his treacherous, murderous way from wife to wife to . . . This, of course, eventually led to the King James Version of the Bible of 1611 (James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy.), which was reedited in 1769, and upon which all of our subsequent Protestant versions, at least in the English speaking world, are based. Less familiar are the attendant and subsequent statements of creed in the Council of Trent (the Catholic Church demonizing the Protestant Reformation); the 10 Articles of 1536 and the Bishop’s – later the King’s -  Book of 1537 (legitimizing Henry VIII and declaring the opinions of Anabaptists and Pelagians to be heretical); The 6 Articles of 1540 (repealed by Edward VI after Henry’s death); the 42 Articles of 1552 (never enforced due to the coronation of Mary I, a Catholic); the 39 Articles of 1563 (the 42 were revived following Mary’s death, but only 39 passed Convocation, and Elizabeth took out one to avoid offending Catholics, until she was ex-communicated, at which time she reinserted it – navigating a middle road between Catholicism and Puritanism), and the Westminster Confession of Faith, which knocked in and out of use for decades, depending on who was on the throne, until 1690, when it was finally adopted for good (declaring the Pope to be the “Antichrist” and eliminating the Apocrypha from the Bible).

Similar machinations were at play throughout the canonization processes in the Fourth Century and before.

Rev. Taylor points out a number of inconsistencies in the finished product, including a comment that “ . . .  I don’t recognize the Jesus in the Book of Revelation.”

The conservative Biblical Inerrancy believers hold that the end product of all this politically influenced skirmishing is the perfect, divinely inspired Word of God.

So, as I often do, I approach this question with the only perspective that matters, “What does Jesus think?”  I do pray for an answer to that question a lot. Not just about this issue, but about everything that comes up in life. And He always gives me the same answer. The one that is stated and restated throughout the New Testament:

Galatians 5:14
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

So simple. So pure. The Golden Rule that we all learned as children.

I believe that Jesus gave us that command, because he knew it would be useless to codify human behavior for all time to come. He kept it simple. Love. That’s what He did. And it’s what He commands us to do. Love is what makes us Christian, and it is what makes us Christ-like.

So, what about Biblical Inerrancy and all the other minutiae of our liturgies and other doctrines? Put them to the Test of Love. Do they make us more Christlike? Pray about it.

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