The Nature of Scripture and Revelation

How should scripture be interpreted? Is it all infallible and absolutely true? Is it all literal, or is it all metaphorical? Or is it somewhere in between?

My personal feeling is that scripture is a little bit of all that, but I'm trying to iron it all out, so any input you have is very very welcome.

There's a radio station in the Bay Area (where I live) that has an adverstisement for their home Bible study course, and they say bluntly that scripture should interpret scripture.

I can hang with that. But then they go on to say that, accordingly, we don't need to consider the initial intentions, meanings, cultures, or circumstances surrounding the Bible. Something there sounds a little fishy to me. I don't see the Bible making that claim for itself--though in II Timothy, Paul says that all scripture is indeed profitable for many things. Why, if the Bible is infallible, would we need to make the ADDITIONAL claim ON BEHALF of the Bible that it is indeed infallible--would an infallible book not make that claim for itself?

So how should we, as followers of Jesus, approach scripture? Sometimes, I think I see Jesus revering the scriptures he had, the Law of Moses--like during his wilderness temptations. Other times, though, it seems like he dismisses the Mosaic Law--particularly those scriptures regarding the Sabbath, the purity scriptures, and the scripture on divorce. Lots of people I know like to say that because Jesus was God he could do whatever he wanted in regard to the Word--but if God never changes, why did He change his eternal Word?

And, if we must then conclude that the law is just a temporary expression of an eternal Word, and then apply it to the New Testament canon, we have something of a loose standard for interpreting scripture. So, uh, that's where I'm at--how SHOULD we approach interpreting the Bible?

I could buy that

I could buy that, Jesus doing that detailing of the law down there in the dirt. But the thing is, it wasn't the false setup or inconsistent legal procedures that turned off the accusers. It was the words of Jesus. "They which heard it" does not indicate (it seems) a reading of words in the sand. It seems that they are responding to Jesus statement, "He who is without sin." It looks like the legal requirements for stoning were indeed met, because their were not just one or two satisfactory witnesses, but an entire multitude.

But you could argue that Jesus, with his doodling in the dirt, was establishing their personal lack of credibility. But isn't that conjecture?

The real problem with this entire account, though, is pinning down exactly where it belongs and why. In some older manuscripts, this account is missing. In others, this account appears in the margins of Luke, as though the copysists were sort of nervous about or unsure of how to include this account without undermining the overall message of the gospel; "live righteously or be separated from God" might be less convincing when the adultrous woman is let so blanketly off the hook.

For whatever reason, though, the account is now included in John. And I think (personally) that this is where it belongs, because it matches the structure and method of that particular Gospel--a specific sign or miracle leading to a lengthy discussion that reveals futher the character of Jesus. That's the structure throughout the gospel of John.

This particular act or sign (his forgiveness of the woman's particular sin) leads to a lengthy discussion about what exactly is a proper witness, what exactly the law really DOES require, and about being set free from the power and penalty of sin under the law through the authority of Jesus.

If we were supposed to approach this passage from the legal rabbinical persepctive, I don't think Jesus would go on to lay out basic facts about the law, fulfill the requirements, and then go on to undermine them. This passage, like the Gospel of John, seems aimed at Gentiles who are at best barely familiar with the rabbinical traditions, and this particular passage seems aimed at establishing Jesus' right or authority to work outside of or above the law--as he did (for example) by supporting water baptism for the remission of sin.

To switch gears for a minute, I should acknowledge that I think of Jesus as an observant Jew, but probably not one we would call an orthodox Jew by any means. This opinion is malleable, not one I'm dead set on as of yet, and I think that if anyone could argue for the orthodox perspective, it would probably be someone like you, Talmid. For example, in my readings, I've never heard that explanation, that Jesus was establishing any kind of unfitness in the witnesses. It sounds like a pretty credible explanation.

Previously, I'd settled for approaching it from the same kind of symbolism we find when Jesus spat in the dirt and made clay, which he then used to heal a blind man (also in John, right? John as an author uses symbolism very well and very frequently). Jesus sort of went back to the "source material" of mankind--the dirt--and fixed the problem. Perhaps, I've conjectured for awhile now, we're supposed to pick up on this imagery here again; as he releases the woman from the penalty of her sin, he returns to that source material.

But the judicial approach you recommend seems also to fit with what follows in the discourse between Jesus and the Pharisees. I'll give it some more thought.

Where could I look to find out more regarding the rabbinical traditions, especially during that first century A.D.?

"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." John 5.39-40




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