Part 1: The Interpretation of the Bible
I have decided to give serious study to homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Wow! There was so much to learn about gays and lesbians—and the Bible—that I’m so glad to come to know. I hope my readers find this as enlightening. I am now convinced that the presumption that many evangelical Christians hold about condemnation is unjustified. I have written out what I believe is clearly a correct interpretation of pertinent Biblical passages. Forgive the length of these posts, but I don’t think I could adequately address this matter with fewer words.
I’m new to the Ana-Baptist faith, but after attending a statement of faith class I understand that Mennonites believe that each person must interpret the Bible for themselves; we are not to let anyone else control our thinking about scripture. Too, understanding the Bible is understanding what the writer wanted his readers to understand. This seems so obvious, but millions of Bible readers and thousands of preachers violate this principle constantly because when they look at a passage, they do not give a thought either to the author or to those to whom he wrote but immediately begin to decide what the words, by themselves, mean. Practically everyone is guilty of this. This leads to almost as many different ideas as there are readers. But the only truth in a passage is the truth the writer was trying to convey to readers who were his contemporaries. Thus we need to keep in mind:
a) The writer’s meaning comes out of his background.
b) The writer’s meaning is determined by the background and situation of those to whom he wrote.
c) Our understanding of the writer’s meaning is colored by our own culture, experiences, understandings, presuppositions, etc.
d) The meaning of the author is not in his words! Words are merely imperfect vehicles for use in transferring thought.
As the points above indicate, what we must do is find the central truth or God’s eternal principle in any passage we are studying. Nothing should ever be taken out of its whole context. If we ignore the context, for example, then couples would not marry unless one of them “burned with lust,” then it would be okay to marry so the lust could be satisfied in a legal way (I Cor. 7:9)! And that is as ridiculous and repulsive as many of the ways “proof-texts” have had cults built around them. Paul thought Christ would return very shortly, so he was saying that since marriage would last for such a brief period, it was just better, if you were single, to stay as you were. When the time came that it was no longer so certain that couples would have only a brief time for marriage, Paul’s (scriptural) admonition was no longer considered applicable.
A single passage should be interpreted in the light of the Bible as a whole. Peter said that if we believe and are baptized for the remission of our sins, we shall be saved (Acts 2:38). This says rather clearly that faith and baptism are the way to salvation. Ana-Baptists don’t believe he meant literally what the words say, for we know from the whole New Testament that baptism in itself has nothing to do with salvation. So now we know what he really meant and didn’t mean.
The Bible is not a rule book. Grievous errors are made by those who believe it is. The Bible is a record that gives us a revelation of God by the writers’ having recorded their experiences with God, things that happened in the first and preceding centuries. What we need to do is find the eternal, central truth behind the “rules” and apply that truth to our 21st century circumstances. Many rules are eternal, but that is because of the eternal truth in them, and it is that truth we follow, not the rule that contained it. For example, Jesus didn’t command me to go into all the world; I wasn’t in the group that heard him that day. But when I read the record of that event, I understand God’s plan and that if I want to do God’s will in my age, I must do all I can to go into all the world, not because that is a rule to follow as a child follows a parent’s rule, but because it is my mature understanding of God’s plan and my place in it.
How do we move from the first century Bible to today? We have talked about principles, but applying the principles is not always easy. The Bible has nothing to say about much that we encounter in the twenty-first century, for example, innate homosexuality.