The scripture was written to and written for and written by ancient people of an ancient culture living in an ancient time. The scripture was written as a metaphorical and thoughtful and faithful record and narrative and explanation. The scripture is how they perceived the presence and influence and actions of God in their lives and history, individually and communally. Those ancient people and that ancient culture and that ancient time are gone, never to return. It is impossible for that ancient culture and that ancient time to be recreated and it is impossible for us to be that ancient people or to live as did that ancient people. In the same way that we are ignorant of our distant future; they had no knowledge, no idea, no vision, no dream, no fantasy that two millennia hence there would be an increasingly global and interconnected culture and economy of 7 billion people, world wars and holocausts encompassing and killing and making refugees of millions, staggering accomplishments in medicine and engineering and transportation and communication, and the development of sciences and mathematics and technologies that did not and could not exist in their time and that they could not have comprehended. Because we have had these experiences and live with these developments and because these experiences and developments cannot be erased or quarantined from our perceptual and analytical processes, we are not capable of developing an adequate or reasonable comprehension of ancient times, cultures and people. We cannot understand an ancient existence devoid of our experiences and developments and knowledge and assumptions and expectations and view of reality and we will never be able to understand an ancient existence because we can neither interact with it nor live in it. Their ancient time and existence are irreconcilably separate from our contemporary time and existence and irreconcilably different than our time and existence. What is “ancient” and what is “contemporary” are mutually incomprehensible. In terms of the original ancient audience and the original ancient purpose and the original ancient usage, the scripture is not ours. The scripture was not written to us, the scripture was not written for us, the scripture was not written about us. Because the scripture is not ours, we are neither bound by it nor obligated by it. We can faithfully use the scripture as a source of inspiration and wisdom, as a way of connecting to or mediating the sacred, and it can become a path to spiritual revelation and epiphany that can be instructive, nurturing and transforming.
Whatever understanding we have of that ancient time and ancient culture and ancient people is unavoidably imperfect, incomplete and inaccurate. Whatever understanding we have of any ancient people in any ancient culture in any ancient time is wrong in ways in which we will never be aware and in ways we will never be able to discern. Whatever understanding we have of the scripture, and no matter how comfortable or confident we are with that understanding, it will always be unavoidably imperfect, incomplete, inaccurate – it will always be a wrong understanding of the original intent, delivery, reception, social and theological understandings and implications, cultural incorporation and personal use of the scripture by the authors and original audience. The reason is three-fold: 1) we cannot have a conversation with them – the members of the original audience or the authors. 2) We cannot experience it or witness it in its original setting, transmission, reception, response and usage. 3) We cannot comprehend it because the way we use and interpret our physical senses – the way we see, hear, feel, smell and taste – and the way we use and interpret our basic knowledge and our basic expectations and our basic assumptions and our sense of normalcy have been so completely shaped and infused by our contemporary environment that it is impossible for us to construct a usable comprehension of an ancient environment. All we have for ancient evidence is the silent tombstones of archeological discoveries and an inadequate and incomplete and imperfect written record and our own unconfirmed and unconfirmable interpretations and conclusions. All that we are left with and all that we will ever have is our own immediate understanding which is inescapably influenced by and attached to our time and our culture and our experiences in our culture in our time and our assimilation of and our assimilation by our culture and time. The value and truth of the scripture is not in what it was. The value and truth of the scripture is in what it is – for us here and now.
The truth of the scripture goes beyond and is more than any attempt to limit the scripture to historical fact. The truth of the scripture goes beyond and is more than any attempt to limit the ancient languages of the scripture to an arbitrary single “literal” definition or to an arbitrary single “literal” translation. Either attempt would be unfaithful and disrespectful, even abusive, toward the scripture. The truth of the scripture is more than factuality, physicality, requirements and restrictions, legally acceptable objective evidence, peer-reviewed repeatable scientific experiments, statistical analysis or mathematical proofs. The foundational and eternal truth of the scripture always involves “the more” – that which is beyond life, beyond the universe, beyond physicality, beyond factuality, beyond objective evidence and beyond provable theorems. The foundational and eternal truth of the scripture always recognizes “the more” as a perceivable presence and a knowable consciousness that is grace-full and loving and relational and even dialogical. The universal foundational and eternal message of all ancient scripture is that it is possible to live in synchronous harmony with “the more” by living “The Way.”
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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 9 articles he has written, 5 are in the top 10 all-time most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master’s degree and licensure in Special Education.
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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan
are listed here in order of publication:
RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS – an epistle
RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS – it’s personal
GOD IS – an update