Is there anything that ISN'T debatable in Scripture?
What are the absolute truths of the Bible? In other words, what is not subject to interpretation, or are there some passages or themes that everyone interprets the same?
I imagine that at one level, just about every passage of Scripture has some element of interpretation going on.
Some read the Bible literally, meaning that everything occurred just as one reads at face value.
Others see various layers, and wonder about how archaeological finds, linguistic insights, historical context and so forth inform the intended meaning of the texts–assuming that there is any agreement on the interpretation of the archaeological finds, linguistic insights, historical contexts themselves to begin with!
Even the notion of themes is tricky. Most would agree that God has a habit for caring for the poor and the oppressed. However, what the _implications_ of that habit for _us_ is, is another story. Jim Wallis, for example, sees matters vastly differently than does, say, Glenn Beck. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/what-glenn-beck-doesnt-un_b_511362.html and http://blog.beliefnet.com/gospelsoundcheck/2010/07/jim-wallis-glenn-beck-and-lifest.html is a place to start. Here’s a funny take on their bickering: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy8v1Q1VWuI
And while one wants to think of God as all-loving, there is a healthy share of texts which might call that into question.
This is why I love being a systematic theologian. My “gig,” so to speak, is to figure out why we say we believe what we do, and whether it can actually carry the water home. Is it consistent? Does it make sense according to the world in which we live? Where are the weaknesses, and can we work through them (not always, by the way)?
If you have specific texts in mind, that might be a way to do a “case study.”
Thank you for raising this one up!
At seminary, from First Week on, every biblical professor repeated the proverb, “Every translation is an interpretation.” I can remember being 15 years old and seeing my pastor’s Greek bible for the first time and thinking that if I could only read it in Greek, I could find out what it really said. Of course, there are millions of words spilled across the planet on how to translate it, and arguments even there. God seems to intend for the Bible to create wonder and uncertainty and discussion and community; perhaps it’s a vehicle for hospitality?
I really like your last sentence: “God seems to intend for the Bible to create wonder and uncertainty and discussion and community; perhaps it’s a vehicle for hospitality?”
There is one thing in the bible that is not debatable: Luther called the bible “The Cradle of Christ”. It all points to him and should be read in search of him. And life in his name. One thing that is not debatable: Jesus. Period.
One could argue, actually, that there is no singular thing more debatable in Scripture than Jesus.
The full array of books on any seminary library’s shelves (and hopefully any pastor’s!) dedicated to debating Jesus, namely who he was, what he stood for, why he did what he did (not to mention trying to figure out what exactly he did) and what the implications of his life and death are, make the point.
Jesus is debate-ripe. A debater’s dream. Debatable nirvana.
But I’m open to debate about that.
Intellectually, yes. In terms of proclamation, no. At the font, at the altar, in the ICU and at the funeral home there is no debate. Jesus the Messiah. Crucified and raised.
There is a difference, that is true, between preaching and teaching.
But I can’t agree that preaching, proclamation, is not debatable.
Different Christians differ on what they think it means to say that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jerry Falwell, Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright, Gerhard Forde, Warren Quanbeck, Sallie McFague, Elizabeth Johnson, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Stanley Hauerwas, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Billy Graham, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda.
Any one of them might/would have a tough time preaching a sermon written by the other, and I’m not just talking about being uncomfortable with the phraseology.
Even within a given denomination theologians and preachers go toe-to-toe about what it means to say that Jesus is Messiah.
So, for example, you mention at the funeral home. Depending upon the preacher you end up with, you might hear:
1. that it was a good thing that this person now deceased had accepted Jesus as his or her personal Lord and Savior, for they would undoubtedly be welcomed in heaven;
2. that this person would maybe be “saved” but really his or her life is a call for repentance to the living;
3. that this person would be saved and if you wanted to seem him or her again you darn well better change your paths;
4. that there is nothing that can separate us from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that in the midst of grief we are told of a love with no boundaries.
And all would make their claims from their interpretation of what it means to say that Jesus is Messiah.
So even proclamation is debatable; how the preacher sees the event, how the preacher preaches to the event, and how the hearers hear the preacher.