Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Context, Context, Context!

Today I came across a Facebook post that said the following:
People say respect is earned. I diagree its given. The word says give and it shall be given unto u. What have u been giving?
 Now this little blurb, in and of itself is not questionable. I believe that there is a certain amount of respect that should be given to others. There is also a certain type of respect that must be earned, but that is not the point I wish to focus on. What I would like to examine a little bit more is the use of Luke 6:38 as a basis for this statement.

I have been posting lately about how certain verses are taken out of context and turned into a pretext for heresy or heterodoxical ideas. By heterodox, I mean a departure from strict orthodox beliefs but are not heretical. In other words, I would call the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues a heterodox doctrine because it departs from strict orthodoxy regarding the historical understanding of that doctrine.

This Facebook posting, however, is a little different in that it represents just how deep the post-modern literary idea has invaded the church. You see the post-modern literary model is the idea that no one can understand the intent of a writer, unless the reader personally knows the author. Therefore, the reader can read into the literary work any idea she wants. What we have here is a clear case of that post-modern idea.

Now part of the problem that we are addressing is caused by the chapter and verse divisions that he find in the Bible. These chapter and verse divisions are not part of the existing manuscripts. They were additions made by the French Protestant printer Robert Stephanus. Many of these divisions appear arbitrary and in many cases utterly random.  They also tend to confuse readers and to be the cause of much bad teaching. These chapter and verse divisions, however, have become so ingrained that to change them now would cause mass confusion. It is possible to read the Bible and to ignore the chapter and verse divisions because there are translations that indicate paragraphs which make interpretation easier.

What the person posted was a partial quote. Now I do not want it to seem that I am picking on this particular person. I have heard this verse used as a basis for generous giving during the receiving of the offering during a church service, particularly within the Pentecostal churches. She quoted Luke 6:38. I have posted it below from the English Standard Version for you to see:
give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
 First, look at the word "give" and note that the letter g is lower case. This indicates that this word does not begin a sentence. Second, there is the pronoun "it". What does the word "it" refer to? Does it refer to the word give? If so, what are we to give? This verse, in and of itself, is very ambiguous. Since this is the case, we must look at the broader context of the verse so let's go back one verse to 37. I have posted both verses below:
 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Now the overall context of the chapter is Luke's rendition of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The particular paragraph in question is dealing with judging others. With this in mind, we can see that what is in question in verses 37 & 38 is mercy and forgiveness. It is clear from the literary context that neither respect nor money. The error demonstrated here is the the error of taking one verse out of its context and forcing it into a context that is completely foreign to the author and the audience. The point I am trying to make is that Christians must interpret the bible in a very consistent manner. We cannot play with the bible. It is a the book that God has given us, not as a guide to moral behavior, but as a guide to show us the grace, mercy & justice of God.

There is more I can say on this topic, and I will in future posts.

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