Sex, Sacrifice, Shame, and Smiting | Notes & Review

Donald Kraus. Sex, Sacrifice, Shame, and Smiting: Is the Bible Always Right? Seabury Books, 2008. (166 pages)


VIA: Because there was more to critique in this book, I will be interacting with the content throughout my notes, a distinctly different approach from my other “notes & reviews.”


1. Looking for Guidance: Does the Bible Always Help?

The Word of God…is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upward of a thousand lies – Mark Twain, Letter III of “Letters from the Earth”

The present-day view of many Christians, that the Bible is both a sacred text and a human artifact that must be read critically, was simply not an available opinion for the ordinary reader in Twain’s time. (2)

[VIA: This seems to me an odd statement as the years of Twain (late 1800s) were the emergence of higher and lower criticism, of which historical criticism began influencing biblical studies. True, it may not have had a hold at the popular and “pulpit” levels, but to say that the idea of the Bible being a human artifact was “not an available option for the ordinary reader” seems a bit inaccurate.]

…if God is the author of the Bible and intends it to be the manual of life for the believing Christian, could it not have been written a little more clearly? (2)

The Bible is a varied collection of writings, put together in various places and by various groups of people over the course of more than a thousand years. Partly as a result of that process of development, in places it can be complex and hard to understand. For people of faith, obscure passages can be a challenge, but also an opportunity for deepening our understanding. Wrestling with thoughts that are difficult to grasp can be a kind of mental exercise, similar to competing with a better chess or tennis player. It can build “muscle” and agility, and help us think or react more quickly and accurately. More important, it can deepen our insight and widen our sympathy — both spiritual benefits we can all use more of. (3)

[VIA: This analogy, I appreciated.]

…for a scholar as a scholar the Bible does not have to be internally consistent, nor does it necessarily have to apply to present-day life. A scholar can belong to a particular religion, but his or her scholarship, if it is to have scholarly integrity, must not favor it. If a passage in a biblical text creates difficulties in the modern mind, there is no scholarly need to reconcile the passage with contemporary moral norms. And if one biblical passage seems to contradict another, that is no reason not to regard both as equally authentic — or inauthentic — since “authenticity” in this context means only that some recognized group has accepted the passage as part of the Bible. (5)

For those who accept the Bible’s authority in any sense, however, the situation is quite different. If passages in the Bible seem to be making a demand — stating a moral imperative, endorsing or denouncing a social arrangement — and that demand is impossible, or wrong in any way, then we need to have some principles on which we can base our objections. If passages in the Bible seem to be in conflict, we must have intelligible reasons for preferring one to the other, or for reconciling them so that we can try to understand the Bible’s underlying point, or for putting them in a wider context that makes clear that each is a partial view of a larger truth. (5)

[VIA: The problem I’m having with the general feel of the book so far, is that the there seems to be some inconsistency with what he is saying. Granted, I may be misunderstanding the full thrust of the argument, but in the paragraph above, there seems to be a general acceptance that the Bible is inconsistent, contradictory, and impossibly demanding in certain areas of life and morality. Yet, turn the page and…]

For many of those who have taken positions on progressive issues, such as the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates in committed same-sex relationships, it is frustrating when those on the other side of the issue continually accuse them of abandoning the Bible. That is not really the case. Nor is it true that two different methods of reading the Bible are in conflict, although that is also frequently charged. Instead, what is at issue is a difference about which parts of the Bible to emphasize, and whether strictures about sexual behavior — specifically, homosexual intercourse — are at the same level of importance as doctrines about God, teachings about social justice, or efforts to reach out to marginalized persons of all sorts so that all may hear the good news of salvation. Neither side is “abandoning” the Bible, but each side has firm ideas of what the Bible says and why. (6)

[VIA: So, the problem isn’t with the Bible? And, it is not true that “two different methods of reading the Bible are in conflict” when they yield opposing conclusions? I will affirm, however, that “neither side is ‘abandoning’ the Bible,” and I think his efforts at reconciliation of a variety of sides is commendable. The argument that gets us there is a bit perplexing to me.]

The point is not to bring to the Bible all of our assumptions and prejudices in order to find support for them in the text, or to discard the text when it conflicts with something we already thing. (6)

[VIA: Agree.]

But neither is the point to find out what the Bible says, or seems to say, and simply apply that to how we live our lives. Things are never that easy. In addition, no one — no one — agrees with everything that the Bible says we should be doing, or refraining from.

[VIA: This feels very lacking to me. While I can get on board with the general sentiment of what he is saying, it assumes that the Bible is saying what we should be doing or refraining from, and that, I thought, he argued against, just a paragraph above, saying that there is a “point” that the Bible may be getting at, which is beyond the mere imperatives. So, it feels as if he is arguing against a variety of perspectives, some of which are his own, but it’s a bit convoluted, lacking some precision]

The issue, then, is not that we should never interpret the Bible in such a way as to temper its demands, or even put them aside in favor of better understandings derived from elsewhere. … The issue rather is to be honest — honest with ourselves, and honest with each other — about what we are doing and why. (6)

[VIA: Here, I feel, is the strong polemic of the book, and why it’s difficult to really get an understanding. While the premise of the book is about “is the Bible always right” and digging deep into truly understanding a reasonable and scholarly way of approaching that subject, this book is more an argument against the ways in which people have used the Bible, which is a slightly different objective. This is what disappointed me about my expectations of the read. I must commend Kraus’ efforts and ethic. He is moving forward for a good cause. I would simply say this is not a great work for Biblical acumen or a good robust hermeneutic.]

The “context” of a verse, for someone who believes that the Bible is meant to guide us into truth, is the entire Bible itself. (7)

[VIA: Okay… This may be true for some who believe this, but to do the hard work of exegesis, you need a much bigger and holistic framework of context.]

Each verse or passage i the bible is, at least potentially, in dialogue with every other verse or passage. Until that dialogue takes place, we may not fully understand what a particular section of the bible is telling us, or how we should apply it. (7)

[VIA: Potentially. And to his credit, he gives examples of this throughout the book.]

The second aim, and one I have tried very hard to keep in view as I have put this book together, is to bring myself — and my readers — to be more careful about claiming “what the Bible says” without taking into account nuance or context. … Dogma, for me, is the indispensable floor or foundation on which we all move and the basis on which we each can build a house of faith. (8)

But it is sadly the case that too many people seem to confuse being definitive with being exclusive. We all stand on the same ground; if we can’t all live in the same house, we can at least refrain from condemning houses we ourselves don’t want to live in. (8)

…if they think that the (very few) passages in the Bible about homosexual behavior mandate that Christians try to make our legal system express a particular approach to homosexuality, why are they not trying to get our legal system to reflect other aspects of biblical law? Why pull out a couple regulations about homosexuality, and ignore other laws about caring for the poor? (11)

[VIA: And here we see clearly the thrust of the argument in the book. One, there are extant responses to this line of questioning — such as the Creation narrative, purity/ritual vs. moral and social laws, modern culture, ethical evolution, etc. — that Kraus simply dismisses. Given that he’s been involved in this conversation for a while, it seems more appropriate to address the reasons rather than simply dismissing them. This makes for good rhetoric, but in the end makes Kraus seem a bit separated from the fullness of the arguments.]

Once we argue that our moral thinking has advanced beyond that of biblical times in one area, is there anything to stop us from arguing this in many other areas as well? We cannot arbitrarily take this line of argument in some cases, but disallow it in others. (12)

[VIA: Well, yes we can, and we have. In addition, Kraus mentions above that this is exactly what we should be doing as we come to passages that are difficult and challenging; “what is at issue is a difference about which parts of the Bible to emphasize,” (6) What Kraus needs to argue here is why we shouldn’t behave arbitrarily.]

To “miss’ or sin, therefore, is to fail to find our proper place in the whole scheme of being, and therefore to be unable to fulfill our destiny. (14)

The opposite of honor is shame. (15)

Purity…has nothing to do with hygiene; it is a matter of ritual acceptability. (15)

There is simply no time in the history of the Bible, or in the development of Christian thought, when there was no influence from the wider culture. | The issue then becomes one of discerning when secular culture is promoting a moral insight that is worthy of adoption. (19)

We must be willing to undertake a process of discernment about a given view regardless of how many, or how few, people hold that view. (21)

Within the wide reach of the Christian community, our differences on certain matters can seem so stark that we tend to concentrate not on discerning truth, but on refuting one another — and that includes refuting one another’s favorite Bible passages. The polemic overwhelms the irenic. (22)

If one side or the other simply shuts down the conversation — refusing to listen to or engage with the other, simply repeating points without trying to understand an alternative point of view — then all understanding is potentially crippled. We can all work toward the goal of making sure that everyone is heard, but also that everyone listens. (22)

[VIA: Amen.]

2. Vengeance: Does the Bible Let Us Get Even?

In Deuteronomy 32:32-25, God will repay the people with the fruit of their faithlessness. (25)

“The consequences of your own iniquity and faithlessness will be the punishment visited on you when God acts to right the wrongs you have done.” (25)

Here is a good example of the Bible seeming to contradict itself — for here, as we see from both the passage in Deuteronomy and its use int he letter to the Hebrews, Paul is misreading Deuteronomy. This is more than creative exegesis on Paul’s part; he is making the words mean something very different from their original intent. (26)

[VIA: Reference Romans 12:14, 17-21.]

How are we to read Psalm 137:7-9? One traditional way of dealing with this verse, and others like it, is to turn it into a moral allegory, treating it as something aimed at increasing individual virtue. (29)

I know things in the inner world which are like babies; the infantile beginnings of small indulgences, small resentments, which may one day become dipsomania [i.e. alcoholism] or settled hatred, but which woo and wheedle us with special pleadings and seem so tiny, so helpless that in resisting them we feel we are being cruel to animals. They begin whimpering to us “I don’t ask much, but”, or “I had at least hoped”, or “you owe yourself some consideration”. Against all such pretty infants 9the dears have such winning ways) the advice of the Psalm is the best. Knock the little bastards’ brains out. And “blessed” he who can, for it’s easier said than done. – C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

C.S. Lewis is here in exactly the same position as an ardent radical dismissing Paul’s views on women: he simply ignores what is in the text in favor of his own moral point of view. (30)

The story of the Bible is the story of a small and that is caught in a world of political powers and forces much bigger than it is. This small land, Israel or Judah or Palestine, must deal with empires all around it: Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Furthermore, it must manage its relationships with other small states, such as Syria; with neighboring groups, such as the Philistines, the Amorites, and the Edomites; and with its own fellow-tribes when the country itself divides in two. (30)

For those in this situation — that of being citizens of a small and weak country — the temptations are those of subservience and resentment. When we look at the final verses of Psalm 137 in that light, therefore, we can read them in a somewhat different way. Those verses represent how a powerless group feels in a situation of oppression. “We’ll remember the way our so-called ‘friends’ turned on us and joined the enemy side, seeing what they could get out of it! And the enemy –! May someone, someday, do to them what they did to us! May they suffer the way we suffered — the way they would suffer if someone killed their children in front of their eyes!” (31-32)

The key, I believe, to all such passages (19:11-21) in the Book of Revelation is to see them as symbolizing moral or spiritual combat, not literal combat. (34)

…the gorging of carrion birds on the flesh of the slaughtered foe is a grim and visceral image of the fact that, until truth is undeniable, falsehood and misrepresentation — fraud, spiritual lies, and immorality parading as morality — grows fat on the lives of those they mislead. (35)

[VIA: Okay, while Kraus does some good work here, he swaps. In the Psalms passage, he uses a historical approach. In the Revelation passage, he uses an allegorical one, but he gives no real guiding principle why.]

In the ancient world it was important for the recompense of the wicked to be publicly visible — to the righteous as well as everyone else — so that others can see that justice is being done. (35)

Look at our world, and all of the evil perpetrated in it. Much of this evil is done in order to gain an advantage, or to seize something of value: natural resources, access to markets, and so on. But there is a good deal of evil that is committed entirely or mostly in response to other evil. (38)

…it would seem to be the very definition of insanity: perpetual cycles of violence and wrongdoing, with no obvious exit. That is why the seemingly insane act of not resisting evil done to oneself can in fact be the sanest response of all. It can be the nakedly honest statement of anyone who says, “Here is where it stops. I am no longer going to continue this repetition of retaliation. I am going to create the world anew by not responding in kind.” (39)

In God’s good tie, the only way to “make my day” is to follow the narrower, steeper way: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (40)

[VIA: In the midst of critique, I appreciate Kraus’ work here. While he is attempting to buttress this to his overall argument, this section was well done, and offers quite a bit to consider in thinking about vengeance and the difficult passages.]

3. Loving Our Enemies: Does the Bible Coddle Villains?

…the idea that Jesus is criticizing here (Matthew 5:43-48) is one that describes a natural human behavior, not one that arises from the moral tradition of Judaism or of the Hebrew Bible. … Jesus is not so much condemning this behavior as he is pointing out its moral emptiness. (43)

First, the essential step in praying for “my enemies” is to get myself out of the way… (44)

…in the sense of disregarding or downplaying the fact that it has happened to me. That is, I must stop taking offense at the supposed insult and try to look at it objectively, as if it had happened to someone else. (44-45)

…I need to acknowledge that the person who engaged in the behavior that annoyed me was not doing so with the specific view of annoying me. (45)

…separate the quality of the action as it is without reference to me in particular from the action as it has an impact on me. (45)

…separate the action from the doer. (45)

…everyone acts so as to benefit those we love, or to benefit someone who can repay us with a good deed. This is normal human behavior, not very exalted in a moral sense. The real test of benevolence, therefore, comes when we are called to extend it either to someone who has no intention of reciprocating it — one’s “enemy” — or to someone who is incapable of returning the favor: a poor person, the inhabitant of a far-away country, someone who is sick or dying, someone who is in prison. That is what it means to “be like” God. (51)

What I think we may take away from the exhortation is this: so far as in us lies, we must come to treat all human beings as even-handedly as we can. (51)

4. Justice: Is What We Need What We Deserve?

It is virtually impossible to maintain a group in cohesive fashion without some rules. (52)

Although the Bible has a good deal to say about justice, unfortunately it does not present The topic in an organized way. (53)

[VIA: Why would this be expected given everything we have already discussed?]

“Justice,” therefore, is more than merely making a decision according to the applicable laws; it is also a means of bringing about the true state of affairs that God wishes to be the case. That is why “righteousness” is so important in understanding what justice is supposed to be. The word (צדק) in essence means what is true, straight, right, or correct. (55)

The issue is not that we must be ever harder on ourselves, but that we should be integral beings, whose outer expression is truly indicative of what is inside us. (57)

…none of these laws (unlike dietary restrictions or distinctive clothing, for instance) were repudiated by the early Christian church. (58)

[VIA: Contention. Do we not have examples of dietary and cultic augmentations in the book of Acts? Also, we have evidence of ancient Hebrews making distinctions as well.]

…Jesus was not stoned to death, which would have been the Jewish penalty;…

[VIA: In making the argument that the early Christians lived under Roman rule, Kraus mentions this as evidence. However, the Jews did enforce the death penalty, even under Roman rule (see Luke 4, and Acts 7 with Stephen).]

Death in biblical times, on the other hand — indeed, in all historical times up until the very recent past, in the developed world — was a prospect of discomfort and possibly of extreme pain for almost everyone. (59)

In our world we have a reasonable belief that we will be able to escape most of the physical pain inherent in the human condition, but we forget that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most of the medical advances we now take for granted are barely a century old, and many of them were not available before the 1940s. (60)

In the Bible, there are four methods of execution that are described or mandated: burning, sword, hanging/impalement, and stoning. (60)

[VIA: While Kraus makes the argument that stoning was “pelting with stones,” it may be more more proscribed than that. See Mishnah IV.]

First, like most other ancient methods of execution, death by stoning was not instantaneous. (61) … Second, like other ancient methods, it was public. …the human reality is that down through history public executions have been treated as a form of entertainment. (61) Third, stoning was in one way unlike many other methods: it had to be administered by a group. (61)

So what could we say to those who wish to impose a biblical criminal code today? One response is to affirm that we have progressed beyond the Bible in moral insight about punishment, but to acknowledge that with careful consideration we can derive a good deal of insight from what the bible says about punishment and apply it, with profit, to our own situation. We do not, by and large, regard public humiliation — crucifixion, stoning, whipping, caning, or even such relatively minor punishments as being put in the stocks or being made to wear a dunce cap — as appropriate forms of punishment. We do not accept the word of two witnesses as sufficient for the imposition of death. We do not think that blasphemy or gluttony, though they may be wrong, deserve to be punished by death. | Most importantly, we do not try to force our secular penal codes to institute biblical norms. (67)

…we have advanced beyond the Bible’s moral grasp of punishment. To put the Bible’s standards in this area into practice would be a step backwards, a moral devolution. (67)

The point of linking criminal justice with social and economic justice is to clarify that in the biblical view, these are not separated in any sense. There is no such thing as a biblical “law and order” approach that only deals with criminal matters and does not have something to say about the basic fairness of the wider social network. The laws dealing with all of these matters are completely intertwined. It may very well be that we see, thanks to our greater experience in economic matters and the complexity of the modern, industrial and postindustrial world, that an unimaginative application of biblical strictures simply would not work in America, Western Europe, and other advanced economies. That is a legitimate argument. But as we shall also see, advancing such an argument makes it much more difficult to advocate for the simple application of other biblical laws in other areas of life. Justice requires us to acknowledge that if we, in our modern sophistication, loosen the biblical laws about income fairness, for example, we cannot complain when others, following modern psychological understandings of sexuality, or modern social understandings of the abilities of women, refuse to apply specific biblical strictures to the regulation of sexual morality or to the determination of what roles women may and may not take on in today’s world. “Fair is fair,” as kids say. (77)

[VIA: While Kraus is reaching for a consistent application of some hermeneutical ethic, it feels as if sometimes he is reaching a bit far, and assuming too much. His arguments don’t seem to be making contact with a legitimate opposite view, which is a bit nebulous in his writings. There may be reasons to loosen economic strictures, while binding sexual and moral strictures contingent upon the flexibility of the receptor culture, and all on biblical grounds.]

5. Slaves, Women, and Jews: What Does the Bible Say about “Those People”?

Nowhere int he Bible is slavery expressly forbidden. (79)

Depending on which of these strictures we give more weight to, we can read the regulations regarding slaves as either tending toward treating them as property or tending toward treating them as fully human beings. (81)

[VIA: How about dependence upon a deeper and more intricate context?]

The repetition that escaped slaves should be free to live anywhere, and the constant reminders of Israel’s experience of being slaves themselves, serve to reinforce the argument that slaves must at least be treated humanely, and that they are no different from other Israelites. (82)

When we turn to the topic of women in the Bible, we are faced with a variety of attitudes, some very negative and others less so. (85)

All Christians are agreed at this point that slavery is wrong, and therefore the Bible is wrong to have tolerated it. Most Christians agree that the roles of women and the areas of life in which they function should be much wider than the Bible generally allows. Most Christians also agree that the New Testament view of Jews and Judaism is, at the least, flawed. But what should we do about these views now?

[VIA: Kraus is far too generous in this paragraph. There are many who would agree that slavery is wrong, but disagree that the Bible is wrong to have tolerated it for reasons found in the context of culture and history. True, the roles of women are perhaps a bit different, but there are many who still hold to the fullness of gender roles and functions, even as literalistically understood from 1 Timothy and others. And I think his evaluation of Christian perceptions of Jews and Judaism needs a serious reconsideration as the “supercessionism” and “theology of contempt” is quite alive and well.]

Defenses of the Bible usually follow one of two lines of argument: the chronological defense (“Everyone at the time thought slavery was acceptable”) or the development defense (“Later texts are moving toward a more negative view of slavery, so all we’ve done is continue the trajectory”). But either of these approaches is ruinous for any other arguments that rely on the Bible’s moral laws and try to apply them directly to our current situation. (91)

[VIA: On page 91, he mentions the 1 Timothy 2 passage, stating, “If there is a trajectory here, it is running in the wrong direction.” But the problem is that Kraus dismisses the chronology of Paul, the date and location of the writing, the historical and cultural circumstances, and the thrust of the message. And again, he references these Bible passages and augments his hermeneutic in accordance with whatever argument he is making.]

The core meaning of being a slave is that one is completely dependent, at least economically, on another. That is why slavery can be used as a metaphor for one’s relationship to God: it is a relationship of utter dependence. (91)

Nuance is the deadly enemy of simplistic ignorance. (92)

The “economically other,” the “socially other,” and the “religiously other” are often our deepest challenges. They bring before us in an acute form the mystery of creation in all of its diversity and incomprehensibility. And the Bible, no less than other aspects of human interaction with God, can simply reproduce the uncomprehending stance of a human being faced with a difference that he or she cannot fathom. In grappling with these biblical texts, we are really grappling with the challenges that life confronts us with nearly every day. (93)

As we turn to a consideration of how to treat the “sexual other,” as seen from the dominant heterosexual stand-point, all of the hard thinking that we have had to undertake with respect to slaves, women, and Jews will come into play. We are challenged to think about those who are different from us in new ways. And how we meet those challenges is a large part of how our characters grow, develop and deepen — or conversely shrink, become shallow, and eventually dry up — in the course of our lives. (93-94)

6. Homosexuality: Is the Bible Straight about Gay People?

Marriage in our society has two aspects, one religious and one legal or civil. …people are free to accept or reject a particular religious view of marriage, or any religious view at all. (98)

There is no legal way of forcing any given religious group to recognize same-sex partnerships even if civil marriage becomes available throughout the entire country. (99)

Another set of issues that we must clarify has to do with what we mean by the word “homosexual.” (99)

First, we must recognize that for some people, sexual arousal primarily occurs with members of their own sex. It does not matter, for the purposes of discovering what the Bible has to say about this topic, whether this is the result of genetic predisposition, life experiences, or some combination of the two. The only thing that matters is that we recognize the phenomenon, and accept the testimony of those for whom this is the case that it is not something they “choose” but is rather simply the way they are. (100)

[VIA: Wrong. It matters a great deal. It matters what Paul means by “natural” in Romans 1, and it matters if and how much “will” and/or “purposefulness” there is.]

Asking a gay person to marry a member of the opposite sex — though this occurs, often as the result of social pressure — is as oppressive as it would be to ask a straight person to marry a member of the same sex.

[VIA: I’m not sure how to articulate my response to this statement, other than it leaves me quite disconcerted. What survey, evaluation, metric is being used to make this statement, and how would we make such an evaluation?]

Sodom and Gomorrah. The men reject the offer of the daughters, then, not because they are homosexuals — that is, not because they are not sexually attracted to women — but because their proposed rape is not on account of sexual attraction, but on account of the wish to express power over the alien, including the power over the resident alien, Lot, by disregarding his efforts to prevent their action. (106)

We can therefore derive two lessons from the tale of Lot’s residence in Sodom, but neither of them has to do with the condemnation of consensual homosexual relationships. The first is that any nationalistic or group pride on our part should be suppressed in the recognition that all groups have shadowy origins, and no one is descended from ancestors with absolutely clean hands (or histories). (107)

The Holiness Code. Though the actual identification of the biblical name Molech with any ancient Near Eastern god is unclear, the biblical view of this deity is that it required child sacrifice (2 Kings 23:10) and possibly, in this passage, witch craft and divination. (109)

Since gay and lesbian people are full human beings with their own integrity of life — these strictures against mingling would lead us to take the opposite view: homosexual relationships can be expressions of personal integration, not the reverse. (110)

[VIA: This is too big of a leap; a bit of a non-sequitur from the focus of his argument.]

Apparently, sodomy is a more appropriate term as the name for economic injustice than it is as the name for homosexual practice. (111)

[VIA: This statement feels a bit antagonistic. Is it really necessary to invoke contentiousness into the discussion?]

We have fully considered these texts — Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, and Judges 19 — we have examined all of the places in the Hebrew Bible that deal with homosexuality. We should note that only two of these places are actual prohibitions; the other two, in Genesis and Judges, are narratives in which proposed homosexual rape is condemned for reasons that are not stated. (112-113)

The association of Sodom with economic injustice in Ezekiel in the sixth century, especially given Ezekiel’s clear concern with idolatry in general, and his use of sexual imagery (adultery) to denounce it, would seem to reinforce the point that condemnations of homosexuality receded or vanished in the later period of Israel’s existence. (113)

[Re: Jude 5-7] This is a remarkably unclear passage. (114)

Some, at least, of the energy of condemnation of homosexual intercourse int he New Testament may therefore be due to the view, then prevalent in the wider society, that to take a woman’s position in the sexual act is by its very nature to lower oneself to a woman’s status. (116)

Arsenokoites is even more difficult. It is unusual, a compound combining words meaning “male” (arsen) and “bed” (koite) leading to the assumption that it means “[a male taking] a male to bed [for sexual intercourse].” … Those who have studied its usage elsewhere say that, contextually, it seems to mean something more like “those who exploit someone sexually” — a meaning that would fit its association with “thieves” in the Corinthians passage and with “slave traders” or “kidnappers” in 1 Timothy. (116-117)

I know that for some readers this line of reasoning will seem nothing but perverse, to label it so ironically. I have taken a passage from Paul and, seemingly, made it the opposite of what it is on the surface. But what it is on the surface — which includes the fact that Paul was not aware that homosexual orientation could be a fixed aspect of one’s personality — is not logical. I hope it is clear that the argument in Romans 1.18-32 is not one that we can accept today, but the underlying point is of greater spiritual value. To live a lie — to ignore a reality that is directly in front of you — is spiritually very perilous. That is Paul’s main argument, and in that we can join him wholeheartedly. (120)

7. Authority: Who’s in Charge Here?

It is a natural human desire to wish to find in the Bible, or in any source of authority, validation for our views. But, as the somewhat whimsical question-and-answer indicates, the fact of the matter is that the Bible neither uniformly endorses, nor unequivocally refutes, our opinions — no matter what those opinions may be. In addition, as the previous argument has tried to show, we cannot unequivocally endorse all that the Bible says, at least not on the surface. The Bible can be “wrong” about certain things, and this is true whether we are “liberal” or “conservative.” So the real question is: how can the Bible be authoritative for us, if the Bible itself can be wrong? (122)

[VIA: As before, both the fundamentals and the phraseology of this premise are really complicated and challenging, and makes it hard to understand what Kraus is fully arguing for. He seems to consistently oscillate between a misreading of the Bible and a “surface” reading of the Bible as “wrong,” depending upon his argument. This seems quite inconsistent.]

How Do We Decide?

We cannot take any passage in the Bible in isolation. (127)

We cannot rely only on our own insight. (128)

We must patiently sit with the evidence and interpretations we have gathered. (129)

Unnecessary haste in decision-making is the enemy of discernment. (129)

This may seem obvious, but we should pray about any important decision. …we are asking for grace to use the time, the information, and our own experience carefully in determining what we will think about a particular passage. (130)

We should offer our decision to others to consider as well. (130)

Then, and only then, should we apply our decision: make the determination, go ahead with the action, or whatever the case may be. (130)

Having gone ahead, we must continue to study the matter. (131)

Depending on what factors we decide to take into account at the assessment stage, we should then adjust our decision. (131)

When we say that we accept the authority of the Bible, we are ultimately saying — unless we are idolaters of the text itself — that we accept God’s authority, that the Bible is a witness to the character of God, and that we mean to carry out in our lives those actions and teachings that we find in the Bible that fit with the character of the God we worship.

| The authority of the Bible, in other words, is not something intrinsic to the Bible itself; it is the authority of a pointer, a witness, that derives its power and importance from the matter it is leading us to. And God is what the Bible leads us to. That means, ultimately, that reading the Bible is more an act of coming to know a person that it is an act of coming to understand an argument. (134)

[VIA: This is a very nice articulation of a different hermeneutical approach.]

8. Community: Will We Ever Get Along?

Can a community continue to exist, with its members in relationship with each other, if they disagree about things? (136)

…the community must not merely tolerate, but should welcome, a wide range of people and views within the group. Uniformity is not held up as an ideal. Variety is. (139)

I believe that the community of Christians is both one and catholic. That is, I believe that it exists in the creative tension between oneness with our Lord Jesus Christ and a diversity of inclusion that takes in (potentially) any who wish to be a part of it. (141)

I would propose that, in keeping with our creedal affirmation of the church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,” we adopt the following position. We acknowledge the difference between our views, and we regret the position on the other side that is forcing a split between us. But we will not participate in that split. Whether you recognize us as a part of the Communion or not, we believe that we are still a part of Christ’s church; and we further believe that you are a part of Christ’s church, as well. We believe that you are wrong about this issue; but we are willing to keep talking with you, and to stay in communion with you, despite our view that you are wrong. We are not going to try to push you out, even though you are trying to push us out. And, if you succeed in pushing us out, we will still recognize you as a part of us, even if you refuse to recognize us as having a part of you. (150-151)

[VIA: This is an honorable position with which to conclude, and I would concur, even in the midst of critique.]

About VIA

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