Hating the Word Biblical
Every time I read Rachel Held Evans, she’s just so right on whatever the topic is. Yesterday I saw this great one on the word “biblical” and the problems with how it is used. She explains the issue well:
In the coming weeks, we’ll be diving into some excellent books about how to read the Bible—N.T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God, Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation, Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book, and more—but before we get there, we’ve got to do a bit of deconstructing. We’ve got to talk about how not to read the Bible.
Many deconstruct but don’t offer something better in place. I’ve made this point before when I asked what is the Emerging Church emerging to? It’s great to deconstruct as long as we’ll construct something better in place of what we’ve criticized.
So, the word “biblical”… depending on your church involvement you either have heard this a lot as an adjective for contentious issues, or you didn’t even realize it was ever used as an adjective. Rachel and I are speaking primarily to the first group, but the second might have things to learn, too. Here’s a sampling of some of the great points, first trying to define the problem by referencing Christian Smith:
“By bibliclism,” writes Smith, “I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” …
“The ‘biblicism’ that pervades much of American evangelicalism is untenable and needs to be abandoned in favor of a better approach to Christian truth and authority,” he concludes. “By untenable I do not simply mean that it is wrong, but rather that it is literally impossible, at least when attempted consistently on its own terms. It cannot actually be sustained, practiced, and defended.”
Then Rachel gets into her own history and the stupid ways that the word biblical is used as an adjective for various issues:
When I attended apologetics camp as a teenager, I was told that those who hold a “biblical view of economics” support unregulated free market capitalism. (Even then, it occurred to me that such an economic system didn’t even exist in the ancient near Eastern culture in which the Bible was written.) I was also told that God wanted me to forgo traditional dating in favor of “biblical courtship.” (Again, no one mentioned the fact that, in the Bible, young women could be sold into marriage by their fathers to pay off debt, that marriages were typically arranged without the bride meeting the groom until their wedding day, and that women were considered the property of their fathers and husbands.) [Ryan’s note: see Mac’s Rants: Biblical Dating? which made the same point here]
“Biblical” gender roles are a big one. Rachel makes a great point I’ve claimed before:
As expected, I found that most of the folks calling for a return to “biblical womanhood” aren’t actually calling for a return to the ancient near Eastern familial structure, but for a return to the nuclear family of pre-1950s America. They apply proof-texts to support a paradigm in which women submit to their husbands, stay out of church leadership, and find their ultimate calling in the home as mothers…while ignoring those passages that instruct women to cover their heads when they pray, call their husbands “master,” and function as the property of their fathers and husbands….
[This is why Junia is not a part of most complementarian discussions about “biblical womanhood.” The fact that she was a prominent and influential apostle does not fit the paradigm in which women are forbidden from assuming leadership in the church. So this biblical woman is, curiously, not a part of “biblical womanhood.” Of course, this tendency to overlook goes both ways. Those who advocate for “biblical equality” often overlook those passages in which women are clearly regarded by the writers of Scripture as less than equal.]
So, the moral of the story is essentially this:
We all project.
We all select.
We all lose things in translation.
We all bring outside influences (tradition, experience, reason) to the table when interpreting the Bible.