In my last post I discussed some of my own biases that I have when approaching the Bible. The first one was that I think being faithful to the Bible–that is, to the over-arching narrative that is told through the Scriptures and continues through the life of the Church–sometimes requires us to disagree with and/or critique certain texts that we find in the Bible.
One of the reasons why I believe we must disagree with certain texts is because this is precisely what we see the apostles doing with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in the book of Acts:
As [Peter] talked with [Cornelius], he entered and found many people assembled. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for” (10:27-29a, emphasis mine).
It is true that that the word for “unlawful” in the Greek denotes a cultural taboo rather than the written Law, however, the fact that Peter is willing to break with the ancient Jewish tradition requiring Jews to stay separate from Gentiles is far from inconsequential. Peter’s rationale for breaking from the ancient tradition is that God showed him that no person was unholy or unclean (see italics). In other words, God spoke a new and fresh word to Peter, a word that required him to rethink what faithfulness to his tradition looked like.
Later on in Acts 15 the Apostles debate with a group of Pharisees about whether or not Gentile converts must be circumcised. Sylvia Keesmaat, in her essay Welcoming the Gentiles: A Biblical Model For Decision Making, notes that by arguing that Gentile converts must be circumcised in order to become a part of the covenant people of God, the Pharisees had both Scripture and tradition on their side. In other words, there was absolutely zero precedence for allowing the Gentiles in without circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses. Yet, this is precisely what the apostles argue for:
The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the necks of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (15:6-11).
After having met personally with Cornelius and seeing that God had poured out his Spirit on him, Peter could not deny that God was up to something radically new. His vision of the sheet and the unclean animals also contributed to his arguing for something that was contrary to both Jewish tradition and Scripture.
The implications of this are huge.
As Christians living in the 21st century do we still believe that God is speaking? Is it possible for God to speak a word to his Church today that would require us to critique our own tradition as well as the Bible itself? Does faithfulness to the living God who moves and speaks sometimes require that we disagree with certain texts in the Bible?
I think the answer must be yes to all of the above.