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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Abstraction Solution

The last solution for handling scriptures like these is what I will call abstraction. A nice basic example is to compare Exodus 21:23-25, But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise., with Luke 6:29, If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. At first, these seem to contradict each other, until you realize that the old testament law calls for restraint. You can only take so much retribution against those who have wronged you.

I prefer to analyze scripture in this way. What was the author saying? What was the author's world like when he or she wrote these words? Where is the presence of God in what the author has to say? I like to do things this way because it allows me to suck the holy marrow even from scriptures that might at first seem like useless bones to me. I also like this treatment of scripture because it is how I try to treat all passages.

It is not without its pitfalls. Any student of statutory construction will tell you that cases rested on constitutional law often turn on how abstract a view one is willing to take. There is of course a temptation to just abstract away everything difficult.

Which leads me to the notion that Scripture is best interpreted while in contemplative prayer, or for the non-theist readers, in times of quiet introspection. Better to let your mind and heart explore the meaning than to try to interpret with the eyes of a litigator pressing for one interpretation over the other. I've long recognized that it is invalid to open the Bible and search for support for my arguments. I always find plenty of support, but so does everyone else. If the Bible is to be a guide, we have to tune our hearts to be guided by it.

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