Bible Commentary Out of Context?


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So here’s a comment from someone about my Genesis Bible Commentary that I felt I should address, even though it’s not really saying much. So here it is:

Dude…I got 4 words – “Way – Out – Of – Context.” Reread, and this time flush the cynicism. You’re not doing yourself aaaany favors. Sometimes, when we try to make a fool out of something, we ourselves are made the fool instead.

** 1Godless fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt.
They do disgusting things.
There is no one who does good things.
2The Lord looks down from heaven on Adam’s descendants
to see if there is anyone who acts wisely,
if there is anyone who seeks help from God.

And my response:

How come you didn’t give me any examples of what’s taken out of context? It’s not like I took a quote from the middle of the Bible without reading the surrounding verses. I started from the very beginning of the Bible, and as far as I know, didn’t leave anything out prior to the 28th chapter. If you don’t give a specific example, or outline your reasoning for saying it’s out of context, then it’s hard for me not to jump to the conclusion that you’ve merely heard the phrase “out of context” in religious arguments before and thought it sounded good.

However, I think what you may be talking about is a context that exists either outside of the Bible, or in later chapters of the bible. This reminds me of something that frequently happens in serious writers group meetings:

A young writer who thinks he’s all hot stuff and brilliant shows up to a writers group with a story or the first chapter of his novel, and the group starts work-shopping it. After the group reads it, they all say the same basic thing: it sucks. The characters aren’t believable, the plot doesn’t make sense, the emotion is too melodramatic, etc.

The writer then gets defensive because he’s got such a deep emotional investment in his writing. He immediately says “Well, you’ve got to understand the context…” and goes on to talk about character backgrounds or differences in culture or things that come later in the story. The group then must stop him and say, “Hey, when someone sits down to read your book, you’re not going to be there standing over their shoulder to explain things. Any context you need the reader to have must be contained in your story. That’s all you have is your words on the page. You can’t assume your reader is going to have any of the same preconceptions or values as you.”

I think what might be an issue is that you are thinking too much like an agnostic/non-religious person. You’re looking at the bible from the perspective of someone who has already formed their moral viewpoints based on logic, compassion, and real-world cause-and-effect. In normal situations that’s a very good thing, but for this discussion I think it’s confusing your perspective.

If you publish a book in the United States in 2011, for example, you can make a number of assumptions about your readers. You can assume they believe slavery is wrong, they believe women should be treated as equals, and they all know what a car is. The Bible, on the other hand, was written 2000 years ago and needs to be able to apply to all the cultures throughout the whole planet that have existed since then, and cannot afford to make any of those assumptions. Most of the moral assumptions we make in our society can’t be made here, because not all cultures have the same moral values. All necessary context must be pulled entirely from the words on the page.

When you read the Bible you’re coming from your own modern perspective which has been thoroughly infiltrated (thankfully) by science and logic. Your conscious logic twists and manipulates the meanings of the Bible to fit your non-religious, agnostic preconceptions about right and wrong, so that you can pretend like your moral values came from this book rather than from the atheist hidden deep in your heart.

When I read these 27 chapters from the Bible, I chose to do whatever I could to turn off all my preconceptions about moral values, right and wrong, and the state of the spirit world. I did everything I could to make my mind a blank slate, and judge the verses based on nothing but the words on the page. It was difficult, and I’m not sure how good a job I did, but that is what I tried to do, and this Bible commentary is honestly what I came up with, and is what I believe I would be thinking if I truly did have absolutely no moral or spiritual preconceptions… which isn’t even possible, but it’s a fun hypothetical.

Now, admittedly, there was some cynicism. I just couldn’t help it, because the conclusions I was coming to were so insane that I just couldn’t help but be cynical about them. Obviously I couldn’t free myself of my atheist bias, but I did the best I could.

Now, if you think I’m just manipulating and misrepresenting a good book into something twisted and wrong, then please try an experiment for me: go randomly select a Disney movie, then try to find a way to perceive it as promoting slavery or some other form of serious moral degradation in the same way the Bible does. Find some humanist or atheist brochures and try to do the same thing. Let me know what you come up with.

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So next, to address the Bible quote you threw out, I must say, I don’t see how that relates to anything you’re trying to say. It’s just a way for you to express your hatred of non-believers through the proxy of the Bible.

Have you ever heard the theory that the people who are most hateful toward gays are doing so because they are afraid of their own homosexual tendencies? I think this is often true of many people who show such vehement hatred toward atheists. You don’t want to admit that many, or even most of your perceptions about life and morality come from places that have nothing to do with your religion, many of which contradict the Bible or religious teachings. You’re terrified and ashamed of that little independent thinker that’s trapped deep inside you, so you lash out at anyone who openly admits to being one.

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