Monday, October 10, 2005

Jesus: The Living Interpretive Principle

The big words in conservative evangelical circles regarding Biblical interpretation are inerrancy and literalism. Even during my most conservative period I could never quite figure why it was so important for the Bible to be inerrant, or what was meant by interpreting the Bible literally. It never made much sense to me and it contradicted reality.

Well anyway, a couple days ago I was reading this post over at Mainstream Baptist, particularly some of the comments. It got me thinking about how we should interpret the Bible, or for that matter any kind of text or situation.

I submit an article by Rene Girard, Are the Gospels Mythical.

Jesus is the “Living Hermeneutic Key” or the “Living Interpretive Principle”. A Bible passage cannot be taken in isolation or separate from the light of Jesus Christ. If you do not interpret the Bible from the standpoint of Jesus, or use Jesus as your interpretive principle, you will come up with some horribly wrong conclusions.

Example: The Story of Achan, Joshua 7:1-26

These two entries are examples of the mythological interpretation of the story.
Example #1
Example #2

It is a testament to how far the Gospel of Jesus Christ has penetrated our culture, that people who don’t call themselves Christians can see the injustice that was done to Achan. (But the corollary of course is the retrogression or neo-paganism of certain segments of evangelical conservatism that must hold on to the idea of Achan’s guilt.)

In summary the story goes like this. The Israelites under the leadership of Joshua are coming off a great victory over Jericho. Immediately following their conquest of Jericho they attacked a nearby Caananite town called Ai, but in this first attack Israel was defeated. They had this whole manifest destiny thing going and this defeat came as quite a blow. Remember the numbers listed below.

3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there." 4 So about three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries [c] and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.

The story tells us that the reason the Israelites were defeated was because a man named Achan had violated the Ban. Israel believed that their God was invincible and that defeat could only be explained by the assumption that this God had found some kind of fault with His people.

You have to believe that after this defeat Joshua was feeling some pressure. After defeats the competency of the leader is always questioned. There was conflict and turmoil among the Israelites, they were looking for someone to blame.

Joshua decides that what the Israelites need is some kind of sacrificial rite or ritual that would restore order. A scapegoat ritual. A ritual that would transfer all of the community's anxieties and guilt onto a single victim.

Supposedly the lottery is done at God’s command. So through this lottery that Joshua devises Achan is identified as the sole violator of the Ban. Hard to believe that in a large army Achan was the only person to violate the Ban. After Achan is identified he and the rest of his family are taken out and stoned by the angry lynch mob. Very important that his whole family is killed. Don’t want any children talking about the plunder they saw in someone else’s tent. It would destroy the unanimity and the resulting peace. Achan must be seen as totally guilty. He is the scapegoat that carries away the sin of the community. Must also destroy all his property, don’t want anybody fighting over it after Achan has been buried in a pile of stones. After the stoning of Achan the community/Lord turned from their/his anger. Achan was murdered because of the failure of Joshua’s military strategy and the resulting bloodthirst of an angry community. Notice the numbers at the beginning of the next chapter.

So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night

Who in this story is in the position of Christ? Who represents the precursor to Christ? Who is killed in an act of collective violence attributed to the will of God? The killing of Jesus was murder, and the killing of Achan was murder. Joshua represents Caiaphas, who also understood the idea that it is better for one person to die than that the whole nation should perish.
Biblical passages cannot be taken in isolation. They must taken in the light of Jesus Christ. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolute truth. Jesus is the “Living Interpretive Principle”.
I didn’t really go into Mr. Girard’s paper, but I think the above story illustrates the difference between Gospel and myth. Might look at it closer at some later date. Two young children can make running a blog kind of an adventure.

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