The Role of the Bible in Christian Faith and Practice – Case Study on Genesis 34.
To read the Bible for Christians is to interpret the Bible in their own contexts because myriad significant passages in the Bible could be diversely understood considering different cultures, languages, and authors or readers behind the Text. Thus, many church leaders have tried to interpret the Scripture throughout the history of Christianity. Many different methods of interpretation of the Bible have been introduced to us in many different contexts throughout the history, which has taught us diverse applications of Scripture up to present.
In this sense, I think that the most important role of the Bible in Christian faith and practice lies in the fact that the Bible provides various perspectives for different Christians in different contexts. In this paper, I will discern major methods of interpretation of the Bible, and then find how they can be related to Christian’s faith and practice. During this semester, we spent a large amount of time having discussion on how to interpret Dinah’s story in Genesis 34.
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We read three dominant perspectives on this text: Fewell and Gunn’s “in front of the text” view, Sternberg’s primarily “within the text” view, and Bechtel’s basically “behind the text” view. I think that each of these quite different approaches helped Christians interpret the Scripture, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, with more diverse angles and thus extend the range of the applicability to a particular context. Fewell and Gunn’s scope allows Christians to embrace the contemporary value system that didn’t exist in the Ancient Near Eastern context or around the beginning of Christian Community.
In today’s world, to apply the text to our context, we are required to deal with, for example, the religious conflicts, human rights of minority group, and ethical issues in scientific development that were not found in the Biblical context. In this respect, Fewell and Gunn look at the text with the methodology of modern feministic and moralistic view. They point out the patriarchal context of the text in which the male voice dominates the whole society and thus Dinah’s life was controlled by men, men’s right and men’s honor.
According to Fewell and Gunn’s perspective, there is a much contrary view between Dinah and Shechem. While Shechem favors Dinah in his talking about her, Dinah is silent. Thus, Fewell and Gunn argue that Dinah was taken against her will because she has no voice in the story, and no one will allow her to have a voice. Sternberg, on the contrary, focuses on the text itself, especially the poetic narrative in the terms of a matter of textual coverage, a matter of patterning, and a matter of the language.
In the case study, Sternberg observes the narrator’s reticence in the terminology that expresses the heart of Dinah and Shechem’s statement for Dinah. Sternberg argues that author tried to emphasize the marginalized position of woman in a biblical artistic sense, and the objection to “exogamous” marriage in the Bible’s distinctive doctrine. This required Christians to consider the literary aspect of expression of the biblical texts to interpret the genuine meaning of the text. If Christians ignore this and fall only into the contemporary value system, they might lose the core message of the Bible that they believe as Christian.
For instance, four different gospels illuminate quite different styles of the same story. This is likely because each author of the gospels had different educational backgrounds and thus employed their own ways of delivery. To develop a better understanding of the passages, Christians have to learn each author’s literary technique. Also, in doing so, Christians could find how each author’s view would bring them various ways of practice in our context. Sternberg’s view also looks quite related to Bechtel’s argumentation in light of the reference to the socio-cultural context.
Bechtel invited us to look into the characteristic of group-orientation which values the boundary in which an individual finds the identity of the members. Females played a key role in keeping the strong boundary in terms of perpetuating the ancestral lineage, the family, and the group. In this sense, Bechtel contends that Dinah’s case might have not been a rape, and to support this, Bechtel provides different usage of the Hebrew word ‘nh’(to put down, humble, raped in modern translation) and then finds that there were no implications of violence in the text.
Bechtel’s view allows Christian to keep them from ignoring the author’s context, the Ancient Israel context. Interpreting the meaning of the Bible entails the process of examining the historicity. In reading 1 Cor. 14:34 (“women should be silent in the churches”), for example, the reader might view Paul as androcentric. Paul’s focus in this Text, however, lies in preserving in peace and order in the churches. If we examine the context of this text, we can find that Paul’s comment does not mean the gender orientation. Rather, Paul’s message seems to indicate the order or culture of the churches.
In this respect, it seems that misapplication comes from the lack of knowledge of the Biblical context or focus only on the contemporary way of thinking in doing practice the text. Overall, considering these three different approaches, the Bible gives Christians the diverse and balanced ground to interpret the Text, and also to apply it to the varied contexts in our world. I think that these three different approaches are not only the fruit of the scholars’ efforts in theology world, but also they are the characteristic or role of the Bible that has been just found by many Christians.