Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Intertextuality Review

I've been trying to make the case for the last few weeks that Left Behind Theology misreads the Scriptures. I call their way of interpreting the Scripture 'homotextuality,' because it refuses to see difference and insists that all of the Scriptures say essentially the same thing. My study Bible, for instance, will note that Daniel 7-12 addresses the awful event when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple. But, then it says that Daniel was giving a 'double prophecy,' predicting Antiochus Epiphanes as well as of what would happen when Jesus returns.

It's not my place to read Daniel's mind. And it seems to much more pious and faithful to say, "Here we see God planning all of history ahead of time by giving Daniel insight into the great mysteries of the universe..." than to say, "Daniel was addressing the events of his day...." Homotextuals will tell you that folks like me simply don't believe that God is able to give prophets the power of predictive prophecy, so we try to 'explain away' prophecies like Daniel's by placing the Scriptures within their historical context and by assuming that differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John point to differences in their theology.

I know these arguments, because I heard them for years, reinforced by singing, "God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me!" in church camp. The whole notion is that 'faithfulness' means believing exactly what the Bible says, despite anything else.

In truth, the argument is that 'faithfulness' means believing exactly what someone tells you the Bible says, despite anything else. It is not Daniel that says "I'm talking about both Antiochus Epiphanes and what Jesus will say one day down the road"; it is someone else who is telling us that Daniel is doing that. However, for someone who was raised singing, "God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me!" it almost feels like you're being unfaithful simply to ask, "Who says Daniel is talking about what Jesus will say?"

I think that whole argument is pernicious and deceitful. It is perpetuated by well-intended and good people, but the argument itself is unbiblical and invites us to worship God will all of our heart, but not with all of our mind.

The worst part is this: People who were raised like me operate under a fear that if one part of this homotextual way of looking at the Bible proves wrong, then the whole house of cards will come crumbling down. That's why something like evolution causes such a crisis of faith for so many 'Bible-believing' people. That's why anyone questioning biblical fundamentalism is not possibly a Christian trying to understand the Scriptures, but a liar from the pits of hell, trying to destroy the faith and assume that humans know more than God. And that is why the humans who wrote the Scriptures were more magical than you or I could ever be, because none of us would look at a person we actually know and assume that she or he was ever truly 'infallible' when they say things. Would you? Do you know anyone, any real person, whom you would say speaks the absolute truth from God, with no human opinion mixed in at all? Really? But that is exactly what homotextual readings of the Bible expect us to say about the folks who wrote the Scriptures. They were a different breed of humans and God worked through humans differently back then, but now God doesn't do that any more and people are all just a little untrustworthy at best. Isn't that odd?

I suggest that we follow my friend Gayle's advice and strive to take the Scriptures seriously, without taking them literally. Or, more pointedly, we should refuse to take them literally in order that we can take them seriously.

This week, we're going to continue to talk about how it is that we read the Scriptures. Scholars refer to this as 'hermeneutics,' a word that is rooted on the name Hermes, who was the messenger of the gods in mythology. Hermeneutics, then, is how we read messages, like the written texts of the Scriptures.

I've promoted this blog among many of my friends. Some of you come from a more conservative background, others from a more liberal one. I invite any of you to comment on what I am saying, so that we can learn from one another. Thanks.


  1. How much of hermeneutics is interpreting and how much is looking hidden meanings that may not be there (hermeneutic circle effect)?

  2. I guess to some extent we always have to look for hidden meanings. For example, when Paul writes a letter to a church, he is often answering some specific questions or addressing some specific issues. We only see one side of the correspondence, so we're left to guess the other side. Of course, one side of correspondence makes more sense if we know what's being answered or addressed.

    In the case of Daniel, I don't think hermeneutics is so muc trying to discover hidden meanings as much as it is trying to understand what the text meant to those who wrote it, heard it, preserved it, and later made reference to it.

    The 'hermeneutic circle' is not so much about hidden meanings as it is an awareness that the reader/interpreter brings some assumptions to the text that cause her to read it in certain ways. That's one arc of the circle; the other arc is that, by striving to let the text speak for itself, the text can challenge, change, or confirm those assumptions. (The assumptions, by the way, are not entirely negative. Some can be enabling and others disabling, depending on how honest one is about them.)
    I agree with you that looking for hidden meanings is wrong. The Reformers always encouraged us to give credence to 'the plain reading of the text' instead of some cryptic hidden message.


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