20 Apr 2016

Common Core Hermeneutics: Thoughts on the Abuse and Purpose of Scripture

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Discipleship, Hermeneutics, Patternism, Precision Obedience, Sectarianism

o-COMMON-CORE-MATH-570Paul lamented to his associate Timothy,

“[some] desiring to be teachers of the law [= Bible], without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions” (1 Timothy 1.7, NRSV)

I want to offer just a few observations on what I believe to be the abuse of Scripture. Then a word on the purpose of Scripture. Some of these have troubled me for a very long time.  Others are of more recent origin.

Twisting Scripture to Fit a Humanly Made Pattern

Some teachers/preachers approach Scripture with the same sort of mysterious approach as advocates of Common Core math approach solving math.

I have read, and re-read, probably the most sophisticated treatise on “pattern” hermeneutics in Churches of Christ half a dozen times since 1994, We Be Brethren by J. D. Thomas.  J. D. Thomas was not some rank legalist at all. Parts of the work are stimulating revealing his debt to K. C. Moser on the doctrine of grace and his concern for unity. I salute these!

Other parts of the book make me scratch my head wildly, because I do not see how he literally jumps from “here” on the number line to “there” in the name of “logic,” but are gross violations of all the “laws of exegesis!” For example on p. 36 he comments on 1 Cor 16.1-2 for a weekly collection for “general purposes.”

A careful study of this in light of the Standard Authority Diagram forces the recognition that this passage alone, EXCLUDES [sic] a first day of the week collection for general church purposes.”

However that is a problem. We “know” we have been commanded to take up a collection (based on what you may ask?). So he declares that other “necessary inferences or examples” establish a “pattern requirement” (my emphasis) for such.

So, some how we have a passage that by Thomas’s own admission excludes the weekly contribution for general church purposes.  Yet through Common Core Hermeneutics the text has been completely subverted, and reversed, to actually be part of a pattern to bind what was actually excluded! … Scratch my head.

Thomas is not a legalist but the algorithm used to subvert the biblical text, according to his own understanding, is in fact legalistic.  Pattern hermeneutics are more bizarre than Common Core Math.

We Be Brethren, p. 19

We Be Brethren, p. 19

But in its context, the passage is neither binding nor libertine because Paul never addressed that subject in the first place.

If we recognize the priority of the biblical narrative, however, we discover that giving of our means, sharing in the bounty of God with one another, and aliens, is intrinsic with the identity of the People of God from the Hebrew Bible. Paul never had to address such an issue because it is endemic to Israel’s mission. The issue in 1 Cor 16 is, for Paul, what amounts to the fulfillment of prophecy,  the treasures of the nations flowing into Zion demonstrating the unity of Gentiles with Jews.

Thomas B. Warren in his Common Core Hermeneutical textbook, When is an ‘Example’ Binding? uses a similarly bizarre hermeneutical approach to transform an express command in the New Testament not to do something into a command to do it!

First Corinthians 14.39-40 is the text. I grew up hearing the scripture “let all things be done decently and in order.”  I never once, according to my memory, heard the rest of the sentence. I was blown away when I read “So brother be eager to prophecy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues …”  If you have a decent translation it even lets you know that verse 39 and verse 40 are part of the same sentence in Greek!

Warren is at pains to demonstrate that the command of v.39 is not only not binding but that “Christians today ARE [sic] under obligation to teach others that it is wrong either to attempt to or to claim to be able to ‘speak in tongues.'” (p. 55).

But one has to accept Warren’s own presuppositions and positions in order to arrive at his position.  A position that is dictated by his doctrine not the text.  It is a startling confession by Warren,

“If one rejects the basic thesis of this book, THEN HE HAS NO VALID WAY OF SHOWING THAT THE COMMANDS SET FORTH in verse 39 ARE NOT BINDING” (p. 55, my emphasis).

But we are obligated to forbid what Paul said not to forbid! Therefore we must accept the thesis of Warren, to prove that it would be sinful to actually obey the apostle’s command!

So through some process known as patternism you can take the express words of the Holy Spirit and turn them into the exact opposite in order to be “faithful.”  Patternism places one under moral obligation to disobey the express words of Paul and substitute them for humanly constructed wisdom.

I remember wrestling with both Thomas and Warren and deciding that there had to be a better way than common core hermeneutics.

A Tool to Frighten or Manipulate

Some teachers/preachers use the Bible in unhealthy and even sectarian ways. I know a teacher that gave a communion meditation to teenagers and used Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. I was like, why?

Why during a time of communion this person thought it appropriate to speak in such a way that centers on fear and getting everything just so or else one might get fried and go to hell like Nadab and Abihu, the meditation had a good “denominational” point to it.

The Table that celebrates the death and resurrection of the One who died for those who were “enemies” to prove the “love of God.” But the Table was turned into Nightmare on Elm Street!

I did, in fact, approach the speaker afterwards and shared Dr. Pepper and an Oreo with him. The speaker had no clue that the second half of the chapter (Lev 10.12-20) tells a story of two more brothers. He never heard of them! Why had he never finished reading the whole of the text. The truth that this brother used the text to further a sectarian agenda is proven by the fact that he had never taken the time to actually read the entire chapter much less study it.  The Holy Spirit’s agenda is witnessed by the whole chapter not one portion of it ripped from the rest.

Leviticus 10 is not about some mere technicality or one gets fried. This is proven by the fact that Moses under the inspiration of the Spirit juxtaposes Eleazar and Ithamar with Nadab and Abihu! Leviticus 10 is about God’s Holiness and God’s Grace. It is not about a God that carries a micrometer and counts pepper specks. Beyond that why, why, use that text to scare teenagers but in some convoluted Common Core Hermeneutic it was deemed to be a “word fitly spoken.”

Scripture places us within a Story. We are faithful to God as we live that Story.

Scripture places us within a Story. We are faithful to God as we live that Story.

What does Scripture Do?

A great deal of the Bible is about trying to get the people of God to believe certain truths about themselves. To conceive of themselves within God’s Story. That is the Scripture is about shaping an identity. Identity is essential for living and doing … I “am” Bobby Valentine. I cannot be some one other than me. I have an identity. The Scriptures seek to mold and refashion our identity. In what way? First, Scripture tells me that I am “created in the image of God.” It is amazing what happens to us when we believe that we are a “creature” with a derivative existence. Simply living is a gift of grace! Second, Scripture tells me that I am “redeemed by God.” So my identity, I have a conscious sense of being “created” and “redeemed” which revolutionizes our view of ourselves and the world.

Let me illustrate briefly. Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5.13). This is a statement of fact. Jesus does not say you should be, or will be, rather he says you are.

Now, every Jew understands the significance of salt. Salt is part of every sacrifice (Lev 2.13). When a sacrifice is made the indestructible nature of salt reminds the worshiper of the astounding grace that God is in an unbreakable covenant with us. Twice the phrase “covenant of salt” is used in the Hebrew Bible to stress this very point (cf. Num 18.19 & 2 Chron. 13.5). Salt is grace! But Israel, Abraham’s seed, is not only the in a covenant of salt but they are God’s salt in the world. Their Mission, their Identity, shaped and declared by Scripture is to be a blessing.

We can paraphrase Jesus by saying “You [it is an emphatic you in Mt 5.13] are God’s gift of grace to the world.” That is what it means to be the salt of the earth. Mt 5.13 centers on identity. I “am” created. I “am” redeemed. I “am” salt. I “am” God’s grace in the world.

Scripture is primarily the proclamation of what God has done for the world in and thru his people who are supremely identified with Jesus. Before people had a dozen unread versions in their homes they would gather and hear scripture sung and proclaimed. Why do you think the Psalms tell the story of Israel? Because no one had a Bible! Where did they hear the Psalms? In worship at the Temple! Thus when one heard the Word proclaimed, the Word spoke of the faithfulness of the God, that said his commitment to us is a indestructible as that salt – in spite of the fact that we are Nadab and Abihu EVERYDAY! Scripture through the Holy Spirit seeks to transform us not traumatize us.

So I hear the Levites sing, and we join in, Psalms 105, 106, 107 … God’s Love, Our faithlessness, God’s indestructible Love. Psalm 107 challenges the hearer of the word to “consider” how God has delivered them over and over … to have a sense that I am the one redeemed … When that is my identity then I “am” the salt of the earth. As salt we are generous as God himself is generous.  No need to twist a scripture that by one’s own admission teaches the opposite I seek to bind!

That is what Scripture is doing shaping identity. Scripture is not arguing over trivia and it certainly is not about painting idolatrous pictures of the Father of Jesus that portray him more like Baal or Zeus than the one portrayed in a covenant of salt.

You are Created. You are Redeemed. You are Salt. You, a plural, are the gift of God’s grace in the world. Scripture is trying to get you and I to believe that. When we believe it. We will live it.

Just a thought on Scripture

5 Responses to “Common Core Hermeneutics: Thoughts on the Abuse and Purpose of Scripture”

  1. Dwight Says:

    I believe RP and CENI which is the result of RP to cause much confusion and sectarian thinking in our manipulations of text.
    We basically do what the Jewish leaders and Pharisees did in refining law and create an environment based on fear based ultimately on human judgments that we hold up as God’s law.
    We will find a single example and it becomes law and reject a clear command as not applicable due to “culture”.
    And then we spend our life brow-beating others with “law” and not living to help others in love.

  2. Ray Hawk Says:

    Thanks. Context is very important. Very good article.

  3. Al Cornell Says:

    I just got this as a repost from Tim or Kathy Thompson. You caused me to pull We be Brethren off the shelf. Purchased 2-11-69. One of only a couple books I just never made it through–my marker is still at page 40. I had written in 2 margin notes: page 23 “this seems to require perfection of understanding” and page 32 “what makes these necessary? did the early church have them?” At that time I was a quite devout part as a first year student at Bear Valley, but never completely understood the ‘math.’ Nope, I’m not going to read it now!

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