Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Bible is not the Word of God

The title of this post might seem shocking to some, but it is standard Quaker theology. One traditional formulation of this is that Christ is the Word of God and the Bible is the words of God. The Bible provides a history of God's working with people in the past and so is instructive to us as we try to make sense of how God is working with us today. Barclay discusses this issue at length in his 3'rd Proposition. I have already discussed this here  and here.  The Barclays full text on the subject can be found here

Today I would like to focus on 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, in order that the person of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

I would like to point out what this passage doesn't say. It does not say that Scripture was written by God. It does not say that it is infallible or inerrant. It says that it was inspired by God, which means that it was written by humans who were inspired. From which one can conclude, in fact, that there is also a human element in scripture as well. Quakers, at least unprogrammed Quakers, have experience with the differing degrees of the divine and the human elements in the inspired messages they receive each Sunday. We need to listen to the Bible with the same discerning ear we use in Meeting for Worship.

Secondly, it is important to understand what Paul meant by Scripture. He was not referring to what we now call the Bible, since it had not all been written at the time. Those parts of the Christian Testament that had been written would not be assembled until several hundred years later. Scripture, for Paul and other early Christians, would have meant what we call the Hebrew Testament. This is significant because this contains the Law of Moses. Paul elsewhere says that following the law does not lead to salvation. So Paul is not saying that Scripture is a rule to live by. He certainly is not saying that what he writes in his letters should be used to create a new set of rules to govern Christian behavior. All he is saying is that study of scripture is useful for preparing a Christian to be competent and equipped for the work to which they are called.

There are many Christian writers and teachers who quote Paul extensively to crate a rule of morality for people to follow. This seems to be applied in particular to areas of sexual morality and the role of women in the church and society. For example in Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul says:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This is often used to justify the position that wives should be submissive their husbands. But that was not what I think Paul was really about here. I think that he was trying to paint a vision of what the Kingdom of God would look like. He is presenting a radical and revolutionary vision of marriage as a relationship of love and respect and saying that this is the model for living in the Kingdom of God. This applies both to the family and to the church and its relationship with God. Paul is saying that our personal relationships need to mirror our relationship with God. This remains a radical and counter-cultural vision. To turn it into a set of rules that limit the role of women is in fact to turn the meaning of this passage on its head.

The Bible provides us with stories of how God has worked in the lives of people and peoples in the past. It provides us with a vision of what is possible if we have faith in the voice of God as we experience it. It provides us with reason to trust in the love of God for us and for all humanity. There are times in our spiritual development where having a clear set of directions as to how to live our lives is important, but this is not what God is calling us to. In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul warns about those who are “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.” We are called to follow the law of God that is written on our hearts, and not in books. We are called to be friends of God and not servants. We are called to be sons and daughters and not slaves. We are called to live in the transforming power of God's love. We need to have faith in God and trust the freedom that is being offered to us.


Will T

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