a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood ch. 3

Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I intend to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.

Chapter 3 is titled, "Paul's conversion from violence." Flood does a great job in this chapter showing Paul's practice of selective quoting of the Old Testament and re-visioning those passages sometimes in direct contrast to their original intents. According to N.T. Wright Paul's zealotry against the early church, before his conversion, came from a culture that celebrated Phineas, who plunged a spear through the bodies of a fornicating Jew and Moabite, Elijah, who called down fire to destroy his enemies, and the Maccabeans who fought to the death to defend their freedom of worship. I could add the example of Ezra who forced Jewish men to divorce their gentile wives and send them and their children away to preserve their purity, or Elisha who commanded a bear to kill young men who were mocking him. Paul, formerly Saul, kept God's law to the ultimate degree, yet after his conversion considered himself the worst of sinners because he missed compassion.
...like Jesus, Paul saw fulfillment of the law as embodies in compassion, rather than in legal ritualistic observance. In other words, Paul's problem was not with the law itself, which he understodd as having the ultimate goal of leading to love, but with a particular hurtful way of interpreting and applying the law (and thus Scripture) that prioritized rituals and rules over love (cf. Rom. 13:8-10). p. 49
I would add 1 Cor. 13 as well. Paul converted to the good news of love but "away from religious fanaticism." p. 50 In a shocking response to his conversion he starts stripping away quotes from the Old Testament that are zealous without love. In Romans 15 he quotes Psalm 18, leaving out the parts about God avenging the Psalmist against the Gentiles. He quotes Deut. 32:43 in the same manner. What gives Paul such boldness to proof text, out of context like this? Flood writes, "Paul now understands salvation to mean the restoration of all people in Christ, including those same 'enemy' Gentiles." p. 53 His entire missionary endeavours have focused on bringing the good news to the Gentiles. The good news is not just for Jews. Flood sees Paul converting these anti-Gentile passages from violent ethnocentrism to compassionate neighbor love, just as he was converted.

I can relate to this transformation in my own pilgrimage as described over the years on this blog. I did not have a Damascus Road encounter with Jesus. My transformation has taken decades. Over the past couple years, I've concluded I would rather be guilty of being too open handed than too tight fisted. I think erring on the side of loving too much than on the side of judging to little is more aligned with Jesus's mission of good news.

More explicitly,
Just as Jesus had not come to condemn but to redeem humanity, this transformative hermeneutic ultimately seeks to redeem these passages rather than reject them - to "fulfill" rather than to destroy...Thus we might speak of this New Testament hermeneutic as redemptive transformation resulting in the disarmament of these texts. p. 58-9
Paul inverts the meaning of Hosea when he asks in 1 Cor. 15 "Where, O death, is your victory?" Paul did not do this in a vacuum. Jesus also does this. When Jesus read Isa. 61 in his local synagogue, he left out the part about God's vengeance, Luke 4. Then Jesus spoke about God's miracles among the Gentiles in the Old Testament, which made his Jewish ethnocentric crowd ready to lynch him. Jesus was leaving out the promised vengeance parts and Jewish victory parts and focused on love and deliverance for any and all comers.

Flood sees the pitfall of Paul and the Pharisees still before us today. "The problem is when this focus on correct interpretation becomes primary, and love takes a backseat, the focus being placed on "being right" and "orthodox" at the expense of love." p.67. This pitfall is readily apparent in American Christianity's difficulty with race, slavery, miscegenation. All the proof texts are there to be found in the Bible when read without love, without concern for how those interpretations affect others.

As Paul writes in Romans 13,
8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Flood observes, "Love is the hermeneutical baseline." p. 69 It is just as simple and complicated as Jesus' two great commands to love God and love our neighbor. It is just as freeing and terrifying as learning to swim. As the ground beneath our feet slip away, we either learn to swim or drown or turn around, back to the limits of the shallows.

I grew up in the shallows and after 4 decades I am going out above my head, knowing that my Savior is good and loves me and will not let me drown. As Paul says in Galatians 3:24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. The tutor's swim lessons have been done for a long time. Now the lifeguard is out in the deep water (he walks on it actually) and he will not let me drown when I doubt, see Peter's story, in Matthew 14.


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