interpreting Scripture with "sophistication" vs. dignity
My friend Doug Masson has a post (I feel like we're friends even though we've never met in person!) which references this post. Doug uses the occasion to talk about the difficulties of interpreting Scripture for today, which led to the following response from me:
There are three categories in the first paragraph: 1.) from OT to NT and now; 2.) from NT to now; and 3.) from Bible to now.
First, there is a clear, NT expiration clause on the "ceremonial" parts of the OT law (see: Temple worship practices), since those are fulfilled in Christ. From context, it's clear that the "moral" parts of the OT law remain in force (e.g., gossip). There are also "civil" practices are particular to Israel and God's desire for them to be "holy"-- i.e., separate/distinct (e.g., the handling of blood; see also: a kosher diet). Although it's not completely clear, and maybe it's more smell test than precise categories, I've never seen any serious problems here.
Second, there are NT practices that are difficult to understand in today's context. The basic choices are blowing those off as cultural artifacts or embracing them as universal. Hair-covering is a fine choice. There is no clear line in this category-- and thus, we find well-intentioned Christians reaching different conclusions here.
Third, it is all too common-- among believers and ironically, among skeptics and other "sophisticated" thinkers-- to take the Bible out of context and to then get very excited about the squirrelly inferences that obtain. "Obeying your husband" may be cultural too, but it certainly fits this category nicely. In this case, part of a sentence is quoted, while ignoring the rest; a phrase is quoted without any sense of the surrounding context; and a phrase is quoted without any sense of what else has been said on the topic.
People who are unwilling to treat the Bible with even modest respect should just leave it alone. It's not good for their look. When is it admirable to approach serious writing in this manner? It seems a good rule of thumb-- that people should extend to the Bible at least as much dignity as they would want ascribed to them or their written work.