Contradictions in the Bible - will be the open discussion topic for Bible study on Thursday, 5/14/20 at 7:30. All are welcome to join us - even if you'd just like to listen!
Here are some questions to guide our conversation, or your own thinking through this topic:
Does the Bible contradict itself?
Does it matter? When?
Do the contradictions bother you?
Are they not contradictions but something more complicated?
Does the Bible/its authors care that there are contradictions?
Which contradictions come to mind or bother you?
What do you think God thinks?
Here's some background/resources:
So . . . have you ever come across or been faced with something that at least appeared to be a contradiction in scripture? How did you feel about it? Did it bother you, or no big deal?
Not to beat around the bush, the first issue is to consider whether you believe that there are contradictions in the Bible or not. Simply put, I, Pastor Brett Davis, say YES, absolutely there are contradictions in the Bible! (Scroll down to the accordion/drop-down menus for some examples.) For a number of reasons, the Bible is far from internally consistent, especially when "proof-texting," pulling out a lone verse to compare with another, or even regarding some larger themes. It's simply a truth of history that the Bible can be directly cited to support completely opposite claims.
Now, this sets me apart from doctrinal positions of some other Lutherans, including the entire denominations of the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod (LCMS), and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). This isn't to say that the ELCA has one singular view of this issue.
A good, quick overview of what the ELCA generally believes is here, Diane Jacobsen's "What Lutherans Think about the Bible," in which she writes:
Jacobsen also said: “I take joy when scripture contradicts itself, because this indicates that God’s truth is far more complicated than my truth. If we use it to make life easy, we betray how scripture makes truth work.” Scripture does not offer us easy answers, but instead requires us to take part in the hard work of interpreting God’s word for today’s concerns.
What do you think??
I also find helpful this explanation from Martin Marty's Lutheran Questions, Lutheran Answers, to the question "Are there Errors in the Bible?"
Bill helpfully shared this blog from scholar Bart Erhman on "The Historical Significance of Contradictions."
Some important questions to consider is - does the Bible, or individual author/community even care or know that they might be contradicting something else?
Can it be something more complicated than flat contradiction?
What genre is this writing? How might it use language?
(FYI/background: this Bible Chronology compiled by Bill is helpful to know the history and timeline.)
Dig even deeper and consider as a contrast to a straight factual analysis, the dialogic approach to scripture as Peter Enns describes in this video below, regarding wrestling with what the Bible says - and why it doesn't just say one thing:
Contradictions - or are they? Just a few examples - which ones can you think of?
What are our lenses? Reading the Bible: Literal to Literary, and everything in betweenRead Now
In our Thursday night Bible study, we're about to start a new series of open-ended discussions, that draw on scripture passages/stories but lead us into conversation about relevant topics and things we'd like to explore. For each, there's going to be a post here with some read-aheads/resources. These will remain up as good resources, too, to point back to as reference in general for these topics.
The first one we're tackling, the subject of this post, is how do we read the Bible?
Here's a great < 10min video - Theologian Will Willimon on Biblical interpretation, who says: "the task of interpreting the Bible is unavoidable. That dear soul who says, 'I just read the Bible and let it speak,' that dear soul is self-delusional. Any act [or context of reading] are in themselves acts of interpretation." This is a great introduction:
Hermeneutic Self-Inventory – “hermeneutics” means biblical interpretation. This 19-question inventory takes you through thinking about what might shape or influence how you interpret the Bible, like in my example above regarding the parable of the prodigal son. Because, whether you think so or not, factors do influence how you read the bible.
A bookmark to print and keep in your Bible – the Lutheran Lens on scripture & Willimon’s 5 tools of interpretation.
In his book The Great Spiritual Migration (which we studied as a congregation a couple years ago), a theological migration toward a loving God found in scripture, we must address how we regard and interpret scripture. McLaren presents this as a spectrum, from literal to literary on one axis and integral to innocent on the other, that you might find yourself and others in one of these boxes:
Quotes to consider:
Recommended Further Reading:
For the Bible tells me so, by Peter Enns.
Manna and Mercy, Daniel Erlander.
Telling the truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, Frederick Buechner.
So maybe you started going to a Lutheran church, ours or another, or just found some resonance in an awesome Lutheran community, pastor, or theologian. And you start thinking - does this mean that I'm a Lutheran? What does it mean to be a Lutheran? What do Lutherans believe?
Well - to that last question, they believe all kinds of things! And Lutheranism is a big tent that includes actually several denominations and a wide spectrum of belief on most issues.
Our congregation, Georgetown Lutheran, is a part of the largest Lutheran denomination in the US, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (Here "evangelical" means "good news sharing," not as it's become in the US as shorthand for a primarily politically identified conservative group of nondenominational Christians.)
Anyway, what follows is a set of recommendations, a beginners or refresher course reading and learning list. If you're brand new to the Lutheran faith, want to brush up, or have a specific question, this is a good place to start. Reading like this is both intellectually stimulating but also deepens faith, can bring comfort, and can make you wonder more. If you have questions, or want to chat with someone about it, call or email Pastor Brett anytime.
Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a way of life by Daniel Erlander. These illustrated books are engaging - but not childish or cartoony. Deep theology and faith presented across rich pages in easy-to-read format. Another Erlander recommendation (and a favorite of mine is his Tales of the Pointless People).
Two videos, which in the past I've sometimes shown in new member classes, that succinctly convey what it means to be Lutheran. The most central thing in the Lutheran faith is belief in God's grace - that it's all God's doing, not ours, and God's rich forgiveness, love, and relationship is completely unearned on our part!
So here are two Lutheran pastors below, sharing central pieces of what it means and looks like to be Lutheran: former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson on the question, "Why Lutheran," and Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber (whose books Accidental Saints, Shameless: a Sexual Reformation, and Pastrix, I recommend - in that order) from the 2013 youth gathering on how she became a Lutheran.
What would you add? What do you want to know more about? Want some resources for further reading/study? Leave a comment!
Georgetown Lutheran Church - Pastor Brett Davis
Pastor Brett Davis maintains this blog as a resource page for learning and sharing faith, and for seasonal/series specific read-aheads or extra resources.