This last Sunday I was at church and my pastor was speaking on John. My Pastor was speaking about how we need look at the bible through different lenses. Specifically he was talking about three different lenses.
1. Historical- Looking at the culture in which the specific scripture was being written to.
2. Authorial- Looking at what the author is trying to convey to his audience.
3. Devotional- Trying to figure out how the scripture applies to our daily life.
It can be easy to get stuck in any one of these lens. Such as focusing more on the devotional lens, (which is not bad mind you) but then discarding what the author is trying to tell us or focusing on the historical context and forgetting that it is has meaning for us today.
This unbalanced view of the bible leads to unbalanced theologies which in turn hurts people. When scripture is taken out of context, whether it be its historical context, authorial, or devotional, it is misunderstood and then carried out in a way that puts people at risk.
For example let’s take an easy one. The issue of slavery. If you ask any American Christian if slavery is okay, chances are that they will give you a disgusted look and and say “no”. But as the argument as been made, the bible “appears” to approve of slavery. Now before you close this tab, stick with me and finish reading.
In the Historical context what do we find? When the Israelites are given the law, they had just came out of slavery. All they knew was how to be slaves and the Egyptians were not kind to them. God gives rules on how to treat the slaves, in fact they are treated better than most slaves in the world at the time. For example:
And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money. – Exodus 21
Let’s put aside the issue of selling your daughter, because there’s something else I want to point your attention to. The Master is not allowed to sell her to a foreign people and if he takes another wife, he still has to provide for her.
The Authorial Context of this would be, is God is speaking to the Israelites and teaching them how to be kinder people and to treat even slaves like human beings. It still may seem icky and confusing but also think about it like this, when a baby is moving from breastfeeding to solid foods the baby is weaned. Slowly drinking less breast milk and transitioning to solids. If you switch a baby instantly to solid foods he won’t be able to handle it.
And finally the Devotional Context would be, is to be kind to our neighbors and treat everyone as humans. Don’t treat them like dirt.
My point is that if you take the words at face value and don’t look deeper, you misunderstand
and form beliefs on those misunderstandings. And those misunderstandings hurt people a lot. We need to be careful on how we read the bible, form beliefs and share these beliefs with others. If our beliefs are hurting someone, we should look at it and ask if we are understanding it correctly. Because Christians shouldn’t be hurting people, we are to bring life and light to the world, not darkness and strife.