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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

You’re Just Reinterpreting the Bible To Suit Your Argument


If you’re like me (and I know I am) you are occasionally told during discussions (cough, cough, arguments, cough, cough) about the bible, “you’re just reinterpreting the scripture to suit your argument.” To which I will often reply, “Yes. Perhaps I am.” But I’m not the first to do so. In fact, I have a good reason to do so, a biblical reason, even.

For example:

In the story of Sodom (Genesis 19) it seems fairly clear that the sin of the people of Sodom was sexual. There are some contemporary scholars who would downplay the role of sex in this story, and instead focus on the breach of ancient near eastern hospitality codes. But, even if inhospitality is a part of the sin in question (and I certainly believe it is), the emphasis in the story is on the sexual nature of the sin: rape (whether homo or hetero-sexual).   

But the prophet Ezekiel, in a message addressed to the people of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16), said that the sin of Sodom was, “…pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease.” The sin of Sodom (and her daughters) was that they did not aid the poor and the needy (Ezekiel 16: 49 – 50.) Ezekiel seems to have radically reinterpreted the story to suit his own argument. Like those contemporary biblical scholars he moved the emphasis from a sexual sin (rape) to something else, in this case-pride and a selfish refusal to care for the poor.

Is it wrong to reinterpret a biblical story to fit our argument? Not necessarily.

Jesus did it. Six times in Matthew chapter five (Matthew 5: 21 – 26, 27 – 30, 31 – 32, 33 – 37, 38 – 42, 43 – 48) Jesus reinterpreted portions of the torah to suit his teaching and argument."You have heard it said... but I say..." Was Jesus wrong to reinterpret?

The apostle Paul did it as well; in his letter to the Christians in Galatia he radically reinterpreted the story of Sarah and Hagar as an allegory about the distinction between law and grace (Galatians 4).

So… is it wrong to reinterpret a story to fit our argument? Not necessarily.

I’m sure we could, each of us, list numerous examples of whack-a-doo re-interpretations of biblical stories. Here are a couple of my favorite humorous examples. It can be dangerous, yes. But it’s not necessarily wrong.  

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