June 21, 2018
In the past few weeks and months I have grown a little concerned, if not worried, when observing how people use the biblical scripture for moral and political arguments. This is why I want to share some reflections on how to read scripture: There have been many examples like the use of Psalm 139 (I have formed you in the womb of your mother”), but recently it was a couple of verses in Romans 13 (which you find at the sidebar).
You may ask why that is so worrisome, since one of the reformation’s main efforts was to have the Bible translated into the common language so that everybody would be able to interpret scripture. This goal, however, also transfers the responsibility to the single person to be critical and to ask questions.
Subsequently, in an era of enlightenment, scripture was interpreted critically, putting it in its different contexts. People started to argue for moral issues not based on the argument: “because the Bible says”, but on the question why the Bible says what it says. As one example, one would put Romans 13 in its various contexts.
In its historical context, Paul tries to calm the congregation down as there have been many protests against the current tax collection in Rome. As a Roman citizen, and being afraid of consequences for the Christian community, Paul asks them to obey. And he gives a reason to obey: He assumes the government is doing good for the people; he assumes that by doing that good it does God’s will through the law.
Another context is the context within scripture: the irony in his remarks is that in verses 8-10, Paul gives the answer what the law he was talking about really is and what the government should do:
Love your neighbor as yourself
The Scripture gives us this direction, not because it says so; but because in following that commandment, we are creating a better community.
Peace and grace!