HEBREW and GREEK
The reason that there are so many different Bible translations ( about 30 major ones) today is because the exact meaning of many words is still in question, and even what should be included as original material is hotly debated by Bible specialists. See Jesus Seminar and Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millennium by Robert W. Funk (Harper San Francisco, 1996), which was helpful to me. Other recent discoveries, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, add new information that throws light on the meaning of Bible words.
The word "homosexual" is made up of Greek homo, meaning "the same," and Latin sexualis, from which the English word "sex" is derived. The word "homosexual" has been in use to refer to people who have sex with others of the same gender for only about 100 years. According to the most recent edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (tenth edition), "homosexual" as an adjective was first used in 1892 and as a noun in 1902, and "homophobia" was first used in 1969 and "homophobe" first used in 1975. The translation of any Bible word as "homosexual" is a mistake.
The Greek word in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 that is translated "homosexual" is arsenokoites, which is formed from two words meaning "male" and "bed." The word is not found anywhere else in the New Testament and has not been found anywhere in contemporary Greek of Paul's time. We are not sure what it means. It only appears in these two lists. The word is of obscure origin and uncertain meaning. It probably refers to male prostitutes with female customers, which was a common practice in the Roman world.
When early Greek-speaking Christian preachers condemned homosexuals, they did not use this word. John Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407) preached in Greek against homosexuality, but he never used this word for homosexuals. When he wrote homilies and preached on 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, he did not mention homosexuals. See the full treatment of this issue in The Six Bible Passages Used to Condemn Homosexuals and in my book on Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse.
The Bible has no word in Hebrew or Greek that is the same as our word "sex". The word "flesh" means "human" and never means "sex". The Hebrew way of thinking about human nature continued to dominate the thought of the New Testament. Details of sexual practices were never given in the Old or the New Testaments. The only term that conveys the idea of "having sex" is the Hebrew term "to lie with."
Much of the New Testament thought was carried over directly from Hebrew terms and ideas in the Old Testament, which had been translated from Hebrew to Greek about 250 years before Christ in the Septuagint (LXX) version of Scripture. Careful study of a tremendous body of historical material is necessary to sort out the exact meaning of Bible passages. Even more study is required to grasp and understand what the passages actually said in the culture in which they were written.
The Bible is a dominant force in our culture today. It is a source of comfort and encouragement for millions and a source of abuse and pain for millions of others. As a former Southern Baptist pastor and university Bible professor and now since 1981, an openly gay pastor, teacher, writer, Internet evangelist, and community activist, I have had to face and deal with the Bible as both a blessing and a curse, a source of healing and a weapon of oppression.
Homosexuals are not the only people who are systematically attacked and oppressed by the abusive use of the Bible. Women, children, various racial groups, and other minorities also have suffered under the lash of religious and Bible abuse. My web site on "Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse" is written from the point of view of a gay man and is addressed primarily to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. This is my world and my arena of personal experience and Christian calling.
I believe, however, that what I have learned about the Bible and how to use the Bible in positive and healthy ways is of value to all people of faith and not just for homosexuals.
Many people who have been oppressed by the Bible and religion have understandably abandoned the Bible and no longer see any practical or spiritual value in the Bible. This is a good time to take a fresh look at the Bible and discover for yourself how you can be objective about the Bible and use it for spiritual and practical encouragement and help.
GIVE YOURSELF A NEW BIBLE
Changing the way you see the Bible and what it means can be like finding a new Bible that finally speaks to you and offers positive spiritual encouragement and help.
For me, Jesus is the key and guide to a healthy objective use of the Bible. I have discussed Jesus' use of the Bible in "Jesus and the Bible". No two people experience Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus in exactly the same way, which leads to the kind of diversity and variety in life and ministry of individual Christians as described by Paul in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. These three Bible chapters set forth the principle of diversity within faith and open the door for individuals to experience Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus in ways that fit each person of faith.
The words "diversities" and "varieties" used by Paul are the Greek word "heresy", which can mean both good and bad diversity. Without "heresy", the church denies the freedom "for which Christ set us free" (Galatians 5:1) and the freedom that the Spirit brings (2 Corinthians 3:17). If you really follow the teaching of Paul, you "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is working through you both to desire and to accomplish God's will" (Philippians 2:12-13) and thereby celebrate and enjoy your individuality within the diversity that is God's gift to all people in Christ.
Biblical literalism and judgmental legalism are blinding and binding forces that work against discovering the liberating truth in Jesus and in the Bible as viewed by and through Jesus. The use of certain "proof texts" like 2 Timothy 3:16 to prove that the Bible is "the word of God" not only ignores the clear message of John 1:1-14 that Jesus is the word of God but also uses the same kind of selective, ignorant, and out-of-context abuse of the Bible that is employed to attack and condemn oppressed and outcast people.
I have regularly added new material to my web site section on "Hebrew and Greek" within the larger section on "The Bible and Homosexuality". Whenever you have Bible questions that you think I might be able to answer for you, please e-mail me and I will try to find and send to you the information you need. My most recent addition of material about the history of the Bible and the source of chapter and verse divisions was the result of questions asked by readers of my site.
Your questions about the Bible can help me to know what new material I need to add to my site. Please share your questions with me. I can learn and do learn a lot from you.
CHANGING FORMS AND SHAPES OF THE BIBLE
Dr. Clyde T. Francisco was a great scholar and teacher who taught me many of my Bible courses at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He was my teacher after the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published and had been condemned by many fundamentalists as evil and as a Communist book (because it had a red cover!). Dr. Francisco said that the reason the average church person had problems with the Revised Standard Version Bible was because their pastors had never taught the people that the Bible has a history. He was right.
No version of the Bible looks today as it did originally. Many changes have been made in the way that biblical materials are packaged. The original manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were written on scrolls that were rolled up and tied with a cord. Even in the time of Jesus, individuals did not own Bibles. The sacred scrolls were kept in a special box in the synagogue and taken out for reading by special teachers and students and for Sabbath services. Changing the form of the Bible materials from scrolls to stacks of pages came early in the history of the New Testament. Perhaps the greatest difference in the original manuscripts and our Bibles today is that both ancient Hebrew and Greek were often written with no space between the words, without punctuation, and without any division into chapters and verses.
Bible materials were first divided into chapters in 1238 by Cardinal Hugo de San Caro of Spain. The division of Bible materials into verses was done in 1551 by Robert Estienne. No systematic plan was followed in either chapter or verse divisions, which often seem to be quite arbitrary. This means that until after the time of Martin Luther (1483-1546), no verse divisions existed. Luther's translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German, containing no verse divisions, was printed and widely used to fuel the fires of the Reformation.
The ancient manuscripts had no divisions into chapters and verses. Many of the chapter and verse divisions break apart complete thoughts and ideas that change the emphasis and thus the exact meaning from the original. Modern punctuation also serves to mislead the reader into separating ideas and breaking up the original ideas and emphasis in the text.
The Gutenberg Bible of 1455 was the first Bible printed from movable type. (See a page of this Bible at the bottom of this page.) This Bible was the Latin version that was revised and translated by many scholars, including Jerome (AD 347-419), who revised and translated the New Testament. It contains no verse divisions. It also contains brief passages that have never been found in any ancient Greek manuscript. One example is the "Trinity" verse in I John 5:8, "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth..." This passage has never been found in any ancient manuscript.
The verse is in the Latin version, however, and when the King James translators came to it and did not find it in the Greek manuscript that they were using, they simply translated the Latin into Greek and used that as their basis for the English translation that is included in the KJV of the Bible! Other passages, including the last seven verses of the Book of Revelation, were also missing from the Greek text; so the scholars also translated them from Latin into Greek and then based the KJV on their English translation of the Greek that they had created with no ancient manuscript evidence.
These are only a few of the reasons why you will profit from using a carefully researched and translated modern language Bible like the "New American Standard Bible," which I have discussed in my material in the section on "What Bible to Read?"
The Bible does indeed have a history. Learn about it. The three volume set of "The Cambridge History of the Bible": Cambridge University Press, 1970, tells the details. Also see relevant articles in "The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia": 4 volumes and a supplementary volume: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976. This is the best source I know for learning accurate information about the Bible.
Remember that the Bible had endured many years of history before Jesus used it, and he still found valuable spiritual resources in the Scriptures. God is still able to speak in any way God chooses to speak, and God speaks to those who are willing to listen. Jesus listened to God and heard in the Bible things that everybody else had missed. Jesus saw and demonstrated God's inclusive unconditional love for all people. The Spirit of Jesus can guide your open minded study of the Bible and the working of God in your own life.
Learn from every experience and every person that pass through your life. The Bible has a history, and so do you. How has your personal history shaped your use of the Bible? What is God trying to say to you today?
READING SEX INTO THE BIBLE
Western culture today is so dominated by vivid and explicit details of sexual practices and ideas that we all tend to read sex into just about everything that happens or that we read. To read sex into the Bible is to ignore what it does mean and to complicate and distort its message at many very important points. None of the 25 "works of the flesh" that Paul listed in Galatians 5:19-21 refer directly to sex, though many of the terms are translated in such a way as to imply a sexual meaning. These 25 "works of the flesh" primarily describe how people treat other people as things rather than persons and how attitudes of people cause divisive, destructive and abusive behavior toward other people. Paul viewed the religion of judgmental legalism as a "work of the flesh."
The Four Gospels present particularly difficult problems for translators and interpreters. The rest of the New Testament, as far as we know, was originally written in the koine Greek of the time of Christ, but the Gospels tell stories about Jesus and repeat teachings of Jesus that were first given in Aramaic. The Aramaic language is a form of ancient Hebrew, which is itself very difficult to translate, as shown above. Aramaic is not used today except in various dialects by a few remote groups (The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: I, pp. 185-190). A few brief portions of the Hebrew Bible are in Aramaic in Ezra 4:8--6:18; 7:12-26; Daniel 2:4--7:28; and a gloss in Jeremiah 10:11 along with a few isolated Aramaic words. Many Aramaic words are scattered throughout the Gospels.
At first, the sayings and actions of Jesus were learned by memory and passed on to others orally. The rigid rules of Jewish teachers at the time of Jesus required that the teachings of a rabbi were to be memorized and passed on by word of mouth and never written down. The official body of rabbinical teachings, the Mishna, was not written down until after AD 90, over 50 years after the death of Jesus and 20 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
We have no evidence of original written Aramaic versions of the Gospels. At some time along the way, the Aramaic sayings and stories were translated from a language that is obscure and complex into koine Greek, which is also obscure and complex, and were selected, organized, and written into the form of "Gospels". Then the Greek manuscripts after hundreds of years of copying and development were gradually assembled to provide the basis for modern English versions and many other translations.
Luke 1:1-4 states clearly that the material in the gospels had a long and complex history before being shaped into the present "Four Gospels." Here is Luke 1:1-4:
Luke l:1-4: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word (logos) have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning (or "from their sources"), to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus ("friend of God"); so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught."
It is obvious from the statements in Luke 1:1-4 that the Gospels had a history before they were written in the form that appears in the English Bible today. The term "handed them down to us" in 1:2 is the same Greek word as "delivered up", which is translated as "betrayed" when the story of Jesus' being betrayed by Judas is told: Luke 22:4, 21, 48.
The history of the development of the Gospel traditions about Jesus forms a massive growing body of scholarly biblical materials from the time of Jesus to the present. The best sources that I know about the cultural, historical, and language setting of the Gospels are the many relevant articles in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Abingdon Press. 4 volumes in 1962 and a Supplementary Volume in 1976.
We have few tools to help us know exactly what Jesus said and did and what was added or changed in the repeated telling of the stories in oral form. (See The Jesus Seminar and related Resources and Links and books edited or written by Robert W. Funk: Honest to Jesus; The Five Gospels; and The Acts of Jesus. Whether or not Jesus knew and used Greek is still and open question. For a curious twist in Gospel studies, see "The Strange Case of the Secret Gospel According to Mark".
The Gospels present challenges and problems at every turn in understanding the person and work of Jesus. The question, therefore, emerges: What can we be sure is genuine about Jesus in the Gospels? Many believers avoid the question by assuming that every word in the English Bible is inspired by God and is "the word of God" in every detail for today. Other believers want to know more about the history of the Bible and have used the rapidly emerging tools of science and scholarship to find a more clear and consistent view of Jesus that speaks with greater authority and relevance to them. Both groups and many in between seek and claim to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing is more important for the followers of Jesus than being sure of what Jesus was and is like and being confident that one's vision of Jesus is true to the will and purpose of God. Give some thought to it. What do you believe about Jesus? Why? How do you act on that belief?
JESUS WAS NEW AND INCLUSIVE
My own conclusion at this point in my studies and ministry is that the Gospels clearly demonstrate two consistent facts about Jesus. The first is that Jesus was always creative, new, and different. Jesus was revolutionary and challenged all of the ancient traditions and "made all things new". The main teachings and actions of Jesus in the Gospels are presented as something new that had never happened before in the forms and with the effects manifested in Jesus. The second is that Jesus was always consistently inclusive and accepting of all people, which itself was also brand new and unexpected. Looking for these two features of "new" and "inclusive" has led me to appreciate the underlying meaning of a lot of the stories about Jesus that did not seem clear before.
FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND
All four Gospels tell the story of the feeding of the multitude (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13), giving basically the same account in each Gospel. This the only miracle in Jesus' ministry that is included in all four Gospels. Many scholars have debated the question of how the food was multiplied and whether or not everyone shared what they had when the young boy shared his food. This preoccupation with how the food was multiplied misses the two obvious features of this story that tells about a brand new and extraordinarily inclusive event.
Others before Jesus had provided unexpected food in the wilderness. Moses provided the manna, and Elijah and Elisha miraculously fed the hungry. What was new about Jesus feeding the multitude? We miss the impact of the story if we neglect the details.
Several years ago I was preparing a study of this event as recorded in The Gospel of John and was struck by the statement that these things took place near Tiberias. I visited Tiberias in 1958 on a study trip with Dr. William Morton of Southern Baptist Seminary. Tiberias was the capitol of the Roman Province of Galilee, but since it was built on a site that contained tombs, the Jews would not live in the city. I had never put these things together before. The multitude that Jesus faced on that day was a mixed multitude of people from many races, religions, cultural traditions, beliefs, and situations in life.
The crowd included Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, Romans, lepers, cripples, children, men, women, outcasts, the "unclean", soldiers, Pharisees, priests, and a cross section of humanity. Jesus told them to recline on the grass. The term "recline" was used in describing the Last Supper and was the posture that one assumed when dining in the home of a friend. To "recline" was to become vulnerable to an enemy. The rigidly observed custom at the time was that you did not eat with anyone of a different rank, race, religion, or other social or cultural distinction from yourself. Many examples of this custom are found throughout the Bible. (See Galatians 2:11-21, where Paul condemned Peter, "for prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing those of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.")
Jesus challenged the legally enforced separation of people from one another and invited the whole multitude to share food with him. He blessed the food and gave it to the disciples to distribute. The recovery of 12 baskets full of food is highly symbolic in saying that the multitude is the new people of God, the new 12 tribes of Israel, based not on law or race but based upon Jesus and the one whom Jesus represents. Nobody was left out. All were filled. Jesus represented both God and all humanity, as he did in his baptism, his life, and his death and resurrection.
Look in the Gospels for what is truly new and radically inclusive. The truth about Jesus is not hard to find in the Gospels. The truth is everywhere. Don't be distracted by traditional interpretations that ignore what is truly new and what clearly teaches and demonstrates the unconditional inclusive love of God for all. To follow Jesus is to celebrate human diversity.
Never underestimate the destructive power of ignorance.
"DID JESUS SPEAK GREEK?"
A current article in the July/August 2000 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review discusses the meager evidence that Greek might have been spoken in Galilee in the time of Jesus. Only isolated Greek inscriptions on coins, weights, and one famous inscription discovered near Nazareth that warns against grave robbing have been found, and they are of uncertain date. The article speculated, however, that the task of recovering Jesus' teachings would be easier if Jesus spoke Greek. "Scholars would no longer have to wonder what nuances were lost when Jesus' words were translated from the original Aramaic into the Greek of the New Testament Gospels. Indeed, if Jesus spoke Greek, then some of the teachings recorded in the Gospels might preserve his exact words."
This entire speculation about delving into the "original words" of Jesus as somehow necessary for modern Christians completely ignores the role of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2. The Spirit of Jesus gave understanding of the gospel to people in various languages and overcame the language problems that already existed in the first-century C.E. long before the past 2,000 years of radical changes in culture and languages.
Even one of the twelve disciples, Thomas, did not believe the eyewitness testimony of the other disciples when they told him of the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:24-29). Only when Jesus appeared to Thomas did Thomas believe. This made Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit a necessity for all ministries in the name of Jesus. If the disciples could not convince even one of their own number that they had seen Jesus, how can we 2,000 years later succeed in our mission without the help that Jesus gives to us through the Holy Spirit! After all, Jesus clearly said in Luke 12:12 concerning your witness to the world: "The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
Before Jesus left the disciples at the end, he warned that they should remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise (of the Spirit) from God (Acts 1:4). Jesus added: "You will receive power (Greek word for the ability to do something: our words "dynamite" and "dynamo" come from it.) after the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses (same word as "martyr") both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8)."
Jesus never promised an army of biblical experts and scholars to give the exact truth to future followers. Jesus promised to be with you himself. To neglect the Holy Spirit is to neglect Jesus and to feel your way blindly through the menacing jungle that you do not understand and cannot subdue or overcome.
The best of biblical scholars have led many churches and denominations down spiritual blind alleys, as with the German scholars who supported the Nazis and many others who continue to distract Christians from their vision of Jesus with their confused and confusing translations and interpretations. GLBT people are not the only victims of abusive bible teachings that abandon the leadership of the Spirit of Jesus. See 1 John 4:1-21 for a glimpse into the very earliest distortions of Jesus in the church. Read again the warning in 2 Peter 3:15-18.
The main question remains: "Do you know Jesus?" Not: "Do you know the latest and most convincing biblical scholarship?" No two biblical experts agree even on a fraction of what the Bible does and does not say. There is no reliable authority for Christians but Jesus. Jesus asked his disciples, "Will you go away also?" The answer was, "To whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life."
Many readers of my web site have asked me what Bible is the least homophobic and translates the original languages most correctly. That is a difficult question. All current translations contain mistakes in many places as well as in the anti-gay "clobber passages".
The most recent literal translation which is in wide use is the New Revised Standard Version (1989). It retains many translation mistakes and created some new ones. The NRSV use of "sodomite" in I Corinthians 6:9 caused many outstanding New Testament scholars to ridicule the translation and point out that there is no such word as "sodomite" in the original languages. There is no totally accurate translation of even some of the Bible. The original Revised Standard Version (New Testament first appeared in 1946) was the first translation ever to use the word "homosexual", which does not exist as a word in Hebrew or Greek. The New Revised Standard Version translates I Corinthians 6:9 with "male prostitutes" for Greek malakoi (which literally means "soft") and "sodomites" for Greek arsenokoitai (which literally is "male bed"). See my material on this in "SIX BIBLE PASSAGES USED TO CONDEMN HOMOSEXUALS".
The translation that I use now and have used from the time I finished my doctorate at the seminary is THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (1963). I found by experience that with the NASB I had to explain less often to my students that the original language was different from what they read in their Bible. The NASB (like all available versions), however, incorrectly translates the "clobber passages" used against gays. Students in my college courses used The New American Standard Bible, Holman Study Bible Edition, which includes good objective scholarly biblical study articles on history of the Bible, manuscripts, archaeology, etc. If you can find this edition, get it and treasure it. I cannot find it any more. Broadman Press, owned by Southern Baptist Convention, has bought Holman and does not now publish the edition that I used, as far as I know. If you find it, please let me know.
You can get a good easy to read text of the NASB with wide reference margins from a number of publishers. I greatly prefer Bibles with no notes and explanations. These notes usually are from a very biased point of view and can confuse a lot more than they help. When was memorizing great portions of the New Testament, I found that the NASB was the easiest translation to memorize. One purpose of the translators as stated in the "Preface" was to make the material easier to memorize.
When you get a copy of the NASB be sure to read the "Preface to the New American Standard Bible" at the front. This brief preface gives helpful and important information about the translation. The NASB is a translation built upon the most accurate modern version, the American Standard Version (1901), which was the first translation to use the discoveries of the papyri that revealed that the Greek of the New Testament was a special form of Greek: koine Greek (or common, everyday Greek) spoken in the time of Jesus. The ASV, however, is very difficult to read and was so exactly translated that a lot of the material is kept in the original word order and in syntax that are very hard to follow and is not clearly understandable to the average English reader.
The Good News Bible: also called "Today's English Version"--TEV (NT 1966; OT 1976) by the American Bible Society) is easy to read but contains strongly anti-gay translations. I do recommend the Good News Bible ONLY for a quick reading of the Four Gospels. The translation is by Dr. David Bratcher, ThD. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who visited the seminary while I was a graduate student there in the 1960's. He told us how the American Bible Society instructed him to decide what unclear passages meant and to give his own translation/interpretation so that uneducated readers would not be distracted by unclear material. The TEV is not a paraphrase. It is intended to be in the most simple possible English for people who use English as their second language or who have only a meager use of English. "Good News" was being used at the Baptist seminary in Buenos Aires that I visited there as guest lecturer in l972.
Dr. Bratcher is the first translator named in any version published by the American Bible Society. I was a pastor in Greenwood, SC, when "Good News for Modern Man" was published, and one of the fundamentalist Baptist churches gathered up a pile of the Good News Bibles and burned them in protest of how Bratcher translated "virgin" in Luke!
The Living Bible, however, is incredibly inaccurate. It is a paraphrase that was begun by a book editor who did not know Hebrew and Greek and who simply put the New Testament in his own words to make it say more clearly what he believed! Many other popular translations that are strongly anti-gay are The New International Version (1973 by The International Bible Society), the original Revised Standard Version of 1946, and The Amplified Bible, which is full of errors and speculation.
This does not mean that the Bible is useless or that you cannot find spiritual instruction and inspiration in any Bible translation, including The King James Version (1611), which is still the most popular version of all! You simply must be objective in your use of the Bible and realize that the Bible is not God and not to be worshipped as if it were.
A PAGE OF THE GUTENBERG BIBLE:
A page of the Gutenberg Latin Bible, printed from movable type in 1455. From The Cambridge History of the Bible , vol.3. (Notice: no verse dividions!)
The New York Times Magazine on Feb. 10, 2002, page 15, printed an article on the new "gender-neutral" version of "Today's New International Version" (T.N.I.V.) of the Bible. Rev. Jerry Falwell denounced Today's New International Version as a terrible attack on the belief that the Bible is literally true. Jerry Falwell's pain over the new version is that the NIV has long been the most popular modern Bible version for conservatives and fundamentalists, and changing the gender terminology was a direct assault on the biblical literalism that is the foundation for legalistic judgmental abusive religion.
Jerry Falwell also blamed the September eleventh terrorist attacks on the presence of GLBT people in America.
The Times article began: "Conservatives are upset over a new gender-neutral translation. Why isn't everybody?" This article is a good one that goes on to point out the radical differences in our culture today and the culture of the biblical world 2,000 years ago.
JESUS AND BIBLICAL LITERALISM
Jesus took a fresh new look at all of the old issues. Jesus saw biblical references in a new light and recast them in his own words, often with new and totally different, even contradictory meanings. Jesus consistently gave a new inclusive twist to old traditions and teachings.
Jesus was not trying to establish a new legalistic tradition but was setting an example of living in the present and challenging hurtful teachings that did not fit the realities of a changing world. Not one word in the Bible means exactly the same thing today as it did 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. (See my web site material above on "Hebrew and Greek".
Following Jesus does not mean taking the Gospel record of sayings and teachings and making them into demands and laws for today. Following Jesus means taking a fresh look at the old issues every moment of every day and keeping contemporary with the realities of today. Without this willingness to challenge the traditions and think outside the box, religion becomes out of touch with reality and increasingly abusive and oppressive.
Biblical literalism died with the life and teachings of Jesus, who summed up God's will by saying: "I give you a new commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you." (John 13:34) This "commandment" is a living, changing, dynamic experience of each individual and not a static unmovable monument to religious antiquity.
2,000 YEARS LATER
2,000 years later, churches are still trying to blend Jesus with judgmental legalism, and the destructive mix that has become traditional Christianity has doomed itself to irrelevance and oblivion. Biblical literalism has become the god of destructive pseudo-Christianity.
Southern Baptists became encased in the glass box of biblical literalism when W. A. Criswell, pastor of the largest Southern Baptist Church in the world in Dallas, Texas, published his book: "WHY I PREACH THAT THE BIBLE IS LITERALLY TRUE" in 1963. Criswell had followed George W. Truett, the most popular Southern Baptist preacher ever, and he was determined to be different and leave his own mark on Baptists. He certainly succeeded.
Criswell began his over 50 years of ministry at First Baptist Church of Dallas by preaching through the entire Bible, beginning with Genesis 1:1 and going all the way through to Revelation 22:21. Criswell led the church to grow to over 30,000 members. Criswell died in January at the age of 92. He was a brilliant often abrasive and entertaining orator. His influence was dominating and overwhelming throughout the denomination. His legacy of biblical literalism lives on and on and on. (You can see the legacy of Criswell in great detail if you do a Yahoo! search for "W. A. Criswell".)
WHY BIBLICAL LITERALISM DOES NOT WORK
Words are the expressions of ideas and actions in cultural context. Change the cultural context, and the words change their meaning. It's that simple. We do not live in the culture that produced the material in the Bible. Jesus knew that. So Jesus promised to give his followers his Spirit to guide and empower their lives and mission. "My Spirit will guide you and be your teacher and show you things yet to come." (John 14:26; 16:13)
Knowing and following the Spirit of Jesus places such a great responsibility on each individual to think and act for one's self that the less demanding way of "group think" developed early in the history of Christianity to produce the mess we have inherited in legalistic judgmental abusive oppression in the name of God. See my web site material on "Legalism as Idolatry".
CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) attacked the irrelevance of the contemporary church in Denmark over 150 years ago by telling the story of the clown. A traveling circus caught fire near a small village. The clown, still in full makeup, ran to the village to get help. He gathered the people and began to beg them to come help put out the fire. The crowd laughed and applauded at the clever trick of the clown trying to get them to go to the circus! The clown cried and begged, and they applauded that he could cry real tears. Nobody came to help. The burning circus set the woods on fire and spread and destroyed the village.
Kierkegaard concluded that people never listen to the message of the church as long as the messengers look like clowns.
MY SPIRITUAL HOME STUDY GROUP
E-mail me if you are interested in my small group for study and dialogue.
Read all of my web site material on "The Bible and Homosexuality" and on "Jesus and the Bible" for the details and positive benefits of going beyond biblical literalism to spiritual recovery, growth and maturity.
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