Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation

Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation

Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation

Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation

Synopsis

Many Christians ignore most Old Testament laws as obsolete or irrelevant. Others claim to honor them but in fact pick and choose among them very selectively in support of specific agendas, like opposition to homosexual rights. Yet it is a basic tenet of Christian doctrine that the faith is contained in both the Old and the New Testament. If the law is ignored, an important aspect of the faith tradition is denied. In this book Cheryl Anderson tackles this problem head on, attempting to answer the question whether the laws of the Old Testament are authoritative for Christians today. This question is crucial, because some Christians actually believe that the New Testament abolishes the law, or that the major Protestant reformers (Luther, Calvin, Wesley) rejected the law. Anderson acknowledges the deeply problematic nature of some Old Testament law, especially as it applies to women. For example, Exodus 22:16-17 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 both deem the rape of an unmarried female to have injured her father rather than the female herself. Deuteronomy requires the victim to marry her rapist. Anderson argues that biblical laws nevertheless teach us foundational values. They also, however, remind us of the differences between their ancient context and our own. She suggests that we approach biblical law in much the same way that Americans regard the Constitution. The nation's founding fathers were privileged white males who did not have the poor, women, or people of color in mindwhen they agreed that "all men are created equal." The Constitution has subsequently been amended and court decisions have extended its protections to those who were previously excluded. Although the biblical documents cannot be modified, the manner in which they are interpreted in later settings can and should be altered. In addition to her work as a scholar of the Old Testament, Anderson has been a practicing attorney, and has worked extensively in critical, legal, feminist and womanist theory. This background uniquely qualifies her to apply insights from contemporary law and legal theory to the interpretive history of biblical law, and to draw out their implications for issues of gender, class, and ethnicity.

Excerpt

During the summer of 2005, I was teaching a Bible study class with teenagers who would be high school seniors that fall. I had them do an exercise, the purpose of which was to encourage them, as people of faith, to read the biblical text carefully and ask crucial questions about the messages communicated. We read the Ten Commandments, and I pointed out how slavery is condoned, and we read Judges 19, a particularly heinous story about the gang rape of a woman, and I showed them how one of the underlying messages of the text is that it is better for a woman to be raped than a man. My goal was to get them to see that they already had a sense of who God is and how God is at work in the world that can help them to evaluate problematic biblical texts. For one female African American student in the class, the exercise was a total failure. At one point, she had had enough, and she blurted out, “This is the Word of God. If it says slavery is okay, slavery is okay. If it says rape is okay, rape is okay.”

I had assumed that her identity as an African American and a female would have given her a different perspective on these texts about slavery and rape, but it did not. Her notion of absolute biblical authority was such that it took precedence over her own particularities. Since then, I have reflected on this incident and realized that her lack of self-awareness and her commitment to the Bible are actually related. When I lead discussions with the laity on biblical laws, I have noted that few of them—male or female—have ever thought about what a woman might think about some of these laws. For example . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.