Friday, January 25, 2019

Reading the Bible Like Shrek and Fiona

One of the things that made the movie Shrek so popular was that it embodied the anti-fairy-tale. When Princess Fiona was revealed to be an ogre by night, someone who was cursed to remain that way until true love's kiss, those of us conditioned by fairy tales naturally assumed that she would revert to her more aesthetically pleasing human princess form. The princess herself believed this and was horrified by her nightly appearance. So after Donkey discovered Fiona's curse and Shrek overheard Fiona and Donkey talking, hearing Fiona ask, "How could anyone love such a hideous beast?" Shrek assumed Fiona was saying that she could never love someone who looked like an ogre. He had missed the rest of the conversation that revealed Fiona didn't think Shrek could ever love someone who looked like Fiona did at night. He formed an opinion based on a single phrase without the proper context.

I recently read an article where the author argued that drinking alcohol of any kind was a sin and that God preferred people drink grape juice in Old Testament times rather than imbibing alcohol. He quoted this verse, "If a man or woman wants to make a special vow to the Lord as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink" (Leviticus 6:2-3, NIV). He argued that God would never permit any of his people to drink any alcohol and you could prove it based on this ideal, saying that God only wanted his people in the Old Testament to drink grape juice. There were only two problems with his argument: 1) the following verse which reads, "He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins" (Leviticus 6:3, NIV) and the conclusion of the regulations for Nazirites where God states that once the vow is completed "the Nazirite may drink wine" (Leviticus 6:20, NIV).

I do not say this to argue that drinking alcohol is endorsed by God but to warn of the dangers of forming opinions about the Bible's teachings based on a small snippet of scripture. The author of the article I read could have served himself better by simply reading the rest of the passage he was using as proof for his argument. But in recent days I have heard people make all kinds of ridiculous arguments about things the Bible supposedly teaches. In the last six months, people have presented me with "proof" that the Bible endorsed abortion, outlawed Christmas trees, demeaned women, and condoned same-sex and multi-partner couplings, only to have their arguments fall apart when we examined the surrounding context of those scriptures together.

And while we like to point the finger at other people who treat scripture this way, we often do it ourselves. We decide not to take the entirety of scripture seriously because, after all, we don't avoid eating shellfish or dig a hole outside the city to use the bathroom anymore like the Old Testament tells us, without ever noticing that scripture itself explains the rational for this "oversight" in numerous places and explicitly, at least for us non-Jews, in Acts 15. We argue that the New Testament's guidance for marital relationships was just cultural and can be dismissed when the contexts of most of those passages show that guidance to be counter-cultural for the time.

As we read the scriptures and as we search for the truth of reality and how we are to live, we must read the context, too. This requires reading the passages before and after the verses we are studying. But it also requires reading the entirety of scripture itself. Scripture records the story of how God has revealed himself to humanity. If we don't read and study that whole story, we will likely miss some important context clues along the way.

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