I anticipate that, for some of my readers, my third “Break Your Bible” post may have gone a little too far with its suggestion that we should apply moral discernment to our reading of the Bible. The objection is something like, “but we get our morality FROM the Bible, we can’t sit in judgment OF the Bible.” I want to offer a response in two short parts.
1. It’s not untrue that we derive ethical and moral principles from scripture, but one of my main goals in writing what I do on this blog is to illustrate that interacting with the Bible is not as simple as reading a constitution or instruction manual. The canons represent libraries full of ancient texts that often stand in conversation and even tension. The Torah laws, though not followed fully or strictly by any Christian community known to history, give us a glimpse into Israel’s ethical framework. And Christians have the teachings of Jesus and his commandments of love, which ought to shape our morality more than anything else. But as I have attempted to illustrate, scripture is also filled with narratives and themes and voices that need to be checked against the moral standards of Jesus. That is not an inappropriately critical approach to the Bible, it is a Christian one.
2. I would take this even farther and contest the notion that it is inappropriate to judge a source or teacher of morality by its own standard. Isn’t this precisely what we must do? I touched on this in an earlier post, but when Jesus sets forth his principle of judging a prophet or teacher by whether or not they bear “good fruit,” is he not inviting us to watch his life and hold him accountable to his own teachings? Is this not how we discover that he is good, that he is authentic, that he is worthy? Does he not follow his own standard of selfless empathy to its brutal climax? It is precisely through discernment and judgment, based on “biblical principles,” that we determine Jesus to be Lord. The notion that we could find or embrace truth without moral discernment – even or especially when it comes to the Bible – is absurd. Unexamined or inherited Christian identity alone cannot build or sustain a healthy moral character. It is only when we grow and learn to discern for ourselves – in partnership with the written teachings of Jesus, his living spirit, our own reason, and one another – that we can make sound moral judgments.