Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hermeneutics and the Highest Ethic of Scripture (Part 2 of 3)

As a literature student and later an English teacher, I was always very aware that we never approach a text with a “view from nowhere.” We always carry our cultural, social, gendered, economic and political biases with us when we read. Granted, we can be aware of these and try to minimise their shaping effect, but it is impossible to completely escape our own experiences when approaching a text. This is one reason why it is so important that scripture be read within the community of believers, both current and from ages past. The larger and more varied the perspectives we bring to the Bible, the better chance we have of not only seeing our privilege and opinions reinforced. But what do we do then with slavery? The larger community was wrong. Perhaps this was, in part, because the culture wasn’t quite ready to hear that part of the Gospel. Perhaps it was simply because rich, white landowners kept reading and shaping the exegetical direction and they just couldn’t see beyond themselves. Perhaps they weren’t able to see the higher ethic that scripture was always pushing toward but that wasn’t yet, in the first century, a reality for the church.

Throughout the Bible, slavery is a fact of life. But, despite the ubiquity, slavery was not what God intended for his image bearers. We can see this clearly if we read with a bit of literary sophistication. The direction of both Biblical themes and the action push us toward a world where oppression, abuse, inequality, and exploitation are no longer a reality. We see this in that, while slavery was a societal given, scripture constantly takes steps to ameliorate the abusive nature of the institution. Be it in the laws in Leviticus that set up certain standards to for the treatment of slaves (which, by are modern standards are still shocking), Jesus’ willingness to associate with and accept everyone, Paul’s commands to slaves and slave-owners as to how they are to behave, or ultimately, a vision of a better time when we would be truly brothers and sisters and not slaves and masters, the Bible is always pushing toward an understanding that the human person is God’s image bearer, created for His glory. The story of God working with humanity is always pushing us forward to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the highest ethic of scripture. And so, I propose that, perhaps, we need our underlying hermeneutic to be one of love and grace, a hermeneutic that reads scripture in light of Christ’s work on the cross and the redemption and recreation going on even now and that is a testament to His kingdom breaking into the fallenness around us.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Well said.

I wonder whether, like Kingship, God allowed slavery that we might understand something bigger than the oppression itself [slavery] or the institution [Kingship] leading to King Jesus freeing captives.

THe ISraelites where slaves in Eygpt to reveal something to us, 'on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come'. Namely, that we ourselves are slaves to sin, needing to be freed.

Speco. But possible in the economy of God.