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Opening Question
What gives the Bible so much influence in people’s lives so many years after it was written? Isn’t it outdated, and obsolete due to the progression of science and human reason?

This week’s lesson takes on several at-times conflicting human values, but all of which influence both the writing of the Bible, and our own interpretive lens:

  • Tradition
  • Experience
  • Culture
  • Reason
  • The Bible

The lesson, however, doesn’t do a great job showing how/why the Bible is such an authoritative source for our theology.

Can you think of places in the Bible where each of these is brought up or exemplified?

The lesson points to Mark 7:1-13. This challenging passage must first be seen in context: the Pharisees asked Jesus why he doesn’t follow the “tradition of the elder.” This does not mean Torah (or O.T. Law), but the oral interpretation of the Rabbis which was memorized and considered “inspired” commentary on the law. It was later codified as law itself in the Talmud and Mishna several centuries after Christ. Rabbis would argue over correct interpretation or application of the law, and respected Rabbis’ words carried the day. Jewish Yeshiva students today learn Torah, but words of the Rabbis are often just as important!

It’s important to note that nowhere in this passage are the Levitical/Deuteronomic dietary codes specifically called into question; the context is over purity rituals where unwashed hands defiled food, due most likely to association with/touching common items. Jesus declares all food clean, yes, but certain animals in Judaism were never “food” in the first place.

After reading Mark 7, what is the essential problem Jesus has with the “tradition of the elders?” How can we prevent ourselves from adopting traditions that violate God’s will?

I’ve known people who have had dreams that they believed were from God, or claimed to have hear God speak to them directly; some saw “signs” of God in events around them and they drew spiritual conclusions from what they assumed was divine providence. Their experiences were powerful shapers of their beliefs and even courses of action. In the secular world, human experience often becomes the standard of judging what is normative. Take resurrection of the dead for example. Because we don’t experience it, the secular mind assumes it is a product of people’s imagination or ancient myths, not reality. Yet Christian faith rests on it being a reality.

Modern science is founded on the premise that what we experience through our primary senses is the foundation of all reality. If I can duplicate a sensory experience, it becomes testable, and then normative and accepted as truth. The scientific method has incredible value for building knowledge and understanding the world around us, but it is limited to what is in the physical world, and cannot address issues of what should be, of ethics, philosophy, or even subjective human experience, let alone metaphysical realities like God’s existence, resurrection from the dead, and salvation/sanctification.

To what degree should the Bible be a test of our experiences, and where do its limits end?

This word is used frequently in modern sociological and political conversations. It often describes traditional ways of being human that distinguish one person or group from others. Sadly, it’s often politicized and weaponized as well. All humans share some aspects of culture—all must eat to survive, and thus the procurement of sustenance and water is foundational. But ethical and moral norms, social interaction, procreativity, education, religion, and a myriad of other human aspects may differ.

Every person who reads the Bible brings their own worldview and values to the text. While modern sociologists state that all cultures are equal in their own right, this position is challenged by the ethics of Judeo-Christianity. Biblical cultures varied from our own, yet the mistakes and successes of Jewish characters are frequently understandable across cultures. God’s word and prophets often challenged aspects of their own culture, calling them to ethics higher than that of the nations around them to which they were often drawn. The Bible challenges aspects of culture: what we eat and wear, what laws and actions should govern society, where we put our money and time, how we view and practice sexuality, and what our life-priorities should be.

How can our cultural bias or lens affect our interpretation of God’s Word? What if I fail to understand the culture of the Bible—can I still understand and interpret it correctly?

A person cannot function without the use of reason. The challenge is to know the role of reason, discernment, and distinguishing of spirits when it comes to spiritual things, and the Bible especially. Isaiah 1:18 reminds us that God wants us to reason with Him, to consider and ponder. Paul is often pictured in Acts as meeting with Jews and “reasoning” from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah, using convincing proofs and philosophical logic and arguments.

But can reason be applied to critiquing the Bible as a text? Can we use our own standards to judge what aspects of the Bible are worth taking seriously and which are not, which are believable and which are only symbolic, myth, legend, or hyperbole? If my reason tells me that resurrection doesn’t happen today, do I then dismiss Christ’s resurrection as a fable, or just a spiritual symbol? Human reason and science have too many limits to reject other possibilities.

How much of my reason is affected by sin? What is the line between using reason to understand and apply the Bible’s teachings or narrative case-studies to daily life, and using reason to undermine the Bible?

Closing Comments
This lesson ultimately does little to answer why or in what way, scripture is the source or basis for our theology (the title of the week’s lesson). However, if we could posit a conclusion, it might be that because the Biblical text has found fertile soil in the human heart throughout the millennia, it has proved itself over time to effect change in the lives of people. It became authoritative, practically speaking, because the first hearers of the text found it relevant to their lives and relationship with God. It consistently directs people to God and His law, His salvation and forgiveness, and earth’s future. Thus, becomes an authoritative guide to our spiritual lives.

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