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Exercising our Interpreting Muscles: Testing Our Interpretive Framework. A Curriculum for Being a Faithful Church 4.1 (Developed by the MCBC Faith and Life Committee). Session 1. Beginning Well.

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Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

Exercising our Interpreting Muscles: Testing Our Interpretive Framework

A Curriculum for Being a Faithful Church 4.1

(Developed by the MCBC Faith and Life Committee)

Session 1


Beginning well

Beginning Well

  • Take some time for prayer. Ask the same Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture so many centuries ago to breathe once more, anew and afresh, into your work together as you seek ethical guidance and discernment through our sacred Scriptures.

  • Perhaps pray the following:

    Our Lord and our God,

    now as we study your Word together, fill us with your Spirit. Soften our hearts that we may delight in your presence. Sharpen our minds that we may discern your truth.

    Shape our wills that we may desire your ways.

    Through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.


Twelve paths and six ditches

“Twelve Paths and Six Ditches”

  • Since March 2009, Canadian Mennonites have been in conversation together about how we interpret the Bible for ethical guidance.

  • The title the General Board of Mennonite Church Canada has given to this multi-year process is “Being a Faithful Church (BFC).”

  • As we’ve been talking about how to read our Bibles well, we have agreed that we need to try to “stay on the paths and avoid the ditches.”

  • Discernment and feedback received from individuals and congregations across Canada have been summarized into the following “twelve paths” and “six ditches”…


Twelve paths

Twelve Paths

  • The life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are central and serve as the critical lens of interpretation that helps us understand all of scripture.

  • Context makes a difference in how scripture is interpreted, understood, and applied for faith and life. Context refers not only to the importance of understanding the time and place out of which scripture emerged and to which it was addressed. It also refers to our time and place and how that impacts our understandings of scripture.


Twelve paths1

Twelve Paths

  • Scripture already interprets scripture. It is very important to pay close attention to this inter-textual interpretation because this already gives us essential clues in the ways we need to understand how various passages relate to each other.

  • Jesus also interprets scripture. One response focused exclusively on trying to understand the “hermeneutics of Jesus,” (i.e., how the Gospel writers portray the way Jesus uses and interprets the Old Testament). It is evident that we can learn much from that in our own reading of scripture.


Twelve paths2

Twelve Paths

  • It is important to take the entire canon of scripture as our base of operations for healthy hermeneutics. The fact that scripture already interprets scripture compels us to use the whole of scripture in order to better understand each part.

  • Scripture persistently hopes that the letters of its words will become a living word in a world in need of redemption. This does not diminish the authority of scripture, but sharpens it and makes it real in our community and to the world. This pathway indicates that other sources can illuminate what scripture also teaches.


Twelve paths3

Twelve Paths

  • It is the Holy Spirit who guides the interpretive community in faithfulness, and in faithfully understanding scripture for our lives. This means that we must continually open our hearts and minds to the work of the Spirit within and among us. Without this, “the text is just black marks on the paper.”

  • Scripture calls us to remember that we are a part of a larger story of “God’s love affair with the world.” The Gospel’s command to go and baptize and the invitation to remember the Lord ’s Supper are prime examples of when we “do not forget” how God has accompanied us. The yearning to know God is inseparably connected to “remembering” the story of God, a story that we now acknowledge as our own.


Twelve paths4

Twelve Paths

  • “Knowing” is inseparable from “doing,” “hearing” is inseparable from “acting,” and “praxis [practice] is indispensible for gnosis [knowledge].” Jesus’ hermeneutic also repeatedly indicates this critical connection between “works [erga] and faith [pistis].” In other words, on a hike we need to walk and not just sit on the path and contemplate the map.

  • Scripture is a “delight” that serves also for devotional refreshment and daily inspiration. The “delight” of scripture is even greater when we can hike together rather than going out on a lone trek.


Twelve paths5

Twelve Paths

  • We need to see our interpretive community as larger than the people we can see around us. The hiking trail we are on has already been forged by many who have gone before us. They have left markers on the trail to help those who come after and we will leave markers for those coming behind us. This does not mean that we can’t make the trail better, create short-cuts where advisable, remove obstacles for better mobility, and so on. The interpretive community extends geographically beyond those in our hiking group; it is not restricted to our choice of time and schedule; and it is not constrained by our particular agenda. We must affirm the critical importance of those on the trail with us at this time – those who have gone before, and those who are hiking at the same time, but on trails that may be geographically and culturally distant from us. The awareness of other hikers should not, however, close our eyes to the contextual dangers lurking on our hike and the scenic beauty that may highlight something new for us.


Twelve paths6

Twelve Paths

  • Jesus is portrayed as “consistently interpreting scripture in reference to, and with regard for the needs/realities of “the least” - the most needy and vulnerable (the poor, the sick, the foreigner/outsider, women, social outcasts...).” God’s intention through scripture is to bring wholeness to creation, justice to the orphans and widows, sight and healing to the blind and the lame, reconciliation and salvation to the sinners.


Six ditches

Six Ditches

  • The desire to keep Jesus central to hermeneutics at times leads some to disconnect him from his own scriptural roots (The Hebrew Bible) and his own social/political context in 1st century Palestine. We need to avoid both of these ditches and not leave Jesus without a context.


Six ditches1

Six Ditches

  • We should avoid the temptation to set the Old Testament aside. The Old Testament is part of our scripture for at least two reasons: i) The New Testament is grounded in Old Testament language, images, quotations, and assumptions and therefore the two Testaments cannot and should not be separated; ii) The Old Testament speaks to things that the New Testament may not highlight. “All of scripture witnesses to God’s revelation.” “Both Testaments carry a living word of God for us.” “Our task is to attempt to discern how all of scripture might function as a word from God to us.”


Six ditches2

Six Ditches

  • We need to avoid proof-texting. “Prooftexting is essentially the use of a text to support or reject a position without giving sufficient attention to the meaning and function of that text in its historical and literary setting in the Bible, and without bringing it into dialogue with other texts particularly relevant to the issue.” This definition highlights the importance of both context and canon for healthy interpretation.


Six ditches3

Six Ditches

  • We need to avoid generalizations without having immersed ourselves in particular texts. This is the opposite of proof-texting and is equally detrimental to theological discernment. Some of the most common generalizations are: “the Bible says,” or “all we need is love,” or “let’s just focus on justice.” Each of these generalizations needs to be understood from particular texts.


Six ditches4

Six Ditches

  • “We should not assume that our own context is either static or normative when interpreting the Bible.” The Apostle Paul says that “now we see in a mirror dimly... now I know only in part.” (I Corinthians 13:12). This is an important reminder that we live in a changing context, and our understandings are partial.

  • We should not try to subject God to our ideology. The gift of scripture is that it may challenge rather than support our preferences.


Making a case from scripture

Making a Case from Scripture

for Apartheid

and Racial Segregation

(Session 1)


A case for apartheid racial segregation

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

Biblical interpretations used to undergird Christians’ defence of apartheid and racial segregation in South Africa and the USA included the following:


A case for apartheid racial segregation1

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” included the separation of the diversity of peoples (Genesis 1:28).

    • Path #1o: Scripture is a “delight” that serves also for devotional refreshment and daily inspiration. The “delight” of scripture is even greater when we can hike together rather than going out on a lone trek.

    • Read Genesis 1:27-28 devotionally. What about this text inspires you? Does this apartheid interpretation of Genesis 1:28 inspire you (rhetorical question!)? Why not?


A case for apartheid racial segregation2

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • God “fixed the boundaries for the peoples” and “divided the entire human race” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9). The story of Babel (Genesis 11) and the creation of different races was a “high point” in the Afrikaner reading of the Biblical narrative.

    • Path #8: Scripture calls us to remember that we are a part of a larger story of “God’s love affair with the world.”…

    • How do you see the story of Babel contributing to the larger biblical “love story of God”?


A case for apartheid racial segregation3

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • This fixing of boundaries by God is again reaffirmed in the New Testament: “[God] allotted ... the boundaries of the places where they (the nations – ethnos) would live” (Acts 17:26-27).

    • Ditch #3: We need to avoid proof-texting. “Proof-texting is essentially the use of a text to support or reject a position without giving sufficient attention to the meaning and function of that text in its historical and literary setting in the Bible, and without bringing it into dialogue with other texts particularly relevant to the issue.” This definition highlights the importance of both context and canon for healthy interpretation.

    • Is this interpretation an example of inappropriate proof-texting? Why or why not?


A case for apartheid racial segregation4

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • Pentecost produced the principle of everyone hearing “God’s great deeds in our own language” – and this justified separate racial churches, according to language groups: in South Africa, an Afrikaans church, an English church, Xhosa, and so forth; and in the USA, all-white and all-black churches (Acts 2:6-11).

    • Paths #3 and 5: Scripture already interprets scripture. It is very important to pay close attention to this inter-textual interpretation because this already gives us essential clues in the ways we need to understand how various passages relate to each other. It is important to take the entire canon of scripture as our base of operations for healthy hermeneutics. The fact that scripture already interprets scripture compels us to use the whole of scripture in order to better understand each part.

    • How would this interpretation change if the rest of Acts (eg. 13:1; 17:10-12) were taken into consideration? How do Paul’s letters (e.g., Galatians, Romans 16) and Revelation 5:9 interpret Pentecost?


A case for apartheid racial segregation5

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • The Exodus story was persistently used to describe the amazing taking of the land in South Africa by the Afrikaner, who understood themselves to be God’s chosen people of the Promised Land. In the USA, the Exodus story was used to undergird the racist doctrine of Manifest Destiny (Exodus 23:30: Numbers 33:55-56).

    • Ditch #5: “We should not assume that our own context is either static or normative when interpreting the Bible.” The Apostle Paul says that “now we see in a mirror dimly... now I know only in part.” (I Corinthians 13:12). This is an important reminder that we live in a changing context, and our understandings are partial.

    • How did the Afrikaner and southern USA context shape (mis-shape!) the interpretation of the Exodus story?


A case for apartheid racial segregation6

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • The unity of slave and free, male and female, Gentile and Jew was seen as a “spiritual” unity, which continued to underline the need for physical separation (Galatians 3:28).

    • Path #1: The life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are central and serve as the critical lens of interpretation that helps us understand all of scripture.

    • How do the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus unite the spiritual and the physical (rather than dividing between them)?


A case for apartheid racial segregation7

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

  • Paul insisted on obedience to the laws of God and of human beings, with the state as the agent of God (Romans 13:1-7).

    • Path #2: Context makes a difference in how scripture is interpreted, understood, and applied for faith and life…

    • How does the immediate textual context of Romans 13:1-7 (12:9-21 and 13:8-10) help us to interpret this text?


A case for apartheid racial segregation8

A Case for Apartheid/Racial Segregation

SUMMING IT UP!

  • From this study, what have you learned about the hazards of reading the Bible for ethical guidance?

  • What further questions has this session raised for you?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework1

Exercising our Interpreting Muscles: Testing Our Interpretive Framework

A Curriculum for Being a Faithful Church 4.1

(Developed by the MCBC Faith and Life Committee)

Session 2


Beginning well1

Beginning Well

  • Take some time for prayer. Ask the same Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture so many centuries ago to breathe once more, anew and afresh, into your work together as you seek ethical guidance and discernment through our sacred Scriptures.

  • Perhaps pray the following:

    Blessed Lord,

    who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

    Grant us to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them,

    that we may embrace and ever hold fast

    the blessed hope of everlasting life,

    which you have given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ,

    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,

    now and forever, AMEN.


Making a case from scripture1

Making a Case from Scripture

for Civil Rights

and Opposing Apartheid

(Session 2)


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

Biblical interpretations used to undergird the Christian civil rights movement in the USA and opposition to apartheid in South Africa included the following:


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid1

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • The Exodus story reveals how God does not demand obedience to oppressive rulers. The Israelites, while slaves in Egypt, were led by God in a social revolt.

    • Ditch #2 and Path #12. We should avoid the temptation to set the Old Testament aside. Both Testaments carry a living word of God for us. Our task is to attempt to discern how all of scripture might function as a word from God to us. Jesus is portrayed as “consistently interpreting scripture in reference to, and with regard for the needs/realities of “the least”—the most needy and vulnerable...” God’s intention through scripture is to bring wholeness to creation, justice to the orphans and widows, sight and healing to the blind and lame, reconciliation and salvation to sinners.

    • The foundational and formative story of the Jewish people is a story written “from below” by the powerless. In what ways is this important for the rest of Jewish history? Is this reading an appropriate application of the Exodus story to our present contexts of social injustice? Why or why not?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid2

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • God raised up prophets who consistently denounced the prevailing ethos and social standards of their day, and who were engaged in civil disobedience (Isaiah 1:17; 20:1-6; Jeremiah 22:3; Amos 5:11-15).

    • Path #9:“Knowing” is inseparable from “doing,” “hearing” is inseparable from “acting,” and “praxis [practice] is indispensible for gnosis [knowledge].” Jesus’ hermeneutic also repeatedly indicates this critical connection between “works [erga] and faith [pistis].” In other words, on a hike we need to walk and not just sit on the path and contemplate the map.

    • How does Isaiah 20:1-6 illustrate path #9?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid3

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • There are many biblical stories that turn the spotlight on the struggle of the poor against violent and oppressive powers (e.g., the story of Jezebel and Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard, 1 Kings 21:1-16; Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37).

    • Path #5: It is important to take the entire canon of scripture as our base of operations for healthy hermeneutics. The fact that scripture already interprets scripture compels us to use the whole of scripture in order to better understand each part.

    • What other stories can you think of?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid4

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • The book of Daniel contains three key stories of faithful civil disobedience (Daniel 1, 3, 6).

    • Ditch #5: “We should not assume that our own context is either static or normative when interpreting the Bible.” The Apostle Paul says that “now we see in a mirror dimly... now I know only in part.” (I Corinthians 13:12). This is an important reminder that we live in a changing context, and our understandings are partial.

    • Does our societal context have any connections with Daniel’s? Is it appropriate for us to relate the actions of Daniel and his friends to our own context?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid5

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • Romans 13 cannot be read in isolation of Revelation 13. Governments are not necessarily benign. They can also be beastly, blasphemous and oppressive.

    • Path #3: Scripture already interprets scripture. It is very important to pay close attention to this inter-textual interpretation because this already gives us essential clues in the ways we need to understand how various passages relate to each other.

    • Why do we need to read both Romans 13 and Revelations 13? What imbalances or mistakes in our attitudes toward governing authorities could result if we would choose to listen to the exclusion of the other?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid6

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • When faced with a choice between disobeying God or civil authorities, the choice for Christians is clear (Acts 5:28; see also Acts 4:19-20).

    • Ditch #3: We need to avoid proof-texting. “Proof-texting is essentially the use of a text to support or reject a position without giving sufficient attention to the meaning and function of that text in its historical and literary setting in the Bible, and without bringing it into dialogue with other texts particularly relevant to the issue.” This definition highlights the importance of both context and canon for healthy interpretation.

    • Acts 5:28 is the key “civil disobedience” verse in our Bibles. Yet it is a single verse. So is this a case of proof-texting? Why or why not?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid7

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • If God makes no distinctions between people of different races, then neither should we (Exodus 23:9; Romans 10:12; Gal 3:28). Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of pointing out how God had created all people from one man (Acts 17:26).

    • Path #8: Scripture calls us to remember that we are a part of a larger story of “God’s love affair with the world.”…

    • In what ways does the creation story set the stage for “God’s love affair with the world”?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid8

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

  • Jesus willingly laid down his life to redeem people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5:9). Surely this gives equal dignity to all people.

    • Path #6: Scripture persistently hopes that the letters of its words will become a living word in a world in need of redemption. This does not diminish the authority of scripture, but sharpens it and makes it real in our community and to the world….

    • Revelation 5:9 is clearly poetic. In what ways can this poetry become a “living word” to us?


A case for civil rights and opposing apartheid9

A Case for Civil Rights and Opposing Apartheid

SUMMING IT UP!

  • What have you learned further about the joys and possibilities in reading the Bible for ethical guidance?

  • What further questions has this session raised for you?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework2

Exercising our Interpreting Muscles: Testing Our Interpretive Framework

A Curriculum for Being a Faithful Church 4.1

(Developed by the MCBC Faith and Life Committee)

Session 3


Beginning well2

Beginning Well

  • Take some time for prayer. Ask the same Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture so many centuries ago to breathe once more, anew and afresh, into your work together as you seek ethical guidance and discernment through our sacred Scriptures.

  • Perhaps pray the following:

    Blessed you are, Lord, great God,

    for the testimonies of the prophets we bless you.

    For the statutes of the prophets we bless you.

    For the gospel of Christ and the witness of the apostles

    we bless you, O glorious God.Grant to us the Spirit of your glory

    and the brightness of your presence

    that we might read your word and understand.

    Through Jesus Christ, our gracious Lord. AMEN.


Making a case from scripture2

Making a Case from Scripture

for Christian Support

of State-Sanctioned Violence

(Session 3)


A case for christian support of state sanctioned violence

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

Biblical interpretations used to undergird state-sanctioned “redemptiveviolence” have included the following:


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

  • In early Old Testament times war was often seen as a “holy war,” a conflict initiated and led by God (Exodus 17:16; Numbers 31:3). At times God even declared the destruction of anything that breathes (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). During these “holy wars,” God’s people performed sacrificial rites to ensure God’s continued support (1 Samuel 7:8-10; 13:9). The sacred ark of the covenant, symbolizing the presence of God, was at times taken into battle (1 Samuel 4:3).

    • Path #5: It is important to take the entire canon of scripture as our base of operations for healthy hermeneutics. The fact that scripture already interprets scripture compels us to use the whole of scripture in order to better understand each part.

    • Is it possible for Anabaptist Christians to acknowledge and even accept the “holy wars” of the early Old Testament times as a part of the whole story of God and God’s people? What justifies our saying, “That was then; this is now”?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

  • War is never a good thing, but sometimes it is necessary in a world filled with sinful people (Romans 3:10-18). How can it be possible that war was only God’s will in the Old Testament if God does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17)? And if God is not against all war, can we say that Jesus is against all war, when he is always in perfect agreement with his Father (John 10:30)?

    • Path #4: Jesus also interprets scripture. One response focused exclusively on trying to understand the “hermeneutics of Jesus,” (i.e., how the Gospel writers portray the way Jesus uses and interprets the Old Testament). It is evident that we can learn much from that in our own reading of scripture.

    • How did Jesus interpret his Bible when it comes to violence (see especially Matthew 5:38)?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

  • In Old Testament times “sanctuaries” were established to protect victims of abuse and violence (Numbers 35:11-24; Deuteronomy 19:1-14). If we are to have sanctuaries in our culture, these will need to be protected with police and/or military power.

    • Ditch #4: We need to avoid generalizations without having immersed ourselves in particular texts. This is the opposite of proof-texting and is equally detrimental to theological discernment. Some of the most common generalizations are: “the Bible says,” or “all we need is love,” or “let’s just focus on justice.” Each of these generalizations needs to be understood from particular texts.

    • In what ways is this point an unhelpful generalization of God’s provision of those “Cities of Refuge” in the Old Testament times? What other biblical texts should also be taken into consideration?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

  • The culmination of history is described in militant language with Christ the conquering commander coming to judge and make war “with justice” (Revelation 19:11-21). Non-violent and pacifist strategies must be postponed for a future time when God has finally put all things to rights. Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48) belong to this future eschatological age.

    • Path #6: Scripture persistently hopes that the letters of its words will become a living word in a world in need of redemption. This does not diminish the authority of scripture, but sharpens it and makes it real in our community and to the world. This pathway indicates that other sources can illuminate what scripture also teaches.

    • The militant and violent interpretations that have plagued Revelation throughout history are largely due to an enormous misunderstanding of the nature and function of the ancient genre of apocalyptic literature. How might reading other ancient Jewish apocalypses help us to understand what Revelation is actually affirming? What other sources might help us out?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

  • Romans 13:1-7 appears to support the legitimate authority of government to insist that Christians participate in wars and conflict. Christians’ responsibility to obey their authorities who are charged with the protection of their citizens may include the use of lethal violence through police and/or military force.

    • Ditch #6: We should not try to subject God to our ideology. The gift of scripture is that it may challenge rather than support our preferences.

    • Is it possible that the reason Romans 13:1-7 is so very popular among many western Christians is that it seems to affirm and even justify, rather than challenge, our cultural ideologies about legitimate violence?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

  • Does Jesus’ commitment to the poor, the marginalized, and the victims of oppression justify the use of redemptive violence for the welfare and benefit of victimized persons? The overturned tables of money-changers in the temple (John 2:13-17), some say, is an indication of how Jesus’ wrath against victimizers is “holy wrath” that justifies extreme, and potentially violent, measures also from the church.

    • Ditch #1: The desire to keep Jesus central to hermeneutics at times leads some to disconnect him from his own scriptural roots (The Hebrew Bible) and his own social/political context in 1st century Palestine. We need to avoid both of these ditches and not leave Jesus without a context.

    • Is Jesus really acting violently in the Temple? Or is this an acted parable that is rooted in his own Jewish story? What is Jesus declaring about the Temple, the beating heart of the Jewish nation?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

SUMMING IT UP!

  • What else are you learning about the challenges of reading the Bible for ethical guidance?

  • What further questions has this session raised for you?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework3

Exercising our Interpreting Muscles: Testing Our Interpretive Framework

A Curriculum for Being a Faithful Church 4.1

(Developed by the MCBC Faith and Life Committee)

Session 4


Beginning well3

Beginning Well

  • Take some time for prayer. Ask the same Spirit who inspired the words of Scripture so many centuries ago to breathe once more, anew and afresh, into your work together as you seek ethical guidance and discernment through our sacred Scriptures.

  • Perhaps pray the following:

    Almighty God, you have spoken to us through your Son.

    Let your written Word now be spoken and heard by each of us.

    Give us ears to hear and hearts to understand,

    that we may not refuse your calling or ignore your voice.

    May we all be taught by you through your powerful Word.

    Bring our every thought captive to obeying Christ,

    to the glory of your holy name. AMEN.


Making a case from scripture3

Making a Case from Scripture

for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

(Session 4)


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

Some biblical interpretations used to undergird our peace (pacifist) church identity are:


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • The holy war tradition of the Old Testament should be read alongside the voice of Isaiah who suggests that the Suffering Servant (not King David, Joshua, et.al.) is the paradigm that best reflects the will of God for his people’s use of power (Isaiah 40-55).

    • Path #4: Jesus also interprets scripture. One response focused exclusively on trying to understand the “hermeneutics of Jesus,” (i.e., how the Gospel writers portray the way Jesus uses and interprets the Old Testament). It is evident that we can learn much from that in our own reading of scripture.

    • How does the sacrificial death of Jesus open up for us this new understanding of the “holy war” tradition?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • The Exodus story suggests that we need to “stand still” and “see the mighty acts of God” (Deut. 4:34; 5:15; 2 Chron. 20:17), rather than engage in violent revolutionary activity for the purpose of liberating the oppressed.

    • Path #10: Scripture is a “delight” that serves also for devotional refreshment and daily inspiration. The “delight” of scripture is even greater when we can hike together rather than going out on a lone trek.

    • Reading devotionally can mean reading from a divine perspective rather than a merely human-centred point of view. How does our reading of the Exodus story change when we read this story to witness God’s deliverance rather than human beings waging war?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • The whole of the biblical canon is to be read through Christo-centric lenses (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40): namely that the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the normative paradigm for social, political, and ethical action.

    • Path #1: The life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are central and serve as the critical lens of interpretation that helps us understand all of scripture.

    • This path and point are basically identical! What specific events in Jesus’ life exemplify this? (See, e.g., Matthew 26:50-54; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 9:51-56.)


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • Ethical guidance should come first and foremost from the key teachings of Jesus, such as the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said…. But I say to you: Love your enemies.”

    • Path #11: We need to see our interpretive community as larger than the people we can see around us. The hiking trail we are on has already been forged by many who have gone before us. They have left markers on the trail to help those who come after and we will leave markers for those coming behind us….

    • How do we know this principle is correct? What other hikers throughout history as well as from other parts of the world would also counsel us to make Jesus’ key teachings central for our ethical guidance?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • The baptism/commissioning of Jesus is understood as clarifying that God’s preferred way is to combine kingship (Psalm 2: a royal Psalm) with suffering servant-hood (Isaiah 42: a Suffering Servant), as indicated by the voice from heaven.

    • Ditch #2: We should avoid the temptation to set the Old Testament aside. The Old Testament is part of our scripture for at least two reasons: i) The New Testament is grounded in Old Testament language, images, quotations, and assumptions and therefore the two Testaments cannot and should not be separated; ii) The Old Testament speaks to things that the New Testament may not highlight. “All of scripture witnesses to God’s revelation.” “Both Testaments carry a living word of God for us.”…

    • What aspects of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42 become more clear to us through the baptism and commissioning of Jesus?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • The temptations of Jesus are understood as refusing the Davidic assumptions for Messiah-ship; or more strongly stated, the Davidic assumptions about ruling the nations is depicted as satanic (Mt. 4:1-11).

    • Ditch #1: The desire to keep Jesus central to hermeneutics at times leads some to disconnect him from his own scriptural roots (The Hebrew Bible) and his own social/political context in 1st century Palestine. We need to avoid both of these ditches and not leave Jesus without a context.

    • How do Jesus’ Davidic roots help to inform our understanding of his temptations?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • The lengthy and very detailed ethical and life-style instructions in how to live a life “not conformed to this world” (Romans 12) are understood as authoritative and normative for the life of Christians now. Hence, Romans 13:1-7 must be read in the context of Romans 12 as well as 13:8-10.

    • Path #9:“Knowing” is inseparable from “doing,” “hearing” is inseparable from “acting,” and “praxis [practice] is indispensible for gnosis [knowledge].” Jesus’ hermeneutic also repeatedly indicates this critical connection between “works [erga] and faith [pistis].” In other words, on a hike we need to walk and not just sit on the path and contemplate the map.

    • Romans is usually considered one of the most densely theological books of the Bible. So the balancing practicality of Romans 12-13 is especially invaluable to us for our own “doing” and “praxis.” What specific “works” in these two chapters can you identify that can help us to live a life “not conformed to this world”?


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for a Peace (Pacifist)

Church Identity

  • “The Lamb that was slaughtered” is the image that best defines the vocation and “the power of the Lion,” and the only one “capable of opening the scrolls” of history (Revelation 5).

    • Path #7: It is the Holy Spirit who guides the interpretive community in faithfulness, and in faithfully understanding scripture for our lives. This means that we must continually open our hearts and minds to the work of the Spirit within and among us. Without this, “the text is just black marks on the paper.”

    • This path could (and should) be applied to every one of the points above in each case study. Pray that the Spirit will lift the words of Revelation 5 off the page, and that the evocative poetry of this chapter will fire your imagination for peacemaking in the way and the Spirit of the Lamb.


Exercising our interpreting muscles testing our interpretive framework

A Case for Christian Supportof State-Sanctioned Violence

SUMMING IT UP!

  • What else are you learning about the joys and possibilities of reading the Bible for ethical guidance?

  • What further questions has this session raised for you?

  • Please reflect upon the entire study, and don’t forget to send these reflections to Willard Metzger ([email protected]).


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