Monday, September 04, 2006

Horizons Study – Going Too Far

The first lesson of In the Beginning—Perspectives on Genesis (2006-2007 Horizons Bible Study) sets the tone for the entire study. The Horizons title calls this a “Bible Study.” Isn’t a Bible study supposed to be about studying the Bible, what it says and what it means? The weakness of this lesson is that it moves significantly away from the text of scripture.

“Therefore, unusual wording, omissions, and unanswered questions call for imaginative grappling with the text.” (page. 10) One of the keys points in biblical interpretation is that the text cannot mean what it never meant. We cannot read into the text what the totality of scripture does not support. God does not give us the authority to use our imagination to come up with new meanings for the text. Our reason is fallen. Our imagination is fallen. It is too easy to twist the text to say what we want it to say when we use our imagination to fill in silences in scripture. One good example in this area is the teaching of Jesus concerning the practice of same gender sexual intercourse. Jesus is silent on the subject; the rest of scripture is consistent on the topic of same gender sexual intercourse. We cannot use our imagination to come up with something that goes against the totality of scripture. If Jesus had meant to correct or change the biblical teachings in this area he would have done so. Our imagination cannot be used to come up with interpretations that are not supported by the rest of scripture.

“One midrash interprets humanity in Genesis 1:27 as one creature that is both male and female, with separate parts connected like Siamese twins: ‘When the Lord created Adam He created him double-faced, then He split him and made him of two backs, one back on this side and one back on the other side’ (Genesis Rabbah 8:1).” (Horizons study, page 10) Sinclair quotes a radical midrash teaching that is not considered authoritative in Jewish teaching. Kolel: The Adult Learning Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning offered a free online course on Zohar (the midrash that Sinclair quotes). That class says, “Also, for a scholarly reader, references to midrash would make the Zohar's teachings feel familiar, camouflaging how radical they are.” This class, that is by Jews and for Jews, calls the teachings of this midrash “radical.” Sinclair’s use of such a radical midrash calls into question all of her midrash quotes. The typical person doing this “Horizon Bible Study” isn’t going to have the time, training or resources to research all of her midrash quotes. A Bible study on Genesis should look at what scripture says and not cloud the text with other writings that are off-beat and radical.

“Scripture is a living text. Therefore, meaning is not fixed or absolute.” (Horizons, page 10) Scripture is a living text. Scripture is living because the Holy Spirit gives it life. The Holy Spirit does not change the meaning of scripture. Every time we read a passage in scripture the Holy Spirit points things out to us—things we didn’t see the last time we read the passage. This does not mean that the “meaning” has changed!

These items from page 10 of the Horizons Bible Study: In the Beginning are enough to REJECT this study as a “Bible study.” This is a good study if a person wants to see how NOT TO STUDY THE BIBLE.


At 6:44 PM , Blogger Backwoods Presbyterian said...

This is one of many reasons I have stopped using PC(USA) texts and have either written my own or gone outside the denomination for Sunday School materials.

At 7:57 PM , Anonymous Viola said...

Good evening Pastor Williamson,
Thank you for the information you are providing and the Jewish site you found. I am one of the authors of the caution article on VOW's web site concerning the Horizons' Bible Study. I do like what you write about Scripture as a living text. "Everytime we read a passage in scripture the Holy Spirit points things out to us - things we didn't see the last time we read the passage. This does not mean that the 'meaning' has changed!" Just a minor correction; the Zohar is not Midrash but is drawing on Midrash, that is the Genesis Rabbah which is itself in some places very radical. The Zohar is a work that has to do with Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. It can be called a mystical Midrash but this is a bit different than the usual Midrash.
Nonetheless you are doing a good work in helping others to understand that this year's bible study is extremely flawed. Thank you so much.
In the fellowship of Christ,
Viola Larson

At 10:33 PM , Blogger Presbyterian Gal said...

How frustrating this study sounds.

Regarding Genesis, as an aside, I recommend a little, easy to read book called "The Science of God" by a fellow named Gerald Schroeder. He's an MIT physicist, professor at Jersalem University and Bible scholar who ties together new discoveries in physics, paleontology, cosmology, biology to illustrate that in many places, the Bible is literally true. That 15 billion years was, in fact, 7 days. Among lots of other things. For me, it's been a wonderful discovery and given my Bible studies greater depth and excitement.

But I fear it would blow this Horizons' study out of the water.

At 5:12 PM , Anonymous will spotts said...

'Scripture is a living text'

The authors of this study mean 'living text' in the same sense that they mean the Constitution is a living document -- it is a way of saying that one is free to disregard whatever portions of it one doesn't like, and at the sime time, one is free to try to enforce on others things not actually found in this living text.


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