Ignoring Scripture

Stephen Marsh Mormon 14 Comments

Everyone does it.  This essay is on how to do it with style and panache.  For my proof text I will use “let women keep silence in the churches” but any verse will do.

The first approach is to just ignore the scripture.  Lots of scriptures get ignored.  Who among us has liked the story of Zipporah to ourselves (Exodus 4:24ff)?  Who has read that story?

The second approach is to get as far as reading the scripture, but to just not pay attention.  Poor Zipporah.  Poor Apocrypha.

The third approach is to consider whatever the scripture is to be a random accretion, best ignored in these more enlightened times.  The Song of Solomon, Zipporah and 1 Cor. 14:34 often end up in that pile.

The fourth approach is to just put on the shelf any scripture that doesn’t fit our understanding.  We just cut and dice the scriptures to fit our predisposed mindsets, figuring it may make sense some day, but we don’t need to worry about it for now.  There are thousands of things like that.  Those who actually read Zipporah’s story tend to just leave the poor lady on the shelf to be thought about later, after other things.

The fifth approach is to proof text the verse (ahh, you can see I actually know what a proof text is).  Commonly 1 Cor. 14:34 is read that women should not gossip in church.  Almost any verse of scripture can be re-interpreted or re-read into a different meaning — different enough that it can be ignored as having no meaning that we disagree with.

The sixth way to ignore things is to treat them as superseded.  The prohibition against blended fabrics, the need for blue thread, phylacteries, the no shrimp or bacon rules, all of those were temporary and are now superseded or fulfilled.  You can easily take that approach with any scripture you disagree with.  Surely women were supposed to be quiet then, but it is perfectly alright for them to talk now.

The seventh way is to actually study the context and the history.  “Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak” actually turns out to be an accretion, added to Paul’s words by a later writer.  Of course the necessary documents to reliably establish that have only been available for the past twenty years or so, but if you aren’t too picky about what sources you use, you can always find a scholarly basis to alter or redact any scripture you don’t agree with.

The eighth approach is to take the scripture beyond the “proof text” view.  Any meaning you disagree with is an out of context proof text and must be thought of as having a warped meaning if it disagrees with you.  Many scriptures have dramatically different meanings when taken in context and not abused as proof texts.  Just push context far enough and any meaning is possible — eventually diluting meaning so far as to enable you to ignore what ever it is that the scripture seems to say.

The ninth approach is to let the Spirit teach us what the scripture is intended to mean to us.  D&C 91:1-6 warns us that many scriptures are meaningful only if read in that fashion.

In all of these approaches it is easy to learn that the letter of the law is seen as death, or at least inconvenient and disagreeable, the Spirit of the law as a way to live as we feel like today.  Perhaps in the right way, ignoring the proof texts is the superior way to find the scriptures, in the alternative it is merely a way to turn them into a mirror that agrees with us.

Take a look.  What scripture do you feel like ignoring today?


This post takes on more meaning in context with The Scriptures are a What?!

Comments

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Comments 14

  1. ““Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak.”

    The tenth way is to read the words in verses like this (potentially cultural statements included in epistles to a specific people) as addressed to the specific people reading them and no one else – including others of that same time. I have heard this particular verse parsed thusly:

    Your traditions and culture in Corinth do not permit women to speak in church. “It is not permitted unto them” here in Corinth. Therefore, just as we should not eat meat in the presence of vegetarians, “your women (should) keep silence in the churches” – even though the women in Thessalonica can speak in the churches there.

    This view is bolstered by the same admonition about speaking in tongues without an interpreter in 1 Cor. 14:28.

    The eleventh way is to attribute the idea to the speaker – as a personal statement, not as a command from God. In the case of women remaining silent in church, this is bolstered by 1 Tim. 2:11-12 – where Paul repeats the general instruction then adds, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The implication can be read in such a wording that this is Paul’s bias – that HE “suffers not a woman to teach, usurp or speak”, but that this did not come from above (neither from Peter nor from God).

    Yeah, we can understand statements in just about any way we choose, so I believe it is up to us to do so in whatever way makes the most sense to us – and quit thinking our way is the only way, and anyone who disagrees is a blind, stupid sheep or an evil liar. That is good advice for all, imho. Do the best you can to gain a personal understanding and allow others the same privilege without getting riled up or snotty and condescending.

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    and quit thinking our way is the only way, and anyone who disagrees is a blind, stupid sheep or an evil liar

    That is important. We can only learn from God if we acknowledge that we do not know (at least in the normal course, God does hit some people over the head to break them out of the blindness they’ve created).

    Liked your comments Ray.

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    After Ray’s comment, I was really hoping for something spectacular for this thread. Guess it has been drowned in a sea of same sex marriage attention. Maybe I should have used a different proof text.

  4. Had Paul been writing today, he (or a subsequent redactor, maybe a correlation committee) might have said or written, instead, something like:

    “Therefore, I would that all men each Sunday would wear white shirts and ties as the uniform of the Priesthood;

    “And, I would that no woman would offer the opening prayer in a Sacrament meeting,

    “And, doth not Nature itself teach that if a man or woman voteth for a liberal democrat, it is a shame and anathema.”

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  6. Not in the same spirit, but I like to ignore the Isaiah rehash in 2 Nephi, the war chapters in Alma, and the entire books of Numbers and Leviticus. Also not a big fan of the book of Revelation. In the spirit you intended, I like to ignore all the scriptures that say anything about no economic inequity (the early church having all things in common) and that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man get into Heaven. And most of what it says about women. Taking it even further, the entire word of wisdom is an example of taking what the scriptures say and adding much much more to them. It starts out “not by way of commandment,” but yes, it’s a total commandment now and much more specific in what it means than in how it was written and received by Joseph (and in fact in how he and early church members adhered).

  7. Let me add #12 – the one that qualifies but never gets discussed in this type of context:

    We can read every scripture and passage literally, since that allows us to shut off our brains and just assume we are reading the unabridged, immutable, pure, infallible word of God. Who has to think when God’s perfect word is staring at you from the page?

  8. and remember, #12 is coming from a hardcore parser. I should have said we can take everything literally **and assume the standard or commonly accepted interpretation only**.

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    and assume the standard or commonly accepted interpretation only — which always gets my attention, especially when it has nothing to do with what the words are saying.

  10. Most people who appear to ignore difficult scriptures are doing so because they are unaware of what the scripture is really saying.

    Several years ago my children asked me what my favorite scripture was. I told them it was Genesis 27:11. “And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man:” My children were delighted and the two oldest memorized the verse, with a long stress on the “smooth.”

    A week later our oldest son Andy was assigned to recite his favorite scripture in Primary. He decided that his favorite was Genesis 27:11. After I had somewhat appeased his mother, we agreed that he could recite this verse.

    That Sunday, my brother and I sat in the back of the primary to see what would happen. Andy walked up the lectern and in a clear loud voice recited Genesis 27:11.

    Nothing happened. Other than my brother and me, nobody laughed, raised eyebrows, or changed expression. Nobody was listening. Primary finished with the primary president thanking Andy and the other children for participating.

    I have discovered in our family scripture reading and in teaching early morning seminary for that last four years, that many people have trouble understanding the clear meaning of a scripture. My wife and several of my older children cannot readily understand a scripture. They are spiritual and bright. My wife was valedictorian at her High School. But interpreting the scriptures they read eludes them.

    Often when we are reading the Book of Mormon or New Testament as a family, my wife will ask what a scripture means. I will turn to my youngest daughter and have her explain it. My youngest daughter has been able to understand scripture since before she was twelve.

    I have discovered the same thing in seminary. The gift of understanding scriptures is not evenly distributed. It does not seem to be a matter of who is the most spiritual or even the best student. Some students have the gift, some do not. It may be because some have the ability to read scriptures as they are rather than as they should be.

    Or as the scriptures say, “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not?” Mark 8:18. See Isaiah 6:10.

  11. Nice perspective Ron (13). I think what you are describing can be readily circumscribed within the teachings on the Gifts of the Spirit. Those who have the eyes and ears are literally prophets (Greek: prophetes: an interpreter, spokesman, truth-teller) to us who don’t have those gifts. I know that term “prophet” is a term upon which it is hard to have interfaith dialogue and understanding, especially since to LDS the term gets down to issues of “authority,” “Priesthood” and “keys” rather than to spiritual gifts and roles. I add my point to write an exclamation point behind the truth I think you are getting at in your post: that those among us who bring clarity to scripture are not always just learned, smart or well-spoken; oft-times they are divinely bestowed with a gift. (And if they don’t have the latter, can they really be truth-tellers into our lives?)

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