A Cure for Fundamentalism

Fundamentalists believe that every word in the Bible was dictated by the Holy Spirit to the 40 writers of the Scriptures. Thus fundamentalists view the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as one whole book written by God, using 40 writers as amanuenses. If you press them, they will admit that God allowed the various personalities of the 40 writers to come through the writing, and they readily admit that the writers wrote in their own vernaculars or dialects.

Fundamentalists also readily admit and advise that in order to understand the Scriptures one must understand who is writing, to whom the letter or book is aimed at, who is speaking, and to whom is the speaker speaking. The old illustration they give is that the instruction: “Build an ark of gopher wood, 300 cubits long,” was not intended for us today.

Even though fundamentalists assert these principles, they will readily say things like: “The Bible says, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel.'” “The Bible says clearly that ‘women are to remain silent.'” “The New Testament is completely silent about authorizing instrumental music in worship.”

These are misleading statements, leaving out the important hermeneutic principles that fundamentalists say they believe. So an exercise in being more precise could be: to specify the particular writer when quoting a scripture: “The Gospels of Matthew and Mark record Jesus instructing his apostles to “go into all the world, preaching the gospel.” “The apostle Paul said in his letter to Timothy at Ephesus that the women were to learn in silence.” These qualifications of the biblical quotation immediately give us far more information than before, and put the quotations into a context that modifies the hearers’ impressions and understanding of the passages. Questions pop up: If Jesus were here today, would he give the same instruction to go into all the world and preach the good news? If the apostle Paul were here in the United States in 2012 would he give the same instruction to Timothy, to instruct the women to learn in silence?

Once one starts asking those questions, one can no longer remain a fundamentalist. Within a year or two of asking those questions one becomes much more specific about what actual passages say and mean to the people of the first century, and then to us in 2012.

Eventually one begins to look at how the early church established whether the Holy Spirit was moving in one direction or another. The apostle Paul seldom said, “I am an apostle and therefore everything I write is dictated word for word by the Holy Spirit, and you have to obey it.” No, almost never did he say that. Instead he engaged his readers in a reasoned journey of logic, built on the stories and traditions they already believed in. And he had a heavy task. He had to persuade his readers that the Jewish way of life, as encompassed by the Feast Days, the temple worship and even circumcision and kosher foods, was past. He had to say that the Gentiles who embraced the love and forgiveness of God, epitomized in the sacrifice of Jesus, were fully Jews without circumcision and kosher eating practices. Wow! And the apostle Paul was talking to fundamentalists!

When Paul was in Jerusalem reporting back about the work he was doing among the Gentiles, they had a big meeting in Jerusalem to determine whether the Gentile believers in Jesus were going to be part of their community or not. Paul and Barnabas had to persuade the people that what they were doing was from the Holy Spirit. Then the people compared what Paul and Barnabas were doing with the Hebrew scriptures and made a group decision.

So your homework is: Whenever you quote a passage of scripture, name the writer and the audience. I predict it will change your view of the Scriptures over the next year.

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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8 Responses to A Cure for Fundamentalism

  1. I pray now that you reconsider and examine yourself. Let these scriptures challenge you.

    Paul did say, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13).

    Paul did say, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul said, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
    For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12).

    Peter said while recognizing Paul’s epistles (2 Pet. 3:15-16) as scripture with John and Peter’s own writings (2 Pet. 1:16-21), “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Remember to keep this in all contexts including 2 Pet. 1:16-19 and also 2 Pet. 3:15-16.

    Btw, the word mistranslated “silence” in 1 Tim. 2:11-12 simply means quietness as used for all Christians to live in quietness (1 Tim. 2:2).

    • Hi Scott,
      I’m not sure how these scriptures would challenge what I wrote. In what way do they disagree with what I wrote?

      • I should have been clearer, but I wasn’t for the sake of reply. I was showing that these scriptures were not just to who they addressed. First Corinthians was to the Corinthians while also to “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:2), and 2 Corinthians was to Corinth “with all the saints who are in all Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1). Paul taught the same in every church (1 Cor. 4:17, 7:17). His commands are from the Lord (14:37), and from the Spirit of Christ (2:13, cf. Gal. 1:11-12). Also, that the Scriptures were to all even those not addressed as seen by Peter saying that all of Paul’s epistle were scriptures to those who he did not address like those in Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Pontus (2 Pet. 3:15-16, cf. 2 Pet. 3:1, 1 Pet. 1:1).

        I wanted you to keep these passages in mind when considering who is being addressed and how the message of the Scriptures are to all. Take care.

      • reyjacobs says:

        “Also, that the Scriptures were to all even those not addressed as seen by Peter saying that all of Paul’s epistle were scriptures to those who he did not address like those in Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Pontus (2 Pet. 3:15-16, cf. 2 Pet. 3:1, 1 Pet. 1:1).”

        Peter did NOT say Paul’s writings are scripture. What is written in 2 Peter 3:15-16 is:

        “[15] And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul (according to the wisdom given unto him) has also written to you; [16] As also in all of his epistles in which he speaks of these things, in which there are some things hard to understand, which those that are unlearned and unstable twist to their own destruction as they do also his other writings.”

        The phrase commonly translated “as they do the other scriptures” is a biased translation and a lie. In Greek there is no specialized term “scripture” and it is very common for the word “the” in Greek to mean “his.” In this context Peter clearly has in mind two types of Pauline epsitles: (1) those which speak of these things [i.e. how the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation] (2) those that do not speak of these things. He is saying they twist Paul’s writings which speak of these things just as they do Paul’s writings which do not speak of these things. Mistranslation, however, turns this into a magic passage whereby Peter himself canonizes Paul–but that is absurdity.

        Furthermore, Peter clearly has in mind epistles that Paul actually wrote directly to these people. “even as our beloved brother Paul (according to the wisdom given unto him) has also written to you” — Paul wrote epistles to those in Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Pontus according to this, but we obviously don’t have them. Its a shame, because perhaps they were better than the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistles that have come down to us.

        Furthermore, there is no reasonable expectation from what Peter says that Peter has truly read ALL of Paul’s epistles. Especially if you follow the standard interpretation, i.e. as in the King James Version where he says “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things;” — If Peter means that Paul speaks of how the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation in ALL his epistles (as the KJV implies) then clearly Peter has only read a SMALL subset of the Pauline epistles for many of them DO NOT speak of these things. Therefore, if Peter is canonizing the Pauline epistles (per the KJV translation) he is only canonizing those which speak of these things. Any Pauline epistle, then, that does not speak of how the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, is NOT canonical per Peter’s statement (as translated in the KJV).

    • reyjacobs says:

      “I pray now that you reconsider and examine yourself. Let these scriptures challenge you.”

      To reconsider what? Accurately citing what book you are quoting instead of a lame “the Bible says…”? One of the most annoying things to me is that since so much preaching in the CoC centers around Paul (incidentally because he’s the only one who talks about the ‘worship service’ and that’s what most of the preaching is about) preachers end up saying “Paul said….” when they are quoting the Torah or the gospel of Matthew! There’s nothing wrong with being accurate in your scripture citations–against such there is no law!

      And it is true that knowing who wrote what is the cure for fundamentalism. For example, Paul in Romans 4 cites Genesis 15:6. Is it not important to know what is being said by Moses here versus what is merely Paul’s interpretation of Moses?

      For example (and in the CoC this explanation of mine ought to be given MASSIVE weight, yet you seem to take the same Calvinistic/Protestant tact that Paul is right on justification by faith apart from works [which you don’t even believe in] despite his clear misuse of the passage he is citing:

      Genesis 15:6 “And he believed in the LORD; and [he] counted it to him for righteousness.”

      Romans 4:3 “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

      Do you not see that Genesis 15:6 as it actually stands ought to be interpreted that Abraham believed God and counted God as righteous because he believed God? Paul has changed the second clause (which in Moses is ACTIVE) to a PASSIVE. Paul has changed the actor (the one who counts the other as righteous) from Abraham to God. Hence, a passage explaining that Abraham counted God as righteous because he believed that God would keep his promise to make his descendants as numerous as the sands of the sea is turned by Paul into a statement that Abraham was justified by faith alone!

      It matters, then, to know what writer is saying what so you can know when one writer is misinterpreting another. And this is what cured me of fundamentalism–yea this very set of passages!

      • Hi Rey,
        Fascinating idea that Abraham was calling God righteous! I looked it up and found a Jewish theologian who says the Hebrew is vague and ambiguous. Evidently in Paul’s day it meant that God called Abraham righteous, because Paul was trying to convince Jewish believers, and I don’t think he would have used a premise that Jewish people of his day did not agree with.

      • reyjacobs says:

        I can understand the idea that its ambiguous (which is all the more reason to NOT base your whole theology on it the way Paul does) but I don’t agree. The reason is that each verse in this context starts with “he” and the beginning of each verse switches “he” from being Abraham to God or God to Abraham. Its not grammatically possible, then, for it to switch mid-sentence in this verse. Realizing this is what first brought me to this interpretation. Later reading a book titled something like “A Defense of Judaism against Proselytizing Christianity” by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (from the 1800s) I found that the interpretation has been around for a long time.

        Beginning with verse 5:

        5 And he [God] brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he [God] said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
        [Notice how ‘he’ stays the same person throughout the verse and does not switch to Abraham.]
        6 And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he [Abraham] counted it to him for righteousness.
        [It switches at the verse beginning.]
        7 And he [God] said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
        8 And he [Abraham] said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
        9 And he [God] said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
        10 And he [Abraham] took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

        In order for Paul’s interpretation to work, therefore, it would be like this: “6 And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he [God] counted it to him for righteousness. 7 And he [God] said unto him,” BUT THAT BREAKS THE PATTERN. So I don’t see any ambiguity. In verse 6 Abraham is always the subject, as with the other verses; the meaning of ‘he’ does not switch mid verse.

        The best way to defend Paul is to say that despite the LXX being wrong he used it because he was writing to Greek speakers and didn’t want to undermine their translation. But even though that defends him from mistranslating the verse personally, it doesn’t defend him from creating a doctrine based on a mistranslation that he must have known was a mistranslation.

  2. Phil says:

    When Paul said that we are to live according to the Spirit (In Romans 8) was he talking about living directly from God’s Spirit which resides in each believer, or was he instructing to live from the words of the Spirit (the written biblical) text?

    The fundamentalists would say that all we have are words to live by, and that God does not have a direct communication connection with believers. However, Paul did not even suggest such in Romans 8. He said to live according to the Spirit. Well, the Spirit dwells in us so why can’t we live directly from God’s Spirit, as Paul suggests?

    I want to know how the fundamentalists would respond to this?

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