For the Bride: Reinterpretation Is Not Accommodation

The pivotal passages have opened the way for me, and others, to look at key biblical passages concerning human sexuality with fresh eyes, but when new interpretations emerge, the almost-immediate outcry is to accuse those holding them of accommodating the Bible rather than upholding it.  But the fact is, the Church has already done this with respect to other passages in Scripture. Long-held, traditionalist views have been set aside so that new Light could shine. Here are just a few examples…

Passages that originally caused the Church to agree with the scientific assertion that the earth was the center of the universe finally gave way to our present-day cosmology.

Passages long-held to establish slavery and condone it (complete with slave-holding bishops into the 19th century) have now been replaced with opposition to any form of human servitude, trafficking, and abuse.

Passages which created intense and longstanding Christian anti-semitism have now been interpreted in a light that replaces hatred of the Jews with love toward them.

Passages previously interpreted as limiting the ministry of women have been revisited in many segments if Christianity, opening the door to ordination, the office of Bishop, etc.

Passages used to prohibit interracial and interfaith marriage have been seen to have been viewed wrongly.

Passages about divorce only being possible when there is infidelity have been broadened to grant other legitimate reasons for it, making women less victimized and men more accountable.

Passages used to allege racial superiority, discrimination, and segregation have fallen by the wayside so that a hermeneutic of love and equality can rise.

Even Leviticus 20:13, is no longer totally followed, as the Church (except for crazy extremists) no longer believes that homosexuals should be killed.

In every instance, there was intense debate. People advocating new Light were called heretics, and some were martyred. And there are still rump groups who refuse to yield on these matters where new Light has come.

The point is, Christian history reveals that new interpretations have emerged in Christianity with respect to biblical passages.  In the short-run, advocates of new interpretations are almost always accused of undermining the Bible.  But in the long-run, time proves their critics wrong. In fact, the changes come to be viewed as making Christianity better and the Church more Christlike.

We find ourselves in yet another time when a reinterpretation (not a denial or abandonment) of human sexuality passages using the covenant hermeneutic can make the Church more Christian, not less.  But to get there, we must endure the false charge of biblical accommodation, just as our predecessors have had to do.

But if we are willing to bear the brunt of these accusations, we will learn in our day, as Christians before us have learned, that reinterpretation is not accommodation. 

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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