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February 10th, 2005 by isaac · No Comments

I don’t know why we keep this blog up. Jason and I never write anything. I stopped writing because I feel like I’ve joined some kind of hip club of bloggers. There are so many out there! Some good, some bad. I really don’t have the time to read all the good ones, and weed through the bad ones. So i figured i’d refrain from contributing to the blog-fest (or, better, “blog-mess”). That’ why i haven’t been writing. So what is this break in the hiatus? Well, some friends keep asking me why i never write stuff; they say they like to read it sometimes. So, i guess i might as well. I don’t claim to have anything profound to say—mostly random thoughts i have while reading the bible and theology all day (i am in seminary). And I also want to say that I write in hope of starting a conversation. Please read my entries as an invitation to talk about stuff. Jason and I disabled the “comment” function because we kept on getting spammed. But, if you email me i will post it (if you don’t mind) and maybe extend the conversation.

So, here’s a thought: can i be wrong about the way i read the bible?

There is this interesting passage at the beginning of St. Augustine’s book On Christian Doctrine where he writes, “Have we spoken or announced anything worthy of God?.... If I have spoken, I have not said what I wished to say” (1.6.6). Augustine points out that a lot of time we aren’t really good at communication. I know this is so true for me. I often try to say something that seems clear in my head but it just doesn’t come out right. Somewhere in the process of my speech and the other’s reception of my language something goes wrong—we call it “miscommunication.” It seems that alot of times we don’t have as much control of our language as we think we do. I don’t mean to say that we can excuse an “unbridled tongue” (see James epistle). It’s just that sometimes, as hard as we try to be clear about what we are thinking, “I have not said what I wished to say.” Our language shifts on us at the moment when we try to get a handle on it enought to say something. So, the question is, how can we be confident about what we say about God?

I think it is a good question that Augustine asks. And what he does with it is quite the witness. He spends the majority of his book talking about the fludity of biblical language. He talks about all language as “signa” (latin for “sign”) that is open to meaning(s). He talks a lot about figurative and literal language and the difficulties in decided how to read a given biblical text. I know that i make all kinds of interpretive choices without ever thinking about why i decided to read a passage a certain way. Like i read that passage where Jesus says to poke your eye out as figurative speech. But i read the one where Jesus says don’t commit adultery as a literal. For some reason, it is clear to me that i am reading those passages rightly. But what about passages where i disagree with people in our readings? Like where it says that Jesus rose from the dead (i think Jesus was dead and was resurrected, but others think it is meant to be read metaphorical), or how i read John to be saying that Jesus is one with the Father so he is divine (some people don’t do that). What makes we worry about my confidence in my readings is that we are part of a people (the church) who have been pretty confident about they readings and used them to do some terrible things. The German evangelical church don’t have any problems supporting Hitler and the Nazis. The reformed church in South Africa thought apartheid was biblically supported. Churches of all flavors thought American slavery here in the South (i am in N. Carolina) was justified on christian grounds. I can’t help but let that history make me think twice about my reading strategies.

Augustine says that we need to hold all our readings to the standard of Jesus’ command to love God and your neighbor. Even a poor reading is acceptable if it teaches us to love God and neighbor. To that command Augustine adds Paul’s call to have faith, hope, and love (Augustine calls it “charity”). That sounds like a pretty good norm for our readings.

(email me: isv2@duke.edu)

Tags: life