Saturday, August 29, 2009

the exaggeration produced by strong feelings...

In preparing for another year of Bible Study at our church, I have had to return to a more systematic and broad reading (after months of devotional reading) so have gone to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer's Daily lectionary. It is always interesting to jump into the books of the Bible in midstream and though I have read it for years and largely know the context for what I read, the carnage and the passions can still be a little off-putting (though the BCP seeks to moderate that response by bracketing the most egregious examples.)

This from the dean of the Boston Unitarian Bible Scholars and teachers, the "the Unitarian Pope" Andrews Norton on Orthodox vs. Liberal Biblical interpretation...

"Those are to be considered as liberal Christians, who believe that Christianity, in respect to its main design, is a revelation from God; a revelation of religious truths beyond all comparison more important and interesting, than what unenlightened reason can with any approach to certainty discover ; a revelation of the being and moral government of God, of the immortality of man, of the purpose of the present life, of the character here to be formed, and of our condition in a future state as depending on our present conduct. There are many, indeed, to be considered as liberal Christians, who, believing that Christianity is in its main design a revelation, do yet believe that there are other important purposes of this dispensation. The orthodox, on the contrary, do not consider Christianity in respect to its principal purpose as a revelation of any kind, but as a scheme by which mankind, created with natures so corrupt as never to perform the will of God, and therefore justly exposed to his wrath and the severest punishments, and utterly impotent to do any thing to deliver themselves from this condition, are now, through the sufferings and death of Christ, put into such a state, that the mercy of God is offered to all and extended to some individuals. They believe that these views of human nature and of Christianity were taught by Christ and his Apostles together with other doctrines, some of them mysterious and incomprehensible, which are not to be examined by the principles of natural reason, but in the reception of which our reason is to humble itself before our faith; and they for the most part consider the reception of these doctrines as essential,—as being the only foundation of the Christian character. The modes of interpretation which these two classes of Christians apply to the Scriptures likewise form characteristic differences. The orthodox, believing the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles to have been composed under God's immediate and miraculous superintendence, for the immediate purpose of being used and easily understood by all Christians in all countries and in all ages, of course apply to writings of so peculiar a character a mode of interpretation very different from what is applied to any other. They believe that no allowance is to be made for the inadvertence of the writer, and none for the exaggeration produced by strong feelings. They pay but little attention to that use of language, common in all human compositions, according to which the insulated meaning of words is not to be considered, and their true meaning is that which is defined by their connection, by some other known circumstance, or by the reason of the thing. They do not expect to find the meaning much disguised by peculiarities of expression characteristic of the writer, or of the age or country to which he belonged; they pay but little regard to the circumstances in which he wrote, or to those of the persons whom he addressed; and they are not ready to believe that writings, expressly intended for the general use of all Christians, should be much occupied by controversies which prevailed only in the first ages of the Church. Liberal Christians, on the contrary, believe that attention should be paid to all these particulars; and, while they regard the Christian Scriptures as the writings of men instructed by Christ himself, or by immediate revelation, in the nature and design of Christianity, they yet consider that the same modes of criticism and explanation are to be applied to these Scriptures as to all other ancient writings."


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