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Old 10th Apr 2012, 12:16 AM   #1
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Default What the Bible says vs how to understand it

Reading Gagnon: Morality and Sin [Scot]

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The question for believers is not finished by asking, “What did the Bible say?” This is at best a trivial question about a historical document. (And it is a naive question, for it disregards the fact that we cannot escape the historically conditioned prejudices we bring to the text. The historical question hides within it prejudices that can obscure the meaning of the text.) The more significant question for a believer is, “How am I to understand what the Bible says?” This question opens up the possibility of theological reflection.

When the Bible says that God commands the Israelites to kill the babies of their enemies (which God does in Deut. 3:1-6 and 1 Sam 15:1-3), does this mean I’m supposed to believe that infanticide and intentionally killing noncombatants in war is good? Should I celebrate with the Psalmist when he takes pleasure in imagining the babies of his enemies being smashed to death on a rock (Ps. 137:9)?
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 12:44 AM   #2
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

I really, really, really don't know why people bother with this book. I find that arguing "oh, when the bible says "you should be killed," what it actually means is..." is just further validating that we should be paying attention to what it says at all.
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 12:49 AM   #3
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

My only comment about this anytime it occurs is: "Are you Jewish?" Because that stuff is Jewish law. If you are a Christian, I would think you'd be interested only in the New Testament with emphasis on the gospels. Otherwise you're just spinning your wheels in the mud of mythology. Be true to yourself, never sell yourself short!
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 05:20 AM   #4
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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Originally Posted by Eww View Post
My only comment about this anytime it occurs is: "Are you Jewish?" Because that stuff is Jewish law. If you are a Christian, I would think you'd be interested only in the New Testament with emphasis on the gospels. Otherwise you're just spinning your wheels in the mud of mythology. Be true to yourself, never sell yourself short!
the old testament was never ruled invalid by jesus. In fact as far as i'm aware, he's quoted in the bible as re-affirming its validity.


and i'm with ridiculous, it's a story book written by iron age peasants for mine. I equate the bible with Aesop's fables - Very useful life lessons to be learned, but don't take it literally: animals can't talk.
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 05:36 AM   #5
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

I'm with Ridiculous too. You can get into interpretation (and yes, there are places in the Bible where interpretation is necessary due to symbolism or other figurative language) but how much interpretation do you need to be able to get from the condoning of slavery, genocide, infanticide, murder, torture, etc to another message?

Additionally, if those graphic areas of the bible are to be interpreted as figurative language, who decides how to interpret it?

I took a biblical hermeneutics class (at a Christian university) and I don't think that interpretation is nearly as clear-cut as people think. It's a really interesting subject but there are few, if any, absolutes. Much if it can be shaped by the biases of the reader...
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 07:35 AM   #6
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

As far as the general question of theism, anthropomorphism never really sat well with me. I have no doubt that, if cats had a religion, their god would look like a cat. If rocks could have a religion, their god would be a monolith. I think it is vanity and nothing else but vanity. After we and our little yellow dwarf star are gone from the universe, the cosmos will continue boiling away as if we had never been there, and it doesn't need us there to watch it.

Anyway, on to the Bible: for one thing, the tree spoken of in Genesis is actually very interesting because there are many religions that speak of a tree. It is present in the Old Norse religion in the form of Yggdrasil. Another common theme is the presence of a snake-like monstrosity: in Genesis, Eve is tricked into disobedience of God's commandment by a snake. In the Gylfaginning, the roots of Yggdrasil are gnawed at by a "dragon."

Of course, Yggdrasil also has at its top an eagle, named Vedrfolnir, that "knows many things." It brings the Simurgh from the Shahnameh to mind, doesn't it? In fact, Genesis also has an eagle associated with a tree:

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Originally Posted by Genesis
17 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, propound a riddle, and speak a parable to the house of Israel; 3 say, Thus says the Lord God: A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar. 4 He broke off the topmost of its young twigs and carried it to a land of trade and set it in a city of merchants. 5 Then he took of the seed of the land and planted it in fertile soil.[a] He placed it beside abundant waters. He set it like a willow twig, 6 and it sprouted and became a low spreading vine, and its branches turned toward him, and its roots remained where it stood. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out boughs.

7 “And there was another great eagle with great wings and much plumage, and behold, this vine bent its roots toward him and shot forth its branches toward him from the bed where it was planted, that he might water it. 8 It had been planted on good soil by abundant waters, that it might produce branches and bear fruit and become a noble vine.

9 “Say, Thus says the Lord God: Will it thrive? Will he not pull up its roots and cut off its fruit, so that it withers, so that all its fresh sprouting leaves wither? It will not take a strong arm or many people to pull it from its roots. 10 Behold, it is planted; will it thrive? Will it not utterly wither when the east wind strikes it—wither away on the bed where it sprouted?”

11 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Say now to the rebellious house, Do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes and brought them to him to Babylon. 13 And he took one of the royal offspring[b] and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath ( the chief men of the land he had taken away), 14 that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and keep his covenant that it might stand. 15 But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape?

16 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant with him he broke, in Babylon he shall die. 17 Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war, when mounds are cast up and siege walls built to cut off many lives. 18 He despised the oath in breaking the covenant, and behold, he gave his hand and did all these things; he shall not escape. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely it is my oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke. I will return it upon his head. 20 I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treachery he has committed against me. 21 And all the pick[c] of his troops shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be scattered to every wind, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken.”

22 Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”
That second eagle is interesting, isn't it? I wonder if it has anything to do with that hawk supposedly perched on Vedrfolnir's head...anyway!

Of course, Eve also has a parallel, and her name is Inanna. I am going to make a bold claim here: Eve is an alter-ego of the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna. Why? Because they actually come from the same source. The source religion!

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Huluppu Tree
Once upon a time, a tree, a huluppu, a tree --
It had been planted on the bank of the Euphrates,
It was watered by the Euphrates --
The violence of the South Wind plucked up its roots,
Tore away its crown,
The Euphrates carried it off on its waters.

The woman, roving about in fear at the word of An,
Roving about in fear at the word of Enlil,
Took the tree in her hand, brought it to Erech:
"I shall bring it to pure Inanna's fruitful garden."

The woman tended the tree with her hand, placed it by her foot,
Inanna tended the tree with her hand, placed it by her foot,
"When will it be a fruitful throne for me to sit on," she said,
"When will it be a fruitful bed for me to lie on," she said.

The tree grew big, its trunk bore no foliage,
In its roots the snake who knows no charm set up its nest,
In its crown the Imdugud-bird placed its young,
In its midst the maid Lilith built her house --
The always laughing, always rejoicing maid,
The maid Inanna -- how she weeps!
Of course, the Sumerians didn't like this eagle. In fact, they accused the Imdugud Bird, Anzu, of stealing the Tablets of Destiny, among other crimes. Therefore, why is it that the wise bird who knows many things rendered as a good guy in the Iranian legend? Why is the Simurgh revered in one religion but his counter-part reviled in the other? Well, here is the deal: the bird hates snakes, and the ancient Sumerians kind of liked them.

And, in Hindu lore, the Simurgh is rendered as Garuda...

Anyway, the point is that the early texts of the Bible all stem from one very ancient, antediluvian religion that once predominated in the Near East, Middle East and probably around the Western shores of the Black Sea. The religion is so incredibly ancient that we have nothing left of it but its myriad shards. However, it is so deeply rooted in our psyche that it survives in us still.

However, this was not the only antediluvian religion to show its face in the Bible. Another strong current comes from Tengriism, and its strongest influence is in the story of Paul the Apostle. Paul's Turkish heritage shines through when, after being "struck down," he becomes obsessed with living a spiritual life. In Tengriism, this is the kind of experience that marks someone as a shaman. Tengriism's blood surges from Turkey through Siberia, over much of Russia and far into the Scandinavian Peninsula. Its roots are very very very deep.

So the best way to comprehend the Bible is to take it one book at a time. The more you investigate it, the more interesting it gets. If you have the heart of a scholar, you can stay amused for years. However, don't limit yourself to just the Bible. The human soul that lies beyond it is more majestic and far more holy.

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Old 10th Apr 2012, 09:49 AM   #7
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

Gah! Excuse me! I meant the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 17. But the Book of Genesis and the Book of Ezekiel are closely related. Sorry.
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 04:01 PM   #8
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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the old testament was never ruled invalid by jesus. In fact as far as i'm aware, he's quoted in the bible as re-affirming its validity.
Actually, I think Jesus did say that he fulfilled the law in Matthew. Regardless, verses in Romans, Galations, and Hebrews (I can provide verses if they're desired) are considered by the majority of Christians to mean that the Jewish law (Old Testament) no longer needs to be strictly adhered to. Jesus did quote the Old Testament and reaffirm some parts but that doesn't mean that he is reaffirming the whole thing, considering he also quoted some parts of the Old Testament and did not reaffirm them
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 07:39 PM   #9
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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Quote:
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My only comment about this anytime it occurs is: "Are you Jewish?" Because that stuff is Jewish law. If you are a Christian, I would think you'd be interested only in the New Testament with emphasis on the gospels. Otherwise you're just spinning your wheels in the mud of mythology. Be true to yourself, never sell yourself short!
the old testament was never ruled invalid by jesus. In fact as far as i'm aware, he's quoted in the bible as re-affirming its validity.


and i'm with ridiculous, it's a story book written by iron age peasants for mine. I equate the bible with Aesop's fables - Very useful life lessons to be learned, but don't take it literally: animals can't talk.

Actually -- that's not quite true. Jesus said he came to 'fulfil' the Law (aka the Old Testament) and do away with it. The Old Testament Laws do not apply to Christians today -- only Jews. Without getting into it, Jesus replaced the Old Testament's Laws with Grace.

Essentially, the Old Testament states that the only way to be pleasing to God is to follow all of the laws in the Old Testament. Obviously, this is/was impossible. That's why the Jews were constantly offering animal sacrifices - the animal's blood somehow "paid" for their sins. Jesus came to be the final, perfect, sacrifice.

A very important point is understanding what 'Testament' means. 'Testament' means covenant or agreement. The Old Testament was God's Contract with Mankind. When Jesus came he REPLACED this Contract with a new one, the New Testament.

The Old Testament has laws about wearing clothes that combine different types of fiber. Does anyone do that? No. The Old Testament says God's people cannot eat shellfish or pork, does this apply to Christians? No. The reason is Christians are told not to follow the Old Testament Levitical laws, but to follow Jesus' New Testament -- because Jesus paid for the failures of mankind with his sacrifice.

Coastgirl made a good point in another thread about this:

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Originally Posted by coastgirl View Post

The best use for the Old Testament at this point is to see the history of the religion and also to see how Jesus was announced by the prophets well, well, before he was born, etc. We shouldn't throw the Old Testament out - it is absolutely necessary to the Christian religion because you need to see how everything came about. But it's not a rulebook anymore, and we shouldn't be trying to follow the laws that were given to the Jews thousands of years ago in an attempt to keep them separate as a race. This is where people get super off track.

Attempting to follow all the rules in the Old Testament is exactly what Jesus tells us NOT to do.

The rule that Christians need to follow now is to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are doing that, we are doing the right thing.
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 09:52 PM   #10
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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Actually -- that's not quite true. Jesus said he came to 'fulfil' the Law (aka the Old Testament) and do away with it. The Old Testament Laws do not apply to Christians today -- only Jews. Without getting into it, Jesus replaced the Old Testament's Laws with Grace.
I'm sure it's convenient to believe that but i'm afraid that's entirely wrong.

On this topic (like just about every other) the bible is self contradictory, but there are only extremely vague and obscure references to law being changed. On the other hand, there is one particularly explicit passage in Matthew which you can't really misinterpret: (and is quoting jesus directly)

""Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven."

That's quite clear.

Also, in Luke there's a refreshingly clear passage on the subject: "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail"

Quote:
Attempting to follow all the rules in the Old Testament is exactly what Jesus tells us NOT to do.
.... really....

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Old 10th Apr 2012, 10:49 PM   #11
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

I think it was Paul who declared the laws of the Old Testament invalid, when he created the concept of Original Sin. It was the separation of Christianity from Judaism.
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 11:13 PM   #12
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

so who's right, jesus or paul?
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 11:30 PM   #13
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

The rhetorical device of pitting the words of Jesus in the Gospels against the words of Paul in his epistles and asking "who's right?" is cute, but from a historical perspective, isn't very meaningful. The Gospels were written between ten to fifty years after Paul's epistles and are not in any sense first-hand accounts of the words of the historical Jesus. Rather, they are written accounts of oral traditions about what Jesus said combined with the words the evangelists put into Jesus' mouth to prove their own rhetorical points.

There is no reason from a historical point of view to privilege the Gospels over Paul in terms of determining the beliefs of early Christianity. Indeed, because Paul is earlier, you could make a strong case for privileging Paul (though I wouldn't make that case for a lot of complex reasons which I won't go into here). Theologically, Paul and the Gospels are quite different and deciding which to privilege is up to your hermeneutic.
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Old 10th Apr 2012, 11:47 PM   #14
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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The rhetorical device of pitting the words of Jesus in the Gospels against the words of Paul in his epistles and asking "who's right?" is cute, but from a historical perspective, isn't very meaningful. The Gospels were written between ten to fifty years after Paul's epistles and are not in any sense first-hand accounts of the words of the historical Jesus. Rather, they are written accounts of oral traditions about what Jesus said combined with the words the evangelists put into Jesus' mouth to prove their own rhetorical points.

There is no reason from a historical point of view to privilege the Gospels over Paul in terms of determining the beliefs of early Christianity. Indeed, because Paul is earlier, you could make a strong case for privileging Paul (though I wouldn't make that case for a lot of complex reasons which I won't go into here). Theologically, Paul and the Gospels are quite different and deciding which to privilege is up to your hermeneutic.
That's exactly my point. Definitive statements about the bible's stance on this, that or the other are an exercise in futility. I'll refer back to the comparison with Aesop's fables. Useful, not to be taken literally.

[edit] as far as i'm aware though, there's no direct quote of jesus declaring the old testament in any way null or void.

Also, i bet a large number of people would accuse anyone who questioned whether jesus words in the bible are accurate of heresy.

---------- Post added 11th Apr 2012 at 05:00 PM ----------

Quote:
The rhetorical device of pitting the words of Jesus in the Gospels against the words of Paul in his epistles and asking "who's right?" is cute, but from a historical perspective, isn't very meaningful.
Most people don't care about the historical viewpoint when deciding whether to believe in the bible as a whole or not anyway, my point isn't that one part is right and the other part is wrong, it's that the whole thing is a self contradictory mess and to be taken with a grain of salt throughout.

Last edited by Pseudojim; 10th Apr 2012 at 11:55 PM..
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Old 11th Apr 2012, 12:08 AM   #15
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

I feel that we should believe however we want to believe. There are LGBT Jews who are able to reconcile the Torah's rulings with their sexuality. Historically, the Church has never taken a favorite position towards us gay folks.. neither have many of the "Church Fathers". You should just take what you need, and reject the rest if you ask me.

Being an Orthodox Christian I think it's great if we can use the Bible for spiritual nourishment, knowing that there's a God who loves us. All of those things are great, but I think Jesus hit it right.. when many neglect the weightier matters of the law. Our God is one of compassion, so why should we not be compassionate to others as well? Don't worry about all that other stuff that people use to be against it..
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Old 11th Apr 2012, 04:44 AM   #16
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

Jesus makes a bit of a point of contradicting/refining the Old Testament. For example, the whole turn the other cheek thing is explicitly said in response to the Old Testament 'eye for an eye' law. In this case, he's saying that the latter doesn't apply to his Disciples' private disputes, but doesn't seem to be revoking the OT words. The lay person can read 'contradictions' like these really in any way they want—they've got at least some grounds to allow them to think anything from supporting the death penalty to complete pacifism.

I think of the Bible as a really confusing mash up. And there are definitely parts of it that have been completely lost in translation and just don't really make much sense as they stand in the Bibles that most people own. Good and meaty Biblical exegesis just doesn't reach the hands of the everyday Christian. But it needs to be done. The public having their own little Bibles in their own language is a relatively new thing in Christian history, and I really think that trying to understand the historical and linguistical confusion should precede even touching a Bible.

Christianity is a religion of the Book, but you only need to look at the sheer range in interpretations to see that the Bible is big enough and confusing enough that you can use it to believe whatever you want to believe. And the problem of polarization among the extremes is something that is only perpetuated by ostracising them…
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Old 11th Apr 2012, 05:19 AM   #17
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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Actually -- that's not quite true. Jesus said he came to 'fulfil' the Law (aka the Old Testament) and do away with it. The Old Testament Laws do not apply to Christians today -- only Jews. Without getting into it, Jesus replaced the Old Testament's Laws with Grace.
I'm sure it's convenient to believe that but i'm afraid that's entirely wrong.

On this topic (like just about every other) the bible is self contradictory, but there are only extremely vague and obscure references to law being changed. On the other hand, there is one particularly explicit passage in Matthew which you can't really misinterpret: (and is quoting jesus directly)

""Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven."

That's quite clear.
Exactly, The Old Testament Law cannot be abolished it can only be fulfilled. Christians believe that is what Jesus did by dying on the cross. Mankind is unable to fulfill the law so Jesus did by dying for our sin and inability to be clean. Hence, the New Testament frees us from the Old Testament Laws through God's Grace, which is freely given to us through Jesus. Essentially, Christians believe The Law of Moses has been fulfilled and we are no longer held to it. This is part of the problem with picking and choosing quotes without considering the entirety of the Bible.

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Also, in Luke there's a refreshingly clear passage on the subject: "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail"
Exactly -- The Law of Moses is the Law but Jesus clearly said that makind was unable to obey the law and needed to be freed from it. How were we freed from The Old Testament Law? Through God's sacrifice of His Son. Jesus fulfilled The Law by taking the blame (our sin) from us through his death. Again, a very important point is understanding what 'Testament' means. 'Testament' means covenant or agreement. The Old Testament was God's Contract with Mankind. When Jesus came he REPLACED this Contract with a new one, the New Testament. Jesus' Contract doesn't negate the Old Testament but He says He will fulfil the Old Contract (Testament) if we fulfil the New (Testament).
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Old 11th Apr 2012, 05:55 AM   #18
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

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Essentially, Christians believe The Law of Moses has been fulfilled and we are no longer held to it.
Maybe modern christians, and even then only because it's convenient, imo. The ten commandments seem pretty well ingrained in christian society the world over. So far as i understand, that view comes from the church's official stance, not biblical dogma.

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Old 11th Apr 2012, 06:24 AM   #19
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

Okay, as for the actual books of the Bible, some explanation for someone who is unfamiliar with the books:

The first five books are known as the Torah, and they include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Book of Genesis describes the primeval beginnings of ancient Israel, including the flood story. The Book of Exodus explains the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. The Book of Leviticus explains the laws that govern the Temple. The Book of Numbers contains information about the populace of Israel and adds several regulations for governing the Temple. Deuteronomy contains more laws for governing the Temple. Here is a handy breakdown of the contents you can presently find in the Wikipedia articles covering the books of the Torah:

Genesis:

Bereishit, on Genesis 1-6: Creation, Eden, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Lamech, wickedness

Noach, on Genesis 6-11: Noah’s Ark, the Flood, Noah’s drunkenness, the Tower of Babel

Lech-Lecha, on Genesis 12-17: Abraham, Sarah, Lot, covenant, Hagar and Ishmael, circumcision

Vayeira, on Genesis 18-22: Abraham's visitors, Sodomites, Lot’s visitors and flight, Hagar expelled, binding of Isaac

Chayei Sarah, on Genesis 23-25: Sarah buried, Rebekah for Isaac

Toledot, on Genesis 25-28: Esau and Jacob, Esau's birthright, Isaac’s blessing

Vayetze, on Genesis 28-32: Jacob flees, Rachel, Leah, Laban, Jacob’s children and departure

Vayishlach, on Genesis 32-36: Jacob’s reunion with Esau, the rape of Dinah

Vayeshev, on Genesis 37-40: Joseph's dreams, coat, and slavery, Judah with Tamar, Joseph and Potiphar

Miketz, on Genesis 41-44: Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph's in government, Joseph’s brothers visit Egypt

Vayigash, on Genesis 44-47: Joseph reveals himself, Jacob moves to Egypt

Vayechi, on Genesis 47-50: Jacob’s blessings, death of Jacob and of Joseph


Exodus:

Shemot, on Exodus 1-5: Affliction in Egypt, Moses is found and called, Pharaoh

Va'eira, on Exodus 6-9: Plagues 1 to 7 of Egypt

Bo, on Exodus 10-13: Last plagues of Egypt, first Passover

Beshalach, on Exodus 13-17: Parting the Sea, water, manna, Amalek

Yitro, on Exodus 18-20: Jethro’s advice, The Ten Commandments

Mishpatim, on Exodus 21-24: The Covenant Code

Terumah, on Exodus 25-27: God's instructions on the Tabernacle and furnishings

Tetzaveh, on Exodus 27-30: God's instructions on the first priests

Ki Tisa, on Exodus 30-34: Census, anointing oil, golden calf, stone tablets, Moses radiant

Vayakhel, on Exodus 35-38: Israelites collect gifts make the Tabernacle and furnishings

Pekudei, on Exodus 38-40: The Tabernacle is set up and filled


Leviticus:

Vayikra, on Leviticus 1-5: Laws of the sacrifices

Tzav, on Leviticus 6-8: Sacrifices, ordination of the priests

Shemini, on Leviticus 9-11: Tabernacle consecrated, alien fire, dietary laws

Tazria, on Leviticus 12-13: Childbirth, skin disease, clothing

Metzora, on Leviticus 14-15: Skin disease, infected houses, genital discharges

Acharei, on Leviticus 16-18: Yom Kippur, centralized offerings, sexual practices

Kedoshim, on Leviticus 19-20: Holiness, penalties for transgressions

Emor, on Leviticus 21-24: Rules for priests, holy days, lights and bread, a blasphemer

Behar, on Leviticus 25-25: Sabbatical year, debt servitude limited

Bechukotai, on Leviticus 26-27: Blessings and curses, payment of vows


Numbers:

Bamidbar, on Numbers 1-4: First census, priestly duties

Naso, on Numbers 4-7: Priestly duties, the camp, unfaithfulness and the Nazirite, Tabernacle consecration

Behaalotecha, on Numbers 8-12: Levites, journing by cloud and fire, complaints, questioning of Moses

Shlach, on Numbers 13-15: Mixed report of the scouts and Israel's response

Korach, on Numbers 16-18: Korah’s rebellion, plague, Aaron’s staff buds, duties of the Levites

Chukat, on Numbers 19-21: Red heifer, water from a rock, Miriam’s and Aaron’s deaths, victories, serpents

Balak, on Numbers 22-25: Balaam's donkey and blessing

Pinchas, on Numbers 25-29: Phinehas, second census, inheritance, Moses' successor, offerings and holidays

Matot, on Numbers 30-34: Vows, Midian, dividing booty, land for Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh

Masei, on Numbers 33-36: Stations of the Israelites’ journeys, instructions for conquest, cities for Levites


Deuteronomy:

Devarim, on Deuteronomy 1-3: Chiefs, scouts, Edom, Ammonites, Sihon, Og, land for two and a half tribes

Va'etchanan, on Deuteronomy 3-7: Cities of refuge, Ten Commandments, exhortation, conquest instructions

Eikev, on Deuteronomy 7-11: Obedience, taking the land, golden calf, Aaron’s death, Levites’ duties

Re'eh, on Deuteronomy 11-16: Centralized worship, diet, tithes, sabbatical year, pilgrim festivals

Shoftim, on Deuteronomy 16-21: Basic societal structure for the Israelites

Ki Teitzei, on Deuteronomy 21-25: Miscellaneous laws on civil and domestic life

Ki Tavo, on Deuteronomy 26-29: First fruits, tithes, blessings and curses, exhortation

Nitzavim, on Deuteronomy 29-30: covenant, violation, choose blessing and curse

Vayelech, on Deuteronomy 31: Encouragement, reading and writing the law

Haazinu, on Deuteronomy 32: Punishment, punishment restrained, parting words

V'Zot HaBerachah, on Deuteronomy 33-34: Farewell blessing and death of Moses


Although I doubt the Torah was ever intended as absolute law, it actually contains a great deal of interesting material. For example, Numbers 19 actually gives directions for creating material for making a strong soap. The way I figure this is that all of the ingredients suggested for the "water of cleansing" have strong antiseptic, antimicrobial and antibacterial effects. This includes the seemingly nonsensical "red wool." Oh, and by this I mean that someone who ritually smears chicken blood on your walls is not only following a commandment in Leviticus 14, but it makes a lot more sense than you might think.

Cedar: cedar is revered in ancient society for very good reason. For one thing, its oil is useful as a base for paints. More importantly, its essential oil is powerful as a pesticide, and it is an antifungal agent. Its medicinal uses are really quite amazing.

Hyssop: many of the uses of hyssop can be found in the works of Dioscorides, who did a considerable amount of writing on herbs and other substances that were used in the ancient world. As an antibacterial agent, it is very useful.

Scarlet wool: this might not have been mere symbolic clap-trap after all. The plant that was most likely used to produce a red dye would have been madder, which is actually useful as an antimicrobial agent. Whether or not the Israelites actually knew this is a different question altogether.

Now, as to why a "live bird" is used in Leviticus 14, I don't know. I am not clear on how the bird was actually used. The only thing I can figure they needed the live bird for was to help determine if the air had some deadly toxin in it. If there were a toxic mold in a house, a bird would be affected by it long before a human being would be. However, it's possible that this actually was nothing but clap-trap.

Sometimes I do err too much on the side of assuming the priests had good reason for what they did, but I think it's hideous that we have always assumed our forebears to be superstitious idiots when they had the same intelligence that we do. They were the foremost thinkers of their time. There is no reason at all to assume right off that they had some ignorant or "mystical" reason for something when there could be a perfectly logical and valid reason why they did what they did.

Anyway, there is also a lot of interesting material in the later books of the Bible. For example, in books like Ezekiel, the laments spoken of in those books can provide insights about the political landscape of the time period. Although they use a lot of colorful metaphor in these laments, this is because they are intended for their emotional impact. The colorful language is actually quite utilitarian for the purpose for which they were used.

The Old Testament is really a lot more interesting than the New Testament, in many ways.
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Old 11th Apr 2012, 10:16 AM   #20
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Default Re: What the Bible says vs how to understand it

I never have quite enough time to post up all of my thoughts at once, so please forgive me for adding another post here right after my last one.

There is one simple way to account for God's behavior in 1 Samuel 15: simply take Samuel's claims with a grain of salt. Seriously, consider it as just a possibility that Samuel is a jerk and a liar. The fact of the matter is that Israel was every bit as expansionist-minded at this time as the Romans ever thought of being. They weren't content to live quiet lives in the Promised Land, but they wanted an empire. They were beset with greed, and they resorted to crass villainy of all kinds in this pursuit.

However, what other civilization has ever been as honest about its history as the Jewish people? The Jews didn't just selectively pick and choose the most flattering parts of their history, but they took care to tell the parts of their history in which their behavior was absolutely cruel. They are a very self-critical culture, and this is admirable. Our history is useless unless we remember the evils in our past as well as the good stuff.

The thing is, this is lost on someone who chooses to use the Bible as a laundry list of commandments and prophesies. It doesn't work that way. There is a lot more to it than that, and the books are a lot more interesting and have much greater virtue if they are understood for what they are. We can learn a lot more from a truthful account of a less-than-perfect king than we could ever learn by assuming there was some mystical justification behind his evils.

Therefore, my argument on the Bible is threefold. Firstly, the ancient Hebrew religion shares its roots with many other ancient religions, and the foundation of their faith is probably significantly older than their history. Secondly, the laws of the Torah are secular in nature, and there is often-as-not a perfectly ordinary and scientifically plausible reason behind its commandments; in fact, we do the ancients an injustice by assuming their behavior to be symbolic, mystical nonsense, and it amounts to modernist bigotry to do so. Thirdly, we ought to be careful about how we take the claims of historical rulers of Israel because, in the end, they were politicians, and they were not morally infallible.

And, if we venture into the New Testament applying the same kind of reasoning, it is really much easier to read. It's really important to exercise some restraint in what we choose to believe because the authors of these books were human. The people later who compiled them into what we know as the Bible were also human, and their motives were often politically intricate.

As for whether or not you choose to believe the people who claim that Jesus Christ was miraculously resurrected and promised his followers eternal life, that's your business. It's also your business if you think that the writer of Revelation was actually making a serious prophesy rather than just trying to capture the interest of his audience with colorful imagery, which I think is an explanation for Revelation that makes it much easier to take seriously.

Anyway, those are my views. Sorry again they were scattered over numerous posts. I know it seems strange that a skeptic would spend as much time as I have trying to comprehend this stuff, but I really think that the Bible is an important part of our history. I don't see how someone could care about where we came from and NOT want to try to understand it. As for how this applies to how we should treat homosexuality, that's simple: the ancients were not trying to persecute anybody by asking gay men to refrain from certain nasty sex acts, but they were just trying to maintain a standard of sanitation. The motive was not vicious, and they would probably have been very upset if they had found out they had hurt anyone by it.

Last edited by Christiaan; 11th Apr 2012 at 10:25 AM..
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