October 18th, 2010

Or maybe they were allergic to Paul?

I read in church yesterday. The second reading was from 2 Timothy and included a verse that I must have memorized at some point from some other translation of the Bible: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (The half-remembered verse in my head has some other wording for the reproof part.) (The reading also included the remarkable phrase “itching ears” as a description for people who are impatient with the usual teaching and want something more exciting and palatable. I love language.)

Now that I’ve returned to my theme from parenthetical Purgatory, I have to confess that I went off on yet another tangent in my mind. My friend Gary has instilled in me the awful habit of considering context, which means I have to think about things instead of just percolating along in my personal fog. In context, the writer of this epistle meant the Law and the Prophets when he said that scripture is inspired by God. And now the church includes this very verse in the body of scripture. Makes the testimonial seem more like advertising, don’t you think? Not that the writer went that way; he wasn’t presuming his work was God’s. (Although I have to wonder what sort of person sits down to write a work as if he were Paul…) (And yes, I assume the writer was male. The letter upholds the patriarchy.)

All of which brought me to the familiar question: how do we know what the word of God is? Our Bible didn’t take its final form for a long time. Chaucer’s Bible had a lot more stuff in it, just for example, like the harrowing of hell. Groups of people met and argued to determine which books stayed and which went. You can read more about it here.

Which means (thank you, Gary) that the Bible as I know it was determined in a cultural context with its particular knowledge, scholarship, and bias. I began to wonder what the Bible would be like if people right now met to discuss what parts of it are or are not inspired by God. Would our “itching ears” throw out sound doctrine? Or would our current understanding help undo the wrongs of former cultural bias?

No conclusions. Just thinking.