Friday, April 06, 2012

Biblical Assumptions....

We all make them.  And they can cause "issues".  As is proven quite regularly in this forum (most recently for me in a debate about whether there are 2 separate Creation stories or not).

Do we assume that the words we read in Scripture are direct from God or another person's (people's) account of their experience of God?
Do we assume that we are interpreting as we read?  Do we assume that our interpretation is the only way to see the passage?
Do we assume that everyone has the same assumptions about the nature, history, and content of Scripture that we have?  Or at least that they know what our assumptions are?
Are we willing to be open to the assumptions others make as we attempt to see where they are coming from? (whether we agree or not)
Do we read the passage for itself or do we carry understandings from other experience of Scripture with us?

And perhaps most we ourselves know what our assumptions are?  Can we explicate them to others in the interests of clear communication?

A memory surfaces that deals directly with assumptions we bring to the reading of Scripture.  And how those can radically change what we see.

In my first year introductory course on the Christian Scriptures we had a mix of students.  Some of us (maybe 2/3 of the class, likely closer to 1/2) were seminary students from the United Church and Anglican colleges.  The rest were Religious Studies students from the University--some of whom, it became obvious as time went on, had little or no background experience with Scripture.  The task in the first class, once we went through the syllabus and the list of required texts etc, was to read and discuss the letter to Philemon (a good choice because it is so brief).  There was an extra limit though.  We were to read and discuss as if this was the ONLY piece of Scripture we had ever seen.

That was a challenge.  It is harder than you would expect to forget everything you "know" about the story(ies)  of Scripture, about the background from which Paul is writing.  One person in the class, who honestly had no background but was very eager to learn, took the "brother" language as referring to actual blood relatives and the "slavery" language as purely metaphorical.  And in fact you can make sense of the letter with that reading.  It was a great way to begin the course because it showed us how much we assume we "know".  The next realization was that some of that needed to be unlearned, or at least challenged as the course progressed.

We all make assumptions.  But we are often better at naming the assumptions we see others making than the ones we make.  ANd that can get in the way of open and clear discussion.  Refusing to
acknowledge that there is more than one valid approach to Scripture also get in the way of that discussion -- and people on all sides of the Christian spectrum can be guilty of that.

Some of the assumptions I bring to Scripture are:
  • it is impossible to read Scripture without interpretation, none of us simply takes the words of Scripture as they are and applies their plain meaning (all the more so since we are reading translations and every translation includes interpretative choices)
  • there are things we can learn from historical, source, redaction and literary criticism/analysis of the Scriptures--even (or perhaps especially) if that analysis causes us to rethink how Scripture came to be in the shape we now have it
  • Scripture does not tell one story, or one version of the same story.  It sometimes contradicts itself, it sometimes offers mutiple versions of history (even in the same book), it sometimes offers theological visions that appear mutually incompatible (the passage in Ezra where foreign wives are to be put aside in the name of cultural purity and the genocidal passage in Joshua vs a book like Ruth or Jonah which are openly welcoming of foreigners being part of GOd's community.)
  • there is no one proper interpretation of any passage.
  • what we see in Scripture is shaped by our background:  what have we been taught before, how widely have we read within Scripture, what life experiences do we bring, what are our political opinions, how do we understand God, how do we understand human nature, what is our understanding of this collection of books we are reading
Those are some of my assumptions.  On specific passages there will be specific assumptions.

What are some of the assumptions you bring to Scripture?

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