ch. 4 a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

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 4 is titled, "The divorce of ethics from exegesis." Citing the research of Rabbi Anson Laytner, Flood agrees that the multi-vocal nature of the Old Testament that continued in the Talmud and throughout Jewish culture. "...it's said that Jewish exegesis is often more comfortable with asking questions than it is with giving answers. After all, the very name of 'Israel' means 'wrestles with God'." p. 73

Flood then reviews some early church leaders' approaches to the contrasts between the ethics of Jesus and the texts of terror in the Old Testament. Marcion is notorious for his approach, rejecting the Old completely. For this proposal he was excommunicated and labled a heretic. Flood points out that this extreme of labeling the OT as all bad is no worse than labeling everything in the OT as all good. Another, more popular approach among the early church fathers, as also used by St. Paul, is reading the OT as allegory. He quotes Origen frequently.
Acknowledging that these Old Testament accounts of war and genocide are "exceedingly difficult" to make sense of morally, Origen insists that we much go beyond the "ordinary usage that speech would indicate" to find the meaning of the Spirit which lies "profoundly buried" beneath it. p.79
Origen saw the same results Flood sees today. The literal reading of the Old Testament results in heartless Christians whose answers to questions over the atrocities in the Bible are "God's ways are higher than ours," and a hindrance of their spiritual maturity.
Again, what becomes clear from this is that the early church was in fact in agreement with Marcion that the violent picture of God the came from a literal reading was incompatible with Christ, leading people to, as Origen puts it, a view that makes God look worse than "the most unjust and cruel of men." p. 80
It's as if Richard Dawkins started reading Origen before his books making the same claims. Yet Dawkins missed Origen's solution.

As an example of Paul's allegorical readings, the New Testament reading from the lectionary for today easily shows this.
Galatians 4:21 - 5:1 (NRSV) Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
"Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married." 
 Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? "Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman." So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Isaac is the hero in the Jewish story, but Paul makes the children of promise the Christians, including Gentiles who believe, and Jews as well as Gentiles who do not believe in Jesus are not the children of promise. He completely hijacks the story and gives it all new meaning in light of God's final revelation in Christ.

However, Flood contends allegory is not enough. His call to faithful questioning is a call to exegete with the ethics of Jesus having equal weight in the process of interpretation and application as the use of grammatical and historical techniques. "The starting point for that ethical engagement, however, begins with having the simple common sense to recognize that things like infanticide, genocide, and cannibalism are simply and always categorically wrong. Frankly, it does not require a great deal of moral insight to recognize this." p. 87

I would have to faithfully question Flood on this last point. I do not agree with Flood when this assumption of common moral sense is applied to all cultures, hence the non-issue for the Jews who produced these texts of terror without ethical contraint. I think Jesus is the key to the moral insight. It was the early Christians who recognized the immorality of infanticide and rescued babies off Roman trash heaps. It was Christian missionaries who discouraged cannibalism among cultures when they encountered it, proclaiming the hope of a resurrection for those bodies. Thus, moral common sense is not that common among all cultures. Although I do agree it should be among Christians.

As far as Flood sees it, just as Jesus and Paul as faithful Jews questioned the text, so should we and not choose between Marcion and Origen. I give Flood the last word, "Rather than censoring and sanitizing out the undesirable parts, we are called by the text itself to learn to make ethical evaluations. Rather that being being dependent on an authoritarian text, the very disputatious nature of the Hebrew canon invites us to engage with the text in this debate as morally responsible adults." p. 88

Comments

Popular Posts