Earlier in the week, I wrote that some Bible stories are so familiar, we do not stop to consider their significance. I could also add, that some others are so familiar, we do not stop to ask if they are accurate. A case in point is that of today’s feast of the Epiphany, which we routinely celebrate as the visit of the three kings of the East to the infant Jesus – but the Gospel text does not specify that there were three, nor that they were kings.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
It is the term “magi” that has been traditionally adapted to “wise men”, or corrupted in popular imagination to “kings”. Astrologer-magicians, in the Zoroastrian religion, would be a more accurate translation. (Note the obvious linguistic connection between “magus” and “magic”). Kittredge quotes Nancy Wilson and Virginia Mollenkott, to suggest that the Magi were probably either eunuchs, or trans.
In the Episcopal Church (and wider Anglican communion), the next to last Sunday of the year is known as “Bible Sunday”, with a collect that reads:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
At “An Inch at a time”, Rev Susan Russell has placed a video of the sermon she delivered on how to approach the bible sensibly – with respect, and also rationally, with a post titled “On taking the Bible too seriously to take it literally“. The her words are filled with abundant good sense. Watch, listen – and reflect.
Russell is speaking from an explicitly Episcopal/Anglican perspective, but her words will make sense to people from many different faith backgrounds. (One of my earliest posts at QTC was on advice for Catholics by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which is more formal, but not dissimilar). Rachel Held Evans, writing as an Evangelical Christian on “The Danger of Calling Behaviour “Biblical” makes a similar point on claims about “biblical womanhood”. Her article begins with reference to an interchange in a “Daily Show” interview by Jon Stewart with Mike Huckabee on “biblical marriage”
On “The Daily Show” recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.
When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”
And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.
Noting that the Bible is not a “position paper”, but an eclectic assortment of texts written over thousands of years (just the point that Rev Russell makes), she turns to the abuse of biblical texts by some in attempts to enforce particular views on the place of women in the church.
In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul’s restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent”), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”).
Concluding, she makes an important point, and asks a crucial question, that is relevant to all who want to take seriously the biblical message in our lives:
The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.