"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is Your Holy Book Alive or Set in Stone?

Do y'all remember earlier this month when I wrote a few posts about From Stone to Living Word by Debbie Blue?  It started with Rethinking Idols, continued to "Love is almost like reverse idolatry,"  "God is a God of life,"  a bit in my post on Midrash and finally The Bible -- Stoning, Slashing, Loving.  I enjoyed the feedback on those posts. 


Well, here are the last notes I have from her book. Rereading this first section just now, I wondered if this could be true of Scriptures revered in other faiths.  Just yesterday I took a few minutes to watch a video on Wafa's blog.  In it Naif Al-Mutawa alludes to his creation of the comic series "The 99" as a way of making the Quran come alive.  He said too many scholars have set the Quran in stone and Al-Mutawa either said or gave me reason to believe this is why so many Muslim-majority nations are thought to be ... what's the word?  I guess stuck in another century? I don't know....I realize some people like being stuck in the past as they see modernity as too wicked and maybe too fast-paced for their liking.

So read this from Debbie Blue and see if you can also apply it to your sacred book or tell me if you reject her thoughts outright when it comes to the scripture you hold dear.



On inspiration of Scripture... "..we often seem to think it means something more along the lines of it being fixed. Not made alive, but set in stone.  As if inspired by God means God told people a long time ago to write down certain things and they did.  And those things are inerrant, absolute, fixed, and settled.  As if God's inspiration stiffens the Word rather than loosing it, objectifies it rather than breathing life into it. Because the words are inspired, we should put them under glass in a museum, worship them more than interact with them, guard them somehow, or appreciate their finality more than take them out to play. ... The church has often recognized the need to guard against bibliolatry, and way it has often done this is to appeal to the Spirit of God."  (pg. 41) 

I know it won't be exactly the same since the Quran is supposedly revealed from God word for word and thus perhaps it's supposed to be "fixed," but if you think more of the application of the Quran, interpreting it for 21st century living instead of years ago before automobiles, cell phones and computers were usual.   Or before slavery and polygyny and child marriages and raiding caravans became more frowned upon than society's norm.  And I don't think Muslims would appeal to the Holy Spirit, but maybe they'd hope for some more moderate imams and sheikhs and scholars who wouldn't have mindsets from the Dark Ages when setting down rules for the ummah. 

The author continues,

"Luther says that unless the Spirit opens scripture, it is not really understood.  Barth says that the texts, the words on the page, aren't the Word of God, the revelation, but the witness to the revelation....The words aren't the Word unless the living God animates these words, makes them alive somehow, breathes into them . . .  This is admittedly a weird thing to believe, but it is clearly a part of the outrageousness of faith."  (pg. 42)

What do you think about the words not being the "Word of God" until God makes them alive?  As I thought of this I remembered John 1 where it is claimed that the Word was with God, the Word was God, the Word created all things and the Word became flesh and lived among us.  Now that is truly a living, breathing, alive, animated Word!

One last thing from the author...

"Reading the Bible doesn't sort everything out and set everything straight. It's more like being drawn into another world where lines break down and separations cease and you lose your sense of righteousness, of being a victim to everyone else's wrong, and your heart is broken open, your joints separated from your marrow. The Word of God isn't a series of flat narratives with clear points; it's a wild, unmanageable 'moving, living organ.' ... Reading it closely, honestly, quizzically, doesn't actually set us straight as much as it rattles us, undoes us, sets us loose so that we might fall into the lap of God."  (pg.43,44)

What do you think? Could you say the same thing about the Quran, Book of Mormon or other religious texts? Do you like the author's thoughts on the Word of God? Why or why not?

21 comments:

Amber said...

I still don't like her. I'm just saying.

That being said, Scripture, if we're talking about what's canon, does need to be considered set in stone. If not, it opens the door for people claiming 'new revelation', a la the SDA, or the Mormons, etc. Even though we're warned against false prophets, clearly, people fall for this stuff. And you get the problem with the Protestants removing books from the OT, which could fall under the same heading, though not, obviously, claiming to new revelation.

IMHO, the Bible's interpretation is alive and well, within the Church. Since the Church is a 'living, breathing' organism.

Mmm...I do remember, in reading about Islamic history, and it was a while ago, so this is going to a vague statement with no years or proof, etc. that the interpretation of the Qur'an was considered a fluid, changing thing for a very long time (not losing fundamentals, of course, but more how it was applied to 'current' circumstances), but then one group came to power and 'closed' ijtihad. Okay, I looked it up a little. Some scholars claim that, at least in Sunni Islam, ijtihad (the interpretation according to current circumstances of the 'law' of the Qur'an and the Sunnah), stopped in the 10th century, and they now focus only (or majorly) on taqlid, or the imitation of the rulings and people from before them. So...you'll have some disagreement over whether or not people feel they can interpret the Qur'an into modern times, or if they have to imitate the salaf in all things. (For instance, I've read of some people who won't use silverware, or sit at a table or use chairs to eat. Not because it's their culture, but because that's the way Mohammed and the Companions and the salaf did it, and so it's sunnah. *shrug*)

All that may or may not be on topic to the post, but there you go! :)

Lat said...

Well let's see.

When I read about God,His inspirations,love, blessings He bestows and about the lessons that we need to consider and learn I believe the Holy Book is alive.Because the writings of spirituality appeals to me and makes sense when I read for the very first time till now.Sometimes I seem to arrive at new meanings from the same verse!

But the laws dealing with human beings seem to be different.Some countries do practice them as if they are set in stone.I don't know if it's right.As for adultery,eventhough the Quran mentions only whipping for this offence,in reality such an act is given a death penalty.So this particular law(whipping) found in a holy book is not set in stone! But others seem to be so.Like theft,blood-money and so forth.Thank God slavery is abolished otherwise we could be seeing Arabs ransoming them for their atonements of sins.

I think it's okay to practice ijtihad,taking into considerations of our present environment and conditions pertaining to our living standards.People of old lived according to theirs,so why can't we do so? For a holy book to stay relevant for all times,it's only right that it leaves/allows some openness for future thoughts and actions like organ donation,as such acts benefit society as a whole(I'm not talking about trading here).

Good post! Love to say more but no time now! :)

sarah said...

I dont agree that the application is set in stone. Doesnt God take into account all circumstances? Do you read passages of the Bible and they mean different things to you at different times?
I definately pick up different nuances as i journey through life and some things make more sense after going through new experiences, your understanding deepens.

If you are just taking someone,s opinion and didnt think about it for yourself then how much credit do you get? They werent your ideas in the first place.

I love this quote from the writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

There was a time when we thought the Holy Quran was alive like the Staff of Moses, but when we gave it a second thought to the matter we found that not only was it alive in itself, every single word in it also had the life giving qualities of a Messiah.

It means that each word has a significance and a range and depth of meanings. Those who seek to limit the exploration or consideration of those meanings are themselves restrctings it,s beauty.

sanil said...

From what you've quoted, I think I love this book! I will have to look for it. I especially like this part: "that the texts, the words on the page, aren't the Word of God, the revelation, but the witness to the revelation". Maybe that's why personal testimony and experiences tend to influence and convert people more than Scripture. It's current, it's someone they know or at least can see and talk to, and therefore it's something they can understand. If Scripture is God's Word and the only real revelation, with no change in application for the time and culture, it means God isn't speaking to us today. And how can anyone follow a God who is no longer involved in the world? 2000+ year old instructions have to be re-interpreted at the least, to be any use to people living today.

Wafa' said...

For all of my life i have believed -which is what millions of Muslims believed and still beliving- that the Quran is good for all times, any age , any people and any thing.
Whenever you need something, you can find it in the Quran.

But sometimes you simply don't. Scholars wanted the Quran to be a scientific book as well as a meditation one and one that applies for all changing in soceity...etc. But it's not.

There are a lot of things and solutions in it that can be great for all times but there are a lot of problems and ideas that you can not find solution for in the Quran.


It's simply a divine book that can be set in stone and that's we did.

sarah said...

I think if you view the Quran as containing principles and examples then it does contain enough to live our lives by. However, unless a reader ponders over and thinks about the meaning of the imagery, allegory etc then much of it will pass on by unnoticed.

It is obviously open to interpretation so not everyone draws the same conclusions but perhaps they are not meant to.

Suroor said...

I agree with Sanil!

Susanne said...

Amber, when I read certain books I tend to think, "Hmmm, Amber won't like this" or "Sanil will probably like this one." And you didn't disappoint! I tend to agree with you about certain things being set in stone. On the other hand, I can appreciate a few things from the author's point of view so I do believe reading the book wasn't a total waste of time. If anything, it was great hearing YOUR point of view which is more along my own.

Thanks for looking up that information about Islam and how it was interpreted moreso until the 10th century. I am reading another book presently and the author says the Taliban banned all sorts of things in Afghanistan, but what amazed me was that TOOTHPASTE was among the things banned! What?! Why? Then when I told Samer yesterday he said "they want you to use those little sticks." Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh! I guess we must always, always, always, always imitate Muhammad even if that means banning toothpaste so people will clean their teeth the way HE did! Ridiculous!


Samer told me when his brother studied in London a couple years ago, he went to mosque and after the prayer Barea turned to shake hands with the men on both sides of him. However he was beside one guy who refused. He said that was innovation (bidah?) since the Prophet didn't do it.


You are always free to go off on tangents! Thanks for sharing!

Susanne said...

Lat, great comment.

"Sometimes I seem to arrive at new meanings from the same verse!"

Yes, I totally agree. Some days a new way of looking at a verse will occur to me or I'll notice something that I never saw before though I may have read the passage a dozen times.

".As for adultery,eventhough the Quran mentions only whipping for this offence,in reality such an act is given a death penalty."

I remember Suroor said one time that the stoning method was supposed be in the Quran according to some, but that particular tidbit was written on a leaf that got eaten by a goat. Hopefully that was a joke! :)

"For a holy book to stay relevant for all times,it's only right that it leaves/allows some openness for future thoughts and actions like organ donation,as such acts benefit society as a whole"

I agree! There are simply things we have now that they didn't have back then so we should be able to apply principles in relevant ways and not make things that worked centuries ago be THE for-sure, set rule for all time without taking modernity into consideration. Good points!

Susanne said...

Sarah, glad to read your point of view.

I really liked this a lot:

"It means that each word has a significance and a range and depth of meanings. Those who seek to limit the exploration or consideration of those meanings are themselves restrctings it,s beauty."

I agree that some passages seem to have different meanings as we go through certain experiences. There is a passage in the Bible that says "when I am weak, then am I strong" and His grace is sufficient for our weaknesses. I've not gone through some of the heartbreaking things a few of my friends have so maybe I've not had these things proven true to me. But they can testify to those promises being so true. I think we have to go through those times to experience that grace that is sufficient for our troubles.

Thanks for your comment!

Susanne said...

Sanil, excellent points. I do believe God speaks to us today and is involved in the world. My preacher says the Revelation verses say "what the Spirit **is saying** to the Church" meaning He is speaking today to those who have ears.

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think you'd like this book! :)

Susanne said...

Wafa', I really enjoyed your point of view. So you believe the Quran never made itself out to be a science or history or philosophy book, but maybe people have tried to make it such and that was a bad idea?


"There are a lot of things and solutions in it that can be great for all times but there are a lot of problems and ideas that you can not find solution for in the Quran."

Do you think this is why they make the hadiths of so much importance? Perhaps they try to get these more thorough answers from hadith?



Thanks for sharing your perspective! I was hoping you'd add your thoughts on this topic! I always enjoy hearing people speak of their own holy books/beliefs/people. :)

Susanne said...

Sarah,

"I think if you view the Quran as containing principles and examples then it does contain enough to live our lives by."

This is how I view the Bible. I never view it as a science book or even a history book. It doesn't claim to be. I've heard some call it HIS story...Jesus'. It's not supposed to tell us the answers to our math problems. I believe God left a lot for humans to discover because He realized how much fulfillment and enjoyment we'd get out of it. He doesn't have all the answers to science, math, home ec., accounting, history, literature problems in one set manual. He gives us the principles to get along with each other (among other things) and leaves the exploration to us!

Thanks for adding what you did!


Suroor, OK then. :)

Amber said...

Susanne,

'when I read certain books I tend to think, "Hmmm, Amber won't like this" or "Sanil will probably like this one." And you didn't disappoint!'

I am amused by this! How's your percentage on this? I mean, are you right about our reactions much? Do you know us that well? *worries* I must be less predictable!

'Then when I told Samer yesterday he said "they want you to use those little sticks." Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh! I guess we must always, always, always, always imitate Muhammad even if that means banning toothpaste so people will clean their teeth the way HE did! Ridiculous!'

Miswak sticks, I think. Yeah. And yet, they are more than willing to make war with technology that Mohammed had no access to. If Mohammed did everything the best, and everything should be the way he did it, please, feel free to attack on horse or camel with bows, arrows, knives, and swords. Please. *rolls eyes*

'He said that was innovation (bidah?) since the Prophet didn't do it.'

Mohammed didn't do a lot of things. The world kept on spinning after his death, and things changed. While it's not on the same level as a handshake (I don't think these would be counted as bidah, since, to my understanding, bidah is innovation in the religion, but I could be wrong there...), I don't see most modern Muslims rejecting cars, telephones, tv, a/c, modern medicine, etc. because Mohammed didn't do it that way.

Mohammed has always struck me as a fairly practical man. I assume, had he had the opportunity, he'd have used modern conveniences.

'I remember Suroor said one time that the stoning method was supposed be in the Quran according to some, but that particular tidbit was written on a leaf that got eaten by a goat. Hopefully that was a joke! :)'

I'm not saying it actually happened, but it's true that that's a story that's told (might even be hadith, but I won't swear to that...) about this passage of the Qur'an. So Suroor wasn't pulling you leg...

'This is how I view the Bible. I never view it as a science book or even a history book. It doesn't claim to be.'

Unless I've misunderstood you, you do, sort of, look at it as a history book. If I'm remembering correctly, you do take the Bible 100% literally, right? So every even recorded in the Bible had to have happened *exactly* as written.

Susanne said...

Amber, LOL@ you worrying! I guess I've just become familiar enough with what you generally will like or not like. Anything that comes from a former Baptist I say you won't like. :D

I agree that Muhammad seemed practical and he would have no problem changing with the times as far as using new inventions, even toothpaste. :) Good point.

Well, I do think the history of the Bible should be accurate, but I don't regard it as a history book like I'd think of my US or NC history books. It's very selective in its history as it tells mostly the Jewish story.....hmmm, I've just never thought of it as a history book, but I'd say it's more historical than scientific if I had to choose. It's the history of the Israelites. OK, so maybe it IS a historical religious book. *thinking* What do you think about the historical part? What do YOU think the Bible is? A book of principles for living? What? I'd like your thoughts on that!

Thanks for your follow-up comment! I enjoyed what you added!

Wafa' said...

Susanne,

( So you believe the Quran never made itself out to be a science or history or philosophy book, but maybe people have tried to make it such and that was a bad idea? )
yes and you know why , cuz growing up and still everytime wanted to prove that Islam is THE RELIGION to be and the true one, they keep looking for proves in science or philosphy to go along with what the Quran says, but you hear nothing when that science proves to be not right or was not completed when news of it wa published or someone proved it wrong or anything like it.
It is what it's sent for. It's beautiful and well-written (for those who reads and understand Arabic), but there are other things or verses that disturbe sometimes. I don't say it is not good for now, but it's a religious book not a scientific one.


(Do you think this is why they make the hadiths of so much importance? Perhaps they try to get these more thorough answers from hadith? ) The hadith are mostly enterperting what the Quran says and the whys and whos of the Quran, but lots and lots of hadiths are not said by the prophet himelf, it was simply put on as if he said them. And there are lots of reasons why this is done. The basic rule is that when the haidth puzzle you, you should apply it to the Quran and there you will see if it's true or not, not the other way around. And also the prophet himself warned from such people-those who put on haidth in his name- and warned them but lots of Islamic scholars used these hadith for god knows why.

Susanne said...

Wafa', thanks for answering my additional questions. I enjoy learning from you. I know people have also treated the Bible in that way...trying to prove its worthiness as "from God" by showing scientific things that were not known or proven until much later. That's all well and good, but as you said what happens when something from the Bible or Quran does NOT measure up with science? If your holy book rises because of its supposed scientific miracles or proofs then what happens when it is found as disagreeing with science? I've had to consider these points myself and I think everyone is wise to consider such scenarios.

Thank you for explaining about the hadiths. You are a great teacher!! I've learned a lot from you!

Amber said...

Susanne,

I must be unpredictable! :)

*lol* Really? Has it worked out that way? I didn't realize. I promise it's not a conscious prejudice or anything! :)

'I agree that Muhammad seemed practical and he would have no problem changing with the times as far as using new inventions, even toothpaste. :) Good point.'

Given his focus on cleanliness, I'd think he'd be all over the toothpaste, etc.

'Well, I do think the history of the Bible should be accurate, but I don't regard it as a history book like I'd think of my US or NC history books.'

But do you realize how selective even those books are? All history is written from one perspective or another, and the change of emphasis on this event or that, makes every history subjective. That's one reason it's best to read as many books on a given subject from as many different authors and perspectives as possible.

'I've just never thought of it as a history book, but I'd say it's more historical than scientific if I had to choose.'

Yeah, it's definitely not a science book.

'What do you think about the historical part? What do YOU think the Bible is? A book of principles for living? What? I'd like your thoughts on that!'

The Bible, as it exists today, is a collection of different documents that were written for different reasons by different people. Some parts of it are meant to be histories, yes. Which is not to say that things happened exactly as they're said to happen, because history is written by those who win, and those who survive. And the truth of matters lies somewhere between the two. Also, given the level of technology and understanding at the time these were written, many things had no comprehensible source, and may have been attributed to divine intervention, when there's a natural explanation for what happened. But I think we've had that conversation before...

Other books are prophetic, purely legalistic/dogmatic, poetic, advisory, etc. So, does the Bible contain history? Yes. Does that mean that everything in it must be proven to be historically accurate by modern archaeology or the entire book is untrue? No. History's not as cut and dried as we'd like to think it is. We learn new things every day that change what we thought we knew about the people and the things that came before us.

Susanne said...

Amber, seeeeeeeeeeeeeeee???? See why I always like your thoughts on my posts and questions and stuff!

Yes, I try to keep in mind that history is written by the winners and so forth. Maybe not as much as I should, but I do from time to time. :)

I really like your answer...thank you!

Now I want to know why the Bible - or Christianity which holds the Bible in high regard - is worth following for you. Why do we even care about Jews and Jewish history and poetry and prophets and laws and such?

Teach me, Woman! Really, have you any interest in teaching? I think you'd be good at it. :)

Amber said...

'Now I want to know why the Bible - or Christianity which holds the Bible in high regard - is worth following for you. Why do we even care about Jews and Jewish history and poetry and prophets and laws and such?'

Because, for all its 'flaws' and possible historical inaccuracy, it is the history of the interaction of God with the human race. The Bible is a collection of documents that the Church felt were important enough and vital enough to put all together and pass down through the ages. It supports the teachings of the Church, and shows us where we've been, where we come from. It is sacred, but as it was written down by fallible men and transmitted by the same, and must be understood by the same, it is not the be all, end all of the Christian faith as Protestants take it to be. And that's where troubles come up. Because if the Bible must be literal, if it must be the Word of God, inerrant and perfect, then everything *must* be exactly as it is written in the Bible. And if evidence comes up to the contrary, then the believer has to either adapt and admit that the Bible is not a perfect document, nor was it ever meant to be, some even lose their faith (I'm thinking of Ehrman here, as an example), or perform bizarre mental gymnastics and/or believe that all that 'science' is lies put forth by the atheists and such to fool them. And then they make creation museums and try to explain away the dinosaurs. Or Bible themed amusement parks.

Susanne said...

Aha! That was great! Thank you for that explanation. :)