Monday, July 26, 2010

Sermon Scraps: Biblical Authority (yes . . . again)

What didn’t I say this week in my sermon? Seriously? I think I let everyone know my thoughts about wrath this week and then some, but what about the question I threw away? Why are stories like Judges 19 - 20 and the parable of the wicked tenants in our Bible? What do we do with a text that condemns the concubine’s attackers but not the one who sent her out to her death? In my mind, the Levite is just as culpable as the men surrounding the house, and yet, the text does not judge him as harshly as her attackers. Moreover, the attack on her is really an attack on him. They have destroyed his property – abused it and made it worthless to him.

What purpose do the texts such as this serve? Our Bible is filled with stories about murder and incest and rape and even genocide. What are we to do with these stories?

I think, logically, we are to do what I did this Sunday and preach against them, but who made me the judge. The Levite in Judges 19 was within the law. A concubine is not the same as a wife, and even if she were, she was the property of the Levite. He could do with her as he wished. She was a slave. Wives, also, the property of their husbands, and while I stand in judgment some 4000 – 6000 years later, it was what it was.

Attacking the text, calling out the sin that it refuses to name does not remove it from my Bible. It’s still there. And as it is, we call it the word of God. I don’t know if anyone noticed my reactions when the scriptures were read this week. The rubrics in the bulletin directed the reader of Judges to say, “May the Lord bless the reading and hearing of this holy Word.” When I read it in Lometa, I could not bring myself to say that, so I said, “Thus ends the reading of our Old Testament lesson.” That was the best I could do. I’ve told some of you the story of my good friend Br. John reading the gospel lesson to our preaching class. When he finished, he said, “The Word of God for the people of God,” and we, dutifully replied, “Thanks be to God.” “Really?” he asked us. That is how I felt reading the scripture this Sunday. ‘Really?’ I wanted to ask as we prayed for God’s blessing on the reading and hearing of this holy Word.

How is this word holy? How are stories like this holy? How is a parable where everyone dies in the end holy? When I say this is the Word of God, what do you think I mean? Did God actually write the Bible? Did God guide the hands of humans who wrote the Bible? Did God inspire the Bible? How so?

In the realm of scholarship, there are theories about the sources of the Torah, the sources of the gospels, the sources for almost all of the Bible. Those theories take different forms depending upon which text you are studying. When it comes to the Torah, the names of the sources are J, E, P, D, and R (There may be more, but these are the sources as given by Richard Elliot Friedman in, Who Wrote the Bible.) J is the Yahwest; E is the Elohist. P is the priestly writer; D the Deuteronomonic (sp?) writer. And R is the redactor, the one who put them together. Keep in mind that P may not be one person but a group of writers – the same is true for all.

In the New Testament, there is a discussion about Q. Does Q exist? For those of you not familiar, Q is Quella, or the source for Jesus' stories from which the synoptic writers (and perhaps Thomas) drew. I confess I am a product of my professors. My OT professor, Dr. Alejandro Botta, supported the Torah source theory. Moreover, when I translated Genesis 1 and 2, I felt a chasm of separation in the Hebrew of the first creation account and the second. The second one was much harder to translate. My NT professor, Dr. Abraham Smith was not fully convinced that Q existed, and neither am I. That said, Stephen Patterson does support Q and he wrote one of my favorite books on Jesus’ teachings (The God of Jesus).

Anyway (I seemed to have derailed a bit), I mention all of this to say that I do believe that our Bible may have been written by humans, but God played a part in it. What was human and what was divine? That’s a big question. Truly this all boils down to what you believe the authority of the Bible is. Those of you who knew me in my third year of classes at Perkins know I have spent some time on this question. Truthfully, I don’t think I have a satisfactory answer yet.

So I ask you, is the Bible authoritative? If not, why have we kept it around so long? If so, is all of it authoritative? In what way is it authoritative? What do we do with stories like Judges 19? Or the Jazz-fusion Pauline letters that tell wives to submit to their husbands and slaves to their masters? What does it tell us about who God is? If I can simply choose stories I don’t like, that I don’t feel are Godly, can I also choose, then, who God is? Isn't that idolatry? In essence, I’m asking how do I know that Judges 19 doesn’t reflect God’s will or desire for humanity.

Just questions to ponder. I hope I’ve given you something to confuse you for a while. I’m off to Music Arts and Drama camp this week. Have a blessed week.


  1. God didn't write the bible. But he did write the Universe. The manual is not the tool, the work, or the outcome.

    "Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide." -Siddhartha Gautama, Lord Buddha

  2. In my opinion, the Bible was written by Man, edited by Man and for Man. Does that mean it wasn't written by God? Not necessarily. Because God not only resides in each of us, but we are in our individual entirety and collective entirety God.

  3. To quote the Heart Sutra,
    When Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva was coursing in the deep Prajnaparamita,he perceived that all five skandhas are empty,thereby transcending all sufferings.
    Oh, Sariputra, do you not see that form is none other than emptiness and empiness is none other than form?

  4. Then bring it back.

    Is Humanity's world the same as it was in the time of the story in Judges 19-20? Sorta.
    Do people still own concubines as property? Yes, actually, and a lot of the laws surrounding said ownership are the same in many countries...
    Do humans still commit atrocities like rape, murder and genocide. YES, YES, YES, and YES.

    I believe the Bible was written by Men, inspired by their version of God. Just as I believe about all of the 'holy books'; temples, idols, ritual spaces, etc, etc, etc, etc. Divinely inspired yes, and extremely useful. But ultimately these are Humanity's tools for finding God. God needs no such things to find You.
    Now, in that context and considering the time and place, how can you not expect the story to turn out as it does?
    The answers to all of these questions are irrelevant to the Capital T Truth.
    In fact, religion, science, philosophy, -even words and thoughts themselves- are irrelevant to the Capital T Truth.

    Regardless, Judges 19-20 is obviously still relevant -even if Dr. Seuss had written it.
    It made you doubt. It made you wonder. It made you ask questions. There are many questions that cannot be answered by any person or ANY book -however divinely inspired.
    But there are Many that the Bible answers very well. It IS a Divinely Inspired tool for finding God. Use it. I do not consider myself to be a Christian, and I use it. Because I know what it is, and what it is for.
    What it is not, ---> is God Himself.

    This is entirely my own opinion. If you disagree, well; That's what makes the world so beautiful. Variety.
    God is bigger than opinions. Waaaaaaaaaaay bigger....

  5. "But ultimately these are Humanity's tools for finding God. God needs no such things to find You."
    Roger, that's a very interesting idea. What then, would you say that God uses to find us -- in the sense of revelation. God is the subject of revelation, meaning that God reveals Godself to us, but does God use media to do so? If so, what are the media.
    Just to show my cards, I believe God does reveal Godself in the Bible, in worship, in others we meet, in nature, and so on. What are your thoughts?