I hear people trying to apply biblical writings to the present when many Bible passages were very much tied to the time in which they were written.
I’ve learned in my Bible studies to try to remember when an episode took place. I’ve also learned to try to read to find my own truths — not what someone else told me was the truth.
This last lesson was brought home to me years ago when a young woman told me that Catholics were “going to hell because it says in Revelation that anyone who changes this book (the Bible) will be punished!”
This is what was “the Gospel truth” in her church. I pointed out that a) changing the “book” only applied to the Book of Revelation, since the Bible hadn’t been canonized when Revelation was written and b) Protestants changed the original Catholic Bible. She was shocked.
She started reading and questioning on her own and, eventually, started attending a different church.
Speaking of Revelation, it was pointed out in my current Bible study that the apocalyptic views in Revelation were veiled references to the Roman Empire.
Trying to squash our modern world into the 2,000-year-old vision really doesn’t work.
In the 1970s, I was told by someone whom I considered a biblical authority that “Jesus doesn’t like feminists.” I believed him until I started reading the Bible myself. I found that Jesus indeed liked strong, assertive women and even taught women (Mary and Martha) at a time when that was a big no-no.
Paul was much maligned by feminists in the ’70s, too. But what people forget is that, for his time, Paul was very much a feminist. He even appointed women to positions of authority in the new churches.
I realized this when I found out that the Greek word translated as “deacon” in its masculine form is translated “servant” in its feminine form in most versions of the Bible. A little gender bias by translators, maybe?
But, when reading Paul and applying the mores of his time, I realized he was laying out radically feminist ideas.
And let’s revisit the manger where the baby Jesus was laid. Being refused at the inn was probably the best thing that could have happened. Inns in those days weren’t Hiltons, folks.
For the poor, it was a large common room where people slept on pallets on the floor. And probably a dirt floor, to boot.
To be given the privacy of a stable to have a baby was quite literally a God-send. And laying the baby in a manger of clean hay was much preferable to putting him down on a pallet probably crawling with fleas and/or bedbugs.
So, my recommendation for Bible study is to consider the context of the time. It will greatly enhance your understanding. And when told something by an authority, apply the ’70s mantra: question authority.
Suzanne Conaway, one of The Star’s Faith Walk writers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.