Sunday, 17 August 2014

Biblical contradictions

It's well attested that there are contradictions within the bible. Or at least that's the conclusion that most armchair critics come to. I think that the problem is not one of logical contradiction, but one of textual form.

Most armchair critics approach a book like the bible with an expectation of a systematic description of God, and life and how life ought to be lived. Unfortunately the bible is a canon, not an essay. As a canon it collates documents from various authors, various times, various social class, various experiences. It is not univocal. It is a polyvocal testimony to experiences of God, and as such we will find one passage which critiques another, or one passage which clarifies another.

All of these texts are attempting to convey a testimony about God and all falling victim to the reality of language. Once we use language we can only ever approximate. Symbols have meanings and meanings require interpretations. Trying to impose an expectation of consistency on a canon is an inappropriate method.

As a canon, with all the various factors that contribute to its production, I think that we would be more fruitful in treating it as a perichoretic testimony. The texts interplay with each other, drawing from each other and distinguishing themselves from each other. All the while they make space in the middle for an actual experience, an inference, an interpolation. By reading them and allowing them to be in dialogue with each other, they make space for the reader to use those testimonies and reach a conclusion about God.

"Subjectivity is truth" and the pursuit of truth needs the believer to own the truth for themselves. A systematic presentation could never generate this kind of subjectivity. On the other hand, a canon of texts that demands the reader to wrestle with them, deliberate on them, and find a truth that resonates with lived experience… this is what drives people to developing faith that transcends the self and creates more than a human animal.
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