Sunday, February 21, 2010

On Exegesis

Reading Ephraim Radner's review of Reasonable and Holy and the author's responsa thereto, what struck me was how easy it is to get bogged down in exegesis in the same-sex debate. Conservative arguers spill much ink over St Paul's cognitive state and the precise definition of porneia current during Jesus' earthly ministry, but no one needs to persuade me, at least, that Scripture says what it says.

For like my "reasserter" brethren I believe that all Scripture is given to us by God for our edification. I do not, however, believe that "inspired" necessarily means "literally applicable today." That doesn't mean that I wish to discard parts of the Bible, contrary to a common allegation. It's all there, and it's all good. Even the passages in Leviticus that make me squirm teach us about the relationship between God and his Chosen People throughout history, in slavery, exile, war, and also times of peace and prosperity. They teach us about the Covenant, about the struggle of the Israelites to survive under hostile conditions. I may think that the disappearance of temple prostitution obviates my obligation to distinguish myself from my Pagan neigbhours by eschewing same-gender relations, but I am no less a believer in the much-vaunted authority of Scripture per se. Every verse of the Bible has something to teach us, but many cannot simply be invoked at face value anymore. And who decided which those are? Scripture and Tradition (an artificial distinction for the former is a part of the latter) teach us that it is the Church that has been given power to bind and to loose, and for Anglicans, the Church speaks through its synods.

It won't matter how much or how loudly the "reasserters" call for "the plain meaning of Scripture" to be vindicated, or how many smug statements they issue "affirming" the "traditional doctrine of marriage." Unless and until they give a coherent account of why the Church, in Christian charity, ought not now to exercise its authority to "loose" its gay and lesbian faithful, their complaints will fall on deaf ears. In this respect, the problem is similar to that encountered with the ordination of women, where traditionalists often become complacent with the support the Papacy and 2000 years of Tradition, and neglect to address the serious theological problems raised by a male-only priesthood.

As Derek reminded us in a recent comment, the distinction is not, as Radner and Co. would have us believe, between those who interpret the Bible and those who do not, but between those who admit that they do so, and those who do not.

1 comment:

Malcolm+ said...

Recntly had the very dubious pleasure of trying to engage in a real conversation over at the Anglican Essentials blogsite. When I pointed to the example of usury (ie, lending money at interest) as a case where the Church had reappraised its teaching, they couldn;t even bring themselves to admit that indisputable fact. Instead, they offered up the apologetics of the 16th century reappraisers to claim there was no comparison.

In essence they argued "These reasons that the Church reappraised her teaching 450 years ago prove that any reappraisal of teachings now is impossible."