Interpreting Bible Teachings

Holy Bible

The Book of Genesis (“Book of the Beginnings”) is the first book of the Bible. It opens with a poem imagining God creating the world over the course of a working week, and resting on the seventh day.

Scholars guide us to discern three separate traditions blended in the opening five books of the Bible, and we thus understand the repetition of certain events and the different stories relating to the same truths.

Scholars call the opening eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis “myth” – story revealing religious truth: but many sincere people do not accept these are stories but believe they are literally true, even amazing as the details are. That is the fundamental question of the Bible: do we accept it as literally true in its detail and circumstance, or do we interpret the teaching of the Bible according to our different understandings and varying circumstances?

Last week I summarised an approach to reading the opening chapters: the first three are about man and woman, a universal story. We are descended from man and woman, as we see in every generation of world history. We are not descended from Adam and Eve whose story begins in chapter four, in exile, outside the Garden of Eden. They have a child, Cain, who grows up to be a murderer – a horrifying beginning to the human story.

When God exiles Cain for killing his brother, Abel, Cain travels east of Eden to the land of Nod, and there marries a local woman. So there are other people on earth, Adam and Even and Cain (and Abel) are not the only ones. The Bible does not teach we are descended from Adam and Eve, but from the man and woman of the first chapters.

When God regrets creating the human race the Flood comes, Noah and his family the only human beings to survive. So the Bible teaches we are descended from Noah. Noah has three sons and curses Ham for mocking him, condemning him and his children to be slaves of the brother Sem and Japheth, thus justifying slavery in the eyes of the Christian Churches down the centuries.

Only at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s did the Catholic Church condemn the institution of slavery. The Bible approves slavery, capital punishment, revenge, conquest in the name of God. Should we? The Synod of the Church of England has highlighted divisions in how to read or interpret the Bible on sexual relations. How do we?

God bless us to be true to the Word,

Fr John
(26th February 2017)

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