Phillip Owens argues that the bible needs no interpretation; it just needs to be believed word for word. I, of course, have a problem with this. I think interpretation is unavoidable and absolutely necessary. The trouble comes in how people interpret the bloody thing, not the fact that they interpret it in the first place. People seek to find meaning in everything, usually. It’s inevitable that they’d want to find meaning in this book since they’ve set their entire lives toward following it in some manner. They want purpose. They want lessons. They want explanations. Sometimes they want justifications. And sometimes they want permission to be complete and utter bastards. There are interpretations that gear themselves to any and all kinds of desires, whether terrific or fearfully terrible. I can see why Owens find this problematic, because it is. But I think his solution is quite silly and impossible to manage. For him, all you really need is the faith. The belief. Believe what you read and question nothing.
Why then don’t people “understand” this? Likely it is because of all the consequences. If Jesus is God’s Son, all He says is significant — it is authorative. His Words are true, morality is important, how we deal with each other has eternal bearing, and He will judge us in the final day (John 12:48). We should therefore live our lives according to His teaching. Therefore, Jesus’ being God’s Son is not so much interpretation as it is belief!
I can agree with part of that but what part of Jesus’ beliefs translate into believers being the best people they can possibly be? If Jesus truly meant “love thy neighbours as yourself” then why spew so much vitriol at gays or atheists? Unless “neighbour” wasn’t the word used by him back then and he really meant for followers to only love those in their local tribe only and continue to war against anyone who thinks or believes another way. Who really knows? Nobody. Nothing was written down until years after he would have died and nobody would remember what he said verbatim anyway. The whole damn thing is interpretation and guesswork intended to guide believers toward a particular thought process and goal, all of which varies depending on who’s done the interpreting.
There’s also the fact that Christians don’t seem content to just read what Jesus supposedly said and did and what Paul and company wrote later. Do they hang onto their favourite parts of the Old Testament because they remember Jesus was a Jew who would have believed that stuff? I have no idea if that’s part of it. Why do they badger the world into following archaic rules and regulations (aimed at a long-gone society) regarding propriety and sin? Why the reluctance to admit how flawed a lot of it is when compared to what we know about biology and nature and history today? Admitting that some parts aren’t worth supporting anymore doesn’t have to mean it’s necessary to completely negate the rest. I’ve never bought into the “one bad apple spoils the bunch” idea. Of course, that opens it up to more arguments about what parts need to be ignored and which need keeping…
The next part of the article focuses on New Testament verses supporting the idea that Christ meant for all his followers to follow “One Church”. He’s claiming that Christ’s intent was to build a belief system that would eventually wipe out the competition (he notes “Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes and others”) so that the only possible life choice would be his brand of Christianity for ever and always.
Since Christ is not divided, and neither Paul nor anyone but Christ was crucified for us, and we are not to be baptized into anyone except Christ, then Paul argues that we “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10-13).
This is straightforward and really needs no “interpretation.” The problem is that given hundreds of years from the first century, religious division, a plurality of man-made churches, and a failure to use only the Scriptures as our authority, we now have religious chaos.
I add to this the fact that a lot of gospels were written in those early days that were later judged to be wrong and heretical or just inappropriate for addition when the bible was assembled. Who’s to say those rejected books aren’t really more in line with what Christ thought and intended? They were chucked but what if that was the wrong move? What would this religion look like today if they’d kept those instead? Would it have lasted or died out? There’s no way to know what impact they would have had.
People choose for themselves what’s important. When preaching the gospel, those preaching will inevitably emphasize the parts that speak loudest to them. The result of that is somewhat obvious; the audience will get a biased sermon, and they may go on to give their own based around what parts they thought were most important. Sure, they’re all based on the gospels, but some will promote the goodness, others might promote good works, more will promote meek inheriting, others will focus on other key points and eventually there’s conflict over what Jesus might have thought was most important of all. What did Jesus think was most important of all? If it was this one church thing, then every Christian is a colossal failure.
To say that the New Testament teaches there is one body, one church, sounds so narrow to many. Yet it is the truth. Why do people have problems with such an “interpretation”? It is not because the Bible “means different things to different people, but because people do not believe it.
Don’t be fooled by the “just your interpretation” idea. Believe the Bible can be understood (Ephesians 3:3-5) and believe and obey the gospel.
Trouble is, the gospels are woefully out of date on many issues, and it doesn’t matter how many new versions are published, the absence of information remains. That is why people tend to interpret the text in the hopes of convincing people that Jesus was rabidly against homosexuals and abortion and evolution and climate change. A lot has been learned in 2000 years and some of what’s been learned runs completely counter to stuff in that book. Our values and motivations have changed. We’re not living in little ignorant groups of goat herders any more. We have access to so much more in the way of medicine and education and philosophy and diverse viewpoints on every issue, no matter how trite or vital. We can see how big the world is. We can better know how our decisions will affect others, be they our neighbours or enemies half a world away. We’re better equipped to see the big picture. Maybe it can be argued we’re still woefully inept at dealing with it, but admitting that puts us in a far better position to fix it, I’m sure. We know what needs doing and those who can and care are working on it.
What good does it to do read a bible and believe every word printed within it? How does that fix anything? It strikes me that to do so would be avoidance, turning one’s back on the problems of the world in order to focus on personal salvation in the last days, for believers would be forced to agree with Jesus and John and Paul: the apocalypse is imminent and the earth is doomed. Why find alternatives to oil? Why give children a decent science education when they won’t live long enough to use it? Why care about the environment? A world’s worth of unbelievers will be going to hell any moment now, so why bother? Jesus loves me and will guide me to heaven! I can hardly wait to sit up on my cloud and watch flames devour everyone who doesn’t think like I do.
What a waste of brain power that kind of thinking is.
If belief in god and Jesus Christ is what gets some people through the day, whatever. Fine. But they really shouldn’t buy into what people like Owen preach. Belief in those words is not enough. How those words are interpreted makes a huge impact on what people do because of them. What are they doing because of them? How are they behaving? How are they treating people? How are they educating their children? How are they dealing with the clash of reality when it bumps up against their precious tome? How do they vote? How do they think? How do they react? All of that is going to matter more than anything in that book.