Monday, October 12, 2009

St. Paul and the Nature of the Bible

A general question was brought up at a blog I follow over on myspace (Click here): how should Paul be understood, and in what way (if at all) should we Christians follow his teachings?

Paul was a gifted, thoughtful writer, to be sure. A key to shaping the early church.

I personally don't base my faith on "taking the bible as a whole inerrantly etc. etc." We must use discernment. For one thing, Paul himself only wrote some of the letters attributed to him. Scholars have pretty much agreed that he didn't write Ephesians or Colossians, for example. Among others.

When Paul wrote about homosexuals in Romans, it's obvious he wasn't given any divine insight into the concept of sexual orientation, only studied with any real seriousness in the 1900s and beyond. Like most of the Bible, the specifics in his teachings have little application to us in in the modern Western world. We need a heavy amount of interpretation to find value in his discussions on slavery, or women in church.

I'm one who considers the bible to be a collection of books, all written by humans, inspired by God but not directed by God. If I am inspired to sing God's praises when I beyond a beautiful landscape, that is not God singing God's praises...it's me, inspired by God. I don't even necessarily think God intended for me to sing those praises. I'm inspired by what I behold and experience and interpret. That's how I think the Biblical texts were written. I believe that the canonization of the various works that became the anthology that we call the Holy Bible is an artificial construct, originally put together for convenience, and then placed in an order which suggests the inevitability of events from other events.

Hence, the nature of God, the behavior of Yahweh, the reasons for Jesus Christ's presence and activities on earth - this was interpreted by the writers based on what they experienced, what they were told as the stories were passed down. What I have before me in a Bible are those interpretations and literary presentations, and I too must then interpret and discern for myself how to understand God and God's mission with humans and with Creation in general.

Hence, that's how I read Paul. His letters reflect his experience, interpretation, and possibly political aims, in relation to Jesus. I could choose to just put all the responsibility on Paul's shoulders and take him literally. It's easy; I'd just say that God told him what to write. Instead, I wrestle with it, and do my best to be in communication/relationship/interaction with the books in the Bible. The Bible, for me, is neither a book in stone nor the only medium for coming to God. There are the gospels which never ended up in the Bible. There are other texts considered sacred in other religious paths. There are trees, and movies, and novels, and scientific discoveries, and babies, and music, and rabbits...so many ways to approach God. My spiritual path must be living. Living waters, as they are called. To drink of those waters, for me, means to dive in and really experience them.

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