Thursday, May 19, 2011

The “dark” passages of the Bible

We invite your comments concerning the following passage of Verbum Domini:

  • Which texts would you consider the “dark passages” of the Bible?
  • Is “the correct interpretation” a remedy for these passages?

The “dark” passages of the Bible

In discussing the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments, the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which, due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”. I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.
[Verbum Domini 42]
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  1. I would like to recommend the following recently published article that wrestles with this very issue and deals with one of the 'dark' passages of the Pauline corpus:
    Didier Pollefeyt and David J. Bolton, "Paul, Deicide and the Wrath of God: Towards a Hermeneutical Reading of 1 Thess 2:14-16," in Tom Casey and Justin Taylor (eds.), Paul's Jewish Matrix, Bible and Dialogue 2 (Rome: G&B Press, 2011) 229-257.

  2. I have some difficulty with this section of text above:
    1. "due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain"
    The scripture and even God are not first moral. First is to believe God (and by believe I do not mean nonsense).
    A passage that is difficult is one that has been omitted in some peoples Psalters: psalm 58:11 he will wash his footfall in the blood of the wicked. This psalm is missing from some collections in spite of its title: do not destroy. Clearly this has very specific metaphoric meaning in the NT - washing in the blood of the lamb who became sin for us. The full scope of human emotion cannot be ignored - similarly the multivocality of Psalm 137.
    2. " training his people in preparation for the Gospel."
    The Gospel is in the Psalter and in the Torah. True I come to it with a knowledge of the NT, but the same Spirit, the same gift of the Spirit informs the Anointing of the Writings. Yes it takes work and judgment to decipher but in fact this work in the Spirit is a total delight and is impossible without engagement with the Invisible.

    On the whole, I guess I have to live with the somewhat explanatory progressive revelation if only because it puts some minds to rest. Take care that it does not encourage the mind to sleep.


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