This new series of blogs will address all the verses I have written on in my recent work, Right Texts, Wrong Meanings. It’ll be controversial and hopefully humorous. The purpose of this blog series is simple. I want to show that most of what we take as Christian conviction is a load of rubbish. There, I said it. I also want to show that bad interpretation itself is not always innocent and harmless. Quite often, it makes the Christian faith the laughing stock to everyone (including fellow believers) who come into contact with us. In so doing, I’m trying to promote biblical literacy by promoting hermeneutical (a way to interpret the text that is honest to its background but is also relevant for faith living today) literacy. I think the problem of the church is not biblical literacy only (though we’re pretty illiterate) but hermeneutical literacy. I guess those who are feint at heart may have to click away at this moment. For the rest of you brave souls who don’t want to remain intellectual/spiritual infants, ready? All right, now let’s take the wild Bible roller coaster ride.
In writing this blog series (and in somewhat seriousness), I also want to show that lousy interpretations (often via Facebook update scripture quotations) have their consequences in our faith. How can you practically use this blog? You can use this blog in two ways. You can use it when you lead a group study as a lead-in discussion to show the importance of knowing the real meaning, or, if you’re a preacher, you can use it as your sermon introduction by abbreviating the issues and educating your congregation. Of course, I would appreciate it if you recommend this blog to your group and congregation if you feel that it is helpful to them spiritually and intellectually. I appreciate recommendation of any kind! Let’s start …
Recent arguments over Starbuck’s support of homosexual marriage have heated up the Internet to another level of white heat. Whatever your conviction is, someone is bound to quote Matthew 7.1, “Judge not, lest thou be judged.”
The very reason why I picked this passage is because its interpretations have a lot of logical implications. Let’s take the homosexual issue for a second as our prime example.
For the side in favor of homosexual marriage, they’ll say to the opponents, “Don’t judge. Don’t you see that the Bible says not to judge?” Yet, is this saying not a statement of judgment itself by calling someone judgmental? For the side against the homosexual marriage, they can say, “No, YOU don’t judge! The Bible clearly says that being gay is a sin, a crime worthy of stoning. We’re not doing the judging. God judges.” Isn’t that a judgment against homosexual after making an interpretation of the text? The other side would retort, “Your God is a hypocrite who said not to judge but judges more harshly himself. What kind of God is that?” That too is judgment. The arguments can go endlessly.
One of my readers humorously pointed out that the liberals are using a fundamentalist literal quotation of a text to attack conservatives. I don’t know if you see the irony in this, but I do. Now, the Bible-thumping conservatives do not like it when their method backfires. As I said many times, bad hermeneutics have consequences. Now, let’s get back to the matter at hand.
Is any of the sayings above not a statement of judgment by stating “clearly” what God and human does and does not judge in this era? What I’m saying is clear. By making any kind of statement about judgment, we’re essentially judging. All interpretations of reality involve judging. Let’s say we see the nightly news about the oppressive bosses of the Hong Kong docks. We can say that the laborers are oppressed. Is that not judgment against the bosses? Let’s say we see another earlier news about North Korea threatening to blow up the US via its nuclear arsenal. Some people say that Kim is an idiot. Isn’t that also a judgment? What about when Jesus said that a listener could be a dog or a pig in Matthew 7.6? Isn’t that kind of judgmental? Virtually in all sorts of statements, propositional or not, so long as there’s a distinction between good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral, and beneficial or harmful, judgment is involved.
If we apply Matthew 7.1 literally, we would have to suspend all our intellectual activity and common sense and retreat into our warm fuzzy caves. Of course, we cannot do that. What I propose is that we don’t apply Matthew 7.1 consistently. Rather, we do selective application. The problem is, selective applications can do more harm than good in certain cases. What is my solution?
There is a simple solution to this problem. We shouldn’t take a general approach to Scripture. We should look at the limitation of each text within the context of the verse of passage. What in fact was the text DOING rather than SAYING? Quotation without answering the question of “why” means nothing because every time we quote, we also interpret due to the fact of us trying to make Scripture do what we want. The trouble is what we are dealing with may not be what Scripture is dealing with. The authority of Scriptural quotation should be taken away from Christians who continue to abuse them in their Facebook memes, in favor of deep interpretation. I’d rather not see a Scripture quoted than to hear it being quoted wrongly.
The real issue with Matthew 7.1 is this. Is Matthew 7.1 a start of a new section and what is the end of this section OR is Matthew 7.1 part of another section? The answer to such questions would give better reason for this or that interpretation.
As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!
For more information on the better solution to this verse, purchase and read my book here.