This blog spurred some interesting thoughts:
I’ll reiterate the jist of what I said in my comments. In short, Christians usually try to make sense of the Bible by saying that to properly interpret it, you need to understand the context properly (and then whoever has just said that to you will proceed to tell you the proper way to understand whatever verse or passage you’re looking at).
What is implied in such a statement is that today’s interpretation is somehow the right one - that God finally cut through the clutter and misunderstandings of countless generations of earlier Christians, and now we've finally got it.
Under this view, Christians of older generations who justified slavery or the oppression of women somehow got it wrong. Yet, how can this be? How can today’s Christian who is full of love and compassion be so sure that God, throughout history, has always opposed slavery? And if he did, why did he allow his Word to be written in such a way that slavery could very very easily be justified for hundreds or thousands of years? How could he allow his Word to include a lot of “women must be silent and submit to their husbands” rants from Paul if what God really meant for us to understand is that women are absolutely equal to men, and he wants it to be mutual submission, no hierarchy involved?
I’ll repeat here a comment I made on MOI’s entry above:
I used to be a big fan of the “but you must understand the context” explanation. Used to offer it up, myself, sometimes with that slightly patronizing smile of ‘I know better than you; now let me help you understand’.
But the more I think about it, the more I think “context” is a thin excuse to re-interpret the Scriptures to fit the contemporary mores. It’s the work-around so the Bible doesn’t sound so awful; it’s like arguing what “is” is. “No, no, genocide in the OT was okay because God was justified in wiping those people out. That’s divine justice. What we have today is manmade genocide - clearly very bad and wrong.”
I would love to see a longitudinal study of how messages from the pulpit have changed over the years in explaining the proper “context” of a given passage of Scripture.