Religious texts and seemingly picking and choosing

(104 Posts)

I can't help but notice lots of the religious people i know (largely Christian but not all) seem to pick and choose which bits of their religious texts they follow.

For example in the bible there are many examples which just don't fit with society values today but my question is: who told you you could choose which bits to follow..? Wouldn't you try and follow all the rules? If not, why?

I'm sorry if I'm not putting this across right, it's difficult to think of the right words to not sound rude! grin

volestair I think this is why some people like to use a study guide they like so they know things will be looked at in the way they look at them. I think we (21st centuary folk) also need guides to say what was normal in that time and helps us understand. E.G. when you know it was normal for women to have their heads covered then you know that it is normal for the leaders to say it is important. A small number of Christians still apply this today and if we thought it was a rule for all time we might feel we need to (as I guess they do).

volestair Sat 02-Nov-13 00:49:18

Oh sorry, wall of text there. Forgot what a paragraph is for. Should get to bed.

volestair Sat 02-Nov-13 00:48:21

I don't think it's that impressive greyhound but thanks anyway grin I was a plougher-through of large amounts of text as a kid in a way I'm not any more. I don't know that I would have read it with the same level of understanding I have as an adult, and I can't say I remember everything I read (have to say I remember skimming some of the "begats"). I've since come across Christian reading plans that present parts of the Bible in a different order, with discussion of the text, which I would imagine takes a lot more concentration and study (some study guides I've seen have several times as much material to read as the chapter/verse being discussed, which would stretch reading the Bible to a lifelong task, which I suppose for many Christians it is). I am always slightly suspicious of reading plans of the non-whole-Bible type, and ones which jump around from book to book from day to day, for reasons related to the OP's question - a skilled editor can say something with selected material that wouldn't necessarily be what you would hear from the whole (though obviously the Bible itself is a carefully curated selection of texts).

Wow volestair reading it for fun, that is impressive.

volestair Fri 01-Nov-13 23:23:29

Just for fun, greyhound. We had bibles around, and tended to read whatever books we had in the house, so I spent a couple of months with it as one of my backup books that I could read on and off. It was a GNB, I think. I'd be somewhere over 11, since we only really had KJVs before that, but I like NIV now.

* volestair* were you reading the Bible for a study or for pleasure or for something else?

I am sure people study bits of the Bible for all kinds of reasons.

In a sense it is hard to imagine that all bits of the Bible could have the same importance, there are so many translations etc.

That is a really interesting insight about reading the Bible volestair and really helpful.

Different traditions in Christianity give different weights to sources of authority. It is the protestant tradition that give the most weight to the bible alone - known as sola scripture and it is in this tradition that you will find those (a minority) who take every word of the Bible literally. The Roman Catholic tradition gives more weight to the teachings of the church whereas the charismatic traditions give a lot of weight to the prophetic words of the Holy Spirit in prayer. As an Anglican (C of E) we traditionally have three sources of authority which are scripture, reason and tradition. There is another source which is experience and the voice of liberation theology from South America and groups such as women and gay theology are being heard more and more in the last 50 years.

In practice it is more muddy than this but that is a general outline. It can look as if we are picking and choosing which bits we like but it is a lot more complex than that as we have had just short of 2000 years of interpretation and thought about the Bible to draw on and new stuff continues to come through.

volestair Thu 31-Oct-13 10:02:20

Thanks, I'd forgotten that part from Amos. The thing is, when I read the Bible front to back as a teenager, I read it in a very different way to how a Christian would read it - in that order, of course, and also without anyone saying this is an important part, that bit doesn't apply to you, this part is traditionally thought to mean such-and-such, etc., so I have a different-shaped bible in my head to the one I think you might have, IYSWIM.

I wonder what it would look like if you took only the parts of the bible which are supposed to be direct quotes from God, as it were. IIRC there are bibles which print that in a different colour.

volestair thank you for your quick reply.
I am not sure even fundamentalist Christians take it all literally, as someone Ninny (?) pointed out, the Bible is prophecy, poetry, history and all kinds of things! So not sure anyone takes it all literally, even if they say they do, but willing to be proved wrong!

I am not sure what the offical Church of England line is! my own story is I became a Christian 30 years ago in an evangelical Anglican church, have attended URC and baptist churches and visited many other types but have only ever been an official member of the C of E and of late in our free church.

Why I chose a general passage over a specific one is that I feel the Bible may speak about lots of specific areas but these are not what I feel God is overly concerned about. Other passages speak of the wider idea of God and this makes so much more sense to me. For example there is a lot in the Old Testament about sacrifices and yet God says...

Amos 5:21-24

New International Version (NIV)

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

So although I am sure the various passages about how to do this or that could be very important when they were being practised (as you know there is no temple now for Jews so none of those sacrifices can be offered) and yet for the world, for the future, what is vital. God speaks a lot of justice and you will find many Christians engaged in work for justice. (And also many who wish to deny it to others for a whole host of complicated reasons!)

And why does God allow this confusion. Here I am stumped. Yet I can say life with God is so much better than life without him, (and I say him to distinguish from it, not to distinguish from she). So for me I would like to find the bigger picture and not get too bogged down in the details but of course I would also want to hold on doctrine. So for me personally it does matter whether people think Jesus was real, or lived, or not, or was human, or was divine etc. These things contribute for me to doctrine, where as how to perform this or that ritual etc are not quite the same.

Bless you.

volestair Wed 30-Oct-13 23:14:20

Italiangreyhound, thanks for your post.

In answer to your last question, I am a nonreligious secular humanist, brought up in a nonreligious household, but obviously in a largely Christian country (the UK). I'm very interested in religion as it's something of which I have no personal experience belief-wise but which profoundly affects my way of life and my world - the history of the world, politics, society, morals and ethics of large numbers of people: all of them require at least some understanding of religion as part of a greater understanding of how stuff works on this planet. It's also fascinating in the way that something like synaesthesia is fascinating - it intrinsically affects the way someone sees things and it's very hard to understand that other way of seeing if you haven't experienced it yourself. So I'm interested in your answer, and also AMumInScotland's answer, and greenheart's answer, to the question the OP posted, because I can get the Catholic church's official position, or the C of E's official position, or other official religious viewpoints, quite easily - but that doesn't let me see into the heads of people the way talking to people does.

About women talking in church, neither of us will ever be able to prove Paul's intent, which I suppose is part of the ambiguity of the whole thing. How do you decide that the other verses you quoted, which are more general in tone, are more indicative of God's will than the more specific instruction from Paul, and render it void?

As is obvious, I'm not any kind of religious scholar either. I don't think most Christians are scholars or necessarily agree with the scholars or even with the official lines of their churches, which was why I was interested to see what ordinary British Christians' responses to the OP's question would be. I mean, we've all heard those usually American fundamentalists who bellow "I'm a Bible-believing Christian and every word of the Bible is literally true and anyone who does not agree with me will burn in the end times, which are next week by the way, and I'm looking forward to watching you suffer from Heaven!" - and I just don't think that's representative of British Christians (or even American Christians). They're just very loud.

volestair I can't prove that the meaning of the passage was not for all the women to keep quiet, maybe it was. But as a Christian and a feminist in this day and age I most certainly do not think God wants all women to keep quiet in church. Other passages say things like

Galatians 3:28 New International Version
"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."


Joel 2:28 New International Version (NIV)
“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions."

You said Aaaanyway, so you are saying you view the Bible as a way of seeing how people have interpreted God's message in other times, right? I don't want to misrepresent you at all.

Kind of/not exactly, it is more than that. It is also factual for me about Jesus, it tells us about his life and death for us on the cross and resurrection and ascension to heaven and seating at the right hand of the father. And it tells us so much more, and it guides us and I think the greatest commandment is fabulous, because if you don't love yourself, how can you love others...

Matthew 22:36-40 The Message (MSG)
"The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

In answer to your question I would say that there is guidance in the Bible but we are also given our intellect and we are required to make sense of life and lots of choices we need to make in this current age are not mentioned in the Bible!

So if we were trying to say the Bible is a guide book we would be pretty much unable to answer some of the things we face.

Actually in it's day, when it was written, the Old Testament way of responding to wrongs/injustice things may have been quite restrained and compassionate for those days (the Old Testament) but I will not pretend to be a huge scholar of either the old or new testaments.

So I may not be able answer your questions well. smile

Maybe you could tell me what amuminscotland and greengeart have answered for you!!

My apologies I can't explain more. I am just trying to live my life in the best way I can and I feel the Bible has some useful wisdom to impart.

Jesus did not abolish the law but he fulfilled it, he was the sacrifice that was necessary, I do not feel we need to try and keep all the complicated laws about diet. We will never be perfect and Jesus is the sacrifice who makes up for all our failings but we are still expected (I believe - IMO) to be the best we can be, compassionate and kind, caring etc and that is what I would like to be. I am well aware the church has a pretty patchy past on fulfilling this.

How much of the old testament do we take seriously or think is true? That's a massive question. If you follow the idea of it being the story of a people's struggle to know God then I could say it is all true. How much is about rules we should follow? Well, I said earlier I believe what is called the greatest commandment, or the new commandment, is the thing that really counts.

So for example is it wrong to eat certain foods, no for me not, is it wrong to mix fibres in cloth, no for me it is not, but maybe when those rules were being written down there was a reason! I don't know.

I have heard that a coat made of mixed fibbers came apart more easily, so maybe that was the reason!

My dear old dad told a story of lunch with a Jewish man. Dad was tucking into a meat product and drinking a glass of milk. His Jewish dinner companion pointed out that it was forbidden for him. Dad must have smiled and said well not for me. That night he said he was rather unwell! I hope I have remembered that rightly, I can expect my dear old dad would have been quite smug about not having to stick to such rules! Sadly, he is dead now so I can't ask him. sad

At its heart I believe faith is about making sense of life, relating to others and most of all relating to God. It should not ever make us worse people, sadly I fear it does sometimes.

volestair, can I ask what you believe about all this?

headinhands you said How do you interpret 'but must be in submission, as they law says'. The Bible talks about submitting to one another.

Ephesians 5:21 New International Version
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

I like to think we are being willing to bend to others and to care for others but not in the sense that if they are doing something wrong we just go along with what they think.

I agree it would be better if things were not so ambiguous but just because of the the ambiguity I don't want to throw God out of my life.

I also agree with Greenheart when she says The Bible is culturally conditioned as are we.

The Bible tells us about Jesus and about the history that led up to Jesus and about how people have tried to relate to God. I think lots of things in the Bible actually happened but clearly the way that people behave in the Bible is not a pattern for us all to behave. So it is not a rule book.

I am not sure I understand the question "How does one go from 'this book mentions a bloke called Jesus' to 'I believe the claims this book makes about Jesus but reject the claims of the other religious books?"

Do you mean why do those who are Christians choose to believe?

volestair Wed 30-Oct-13 19:08:39

Oh and thanks to AMumInScotland and thegreenheartofmanyroundabouts as I've enjoyed your posts and they already have your answers to some of the questions I've asked Italiangreyhound.

volestair Wed 30-Oct-13 18:38:04

Thanks for the response, Italiangreyhound.

With reference to the 1 Corinthians quote, what I understood from the NIV footnote was that it's ambiguous whether the phrase "as in all the congregations of God's people" goes with verse 33 or verse 34. I should have said NIV-UK, as that's the translation I was using, but it's not that different to the NIV. But it's a minor thing anyway.

I wonder, if the instruction was purely meant to say that those who have questions should not ask them during worship time in church but should wait until later to ask someone who knew more about Christianity, why did he not just say that? Surely there would be other inexperienced Christians who might disrupt services, not just women? Since we don't have a letter sent by that church explaining what the problem was, I can't prove that your explanation is incorrect, but I can't see anything in the text we do have to suggest that what was meant was anything more or other than that women should not speak in church, purely because they are women.

Aaaanyway, so you are saying you view the Bible as a way of seeing how people have interpreted God's message in other times, right? I don't want to misrepresent you at all.

If that's the case what authority do you follow on the correct way to interpret God's message now? I understand that the OT rules are out, as Christians believe that Paul said they don't apply any more, or at least the dietary rules don't apply, from which some people then infer that some or all of the OT rules are void. I don't understand how it's decided which of the Old Testament's many rules are to be ditched. I believe some Christians believe only the Noahide laws apply, in accordance with some Jewish beliefs on Gentiles. Yet many Christians appear to point to other parts of the Old Testament for guidance in moral matters.

But if Paul is sufficient authority to follow his instruction that the Mosaic law need not be followed, why are some of his other pronouncements considered to be only "of their time"? I see how it could be helpful to see how the church has changed over time, but how do you know which parts of the epistles are only instructions to a specific congregation at a specific time, to be read as an exercise in seeing how early Christians did things, and which parts should still be followed? Or do you think there are no rules as such, that you follow your own conscience, or maybe your own personal experience of God, and the Bible is only of historical interest?

There's also of course the famous part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

I found an interesting Wikipedia article on Christian Views On the Old Covenant which covers some of the official line of various Christian churches on this and other parts of the New Testament which discuss aspects of following the OT rules, but we all know the official line doesn't always tally with real people's opinions grin.

I guess part of the problem is that Jesus would be talking to mostly Jews? Whereas most Christians now are not linked with Judaism in any way.

But I guess I still don't see how any of this tangle of rules and ideas, which are variously ignored, dismissed, or followed, can be sorted out in a consistent way which makes sense in a context of the Bible being a religious or moral authority. If it is just a collection of books written by many different people, which contains mistakes, false stories, parables, contradictory rules, rules which no one follows because they're old-fashioned, some selected correspondence which is mostly irrelevant to modern life and only for historical interest, some ancient myths, some inaccurate history, some religious justification for a history of rape and murder of other peoples, several different and mutually exclusive descriptions of the preachings of an itinerant radical, some poems, some detailed policy documents of a long-gone temple, some long descriptions of hallucinations/visions, and other miscellaneous things (which is pretty much how I see the Bible), then how does one use it as any kind of guide for what is true about the world, and how people should live?

I know there are scholars and theologians, many of them working along lines which have been followed by others before them for hundreds of years, who can tell me which bits of the Bible they think are true and what they mean, but the trouble is that there are hundreds of different scholarly traditions, and people coming up with new interpretations all the time, so it then becomes a question of how to know which of these scholars are right and how they know which bits of the Bible are literally true, which bits are rules you must follow, which bits are metaphorical, which bits are there for purely historical reasons, which (if any) bits are wrong and presumably there only because man is fallible, etc..

Oh crap that's long. Sorry.

headinhands Wed 30-Oct-13 08:31:19

How does one go from 'this book mentions a bloke called Jesus' to 'I believe the claims this book makes about Jesus but reject the claims of the other religious books?'

JanuaryMadness Wed 30-Oct-13 08:21:01

I would just like to say that AMumInScotland has put the most reasonable arguments across that I have ever seen! It is indeed a rare site to see so much logic placed when it cones to religion.

I personally dont believe there is any real evidence or reason to believe that a man named Jesus was the litteral son of God, which makes Christianity pretty much out of my reach. But if I did believe that bit I would support her kind of Christianity.


Simple answer as I have to go to work and that is patriarchy and culture. The Bible is culturally conditioned as are we. The focus of Christianity is Jesus and not a book. The book we have is written in story and poetry and myth and letters and reflection. So that is what we have to work with.

headinhands Wed 30-Oct-13 08:03:49

How do you interpret 'but must be in submission, as they law says'. And that question is to the Christians. When Paul cites laws it doesn't seem like he's talking to a specific church. There are churches that still apply these verses literally today, and yet they have the same 24/7 access to the Holy Spirit as any other Christian, couldn't god just clear this up by speaking the same thing to all of the them, or maybe have made the scriptures less ambiguous and contradictory.

Hi 'Italiangreyhound* good to see you back.

I think the Bible is confusing to the outsider. It is pretty confusing to the insider too as it is not a book of rules or an ethical handbook. It would be a lot easier if it was but no amount of wanting it to be will change what we have.

Volestair sorry - then the reference to all congregations goes (not foes) with verse 33

long not log! And hi to greenheart too.

Hello all log time no see. Been super busy on other threads and waned to say hi.

Mad sorry you are unwell.

Ninny you write so brilliantly, I can't keep up with you.

Dione hi and Techno hello, how lovely to see the discussions still raging on in this section.

Volestair unless you have some understanding or knowledge in addition to this then the reference to all congregations foes with verse 33 which speaks of God as a God of peace and not disorder.

1 Corinthians 14:33-35

New International Version (NIV)

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

34 Women[a] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.[b]

You said So I think what people are saying is that if you reject that part, why? and why follow any of the other rules? Why not take whatever criteria you're using to decide which bits of the bible to keep and which bits to throw away, and just… use those criteria for living instead? The internal sense you have of what's right and what's wrong, combined with your societal conditioning, are what you're presumably using to sort through which biblical instructions are right and worth following and which aren't, so why do you have the intermediate step of the Bible? It all seems very confusing to an outsider.

I think that is a very good question. For me as a Christian the answer is that the Bible gives me an understanding of how God has revealed himself or how people have perceived God through a number of ages and in different settings. At the time when that passage was written (1 Corinthians 14:33-35) women were not taught about the scriptures (the Hebrew scriptures, which we Christians call the Old Testament). They would have found it very confusing, they were being taught and must have felt they had tons of questions so it was better to ask the questions later. If a group were running an Alpha course for non-Christian enquirers they might say 'Don't ask questions during the talk but wait until the discussion time afterwards.' Because that would promote a more peaceful time than lots of people asking questions.

Techno if I may say, just in answer to your questions about the world, and this is my opinion and not necessarily that of others on this thread. The world was made perfect and it is now not perfect because all of creation was given free will. That means the angels who were created before humans and the humans. And this free will brought death into the world. That is my understanding of it. I expect you have heard this elsewhere. I cannot offer any proof of this (irrefutable proof) but I can see evidence of it in the world, in that people do have free will to kill each other, which is terrible but we have that free will.

I find Tim Minchin's songs very good and entertaining, I think he makes lots of interesting points and is very good on a comedy rating. His speech about how to get the most out of life is brilliant. As I listen to him sing I imagine that one day he will find God. Call me crazy but if he ever does remember that I predicted it! grin

volestair Mon 28-Oct-13 20:06:55

I'm late to this discussion, but I want to pick up on something AMumInScotland said. AMIS, I noticed that you did something in your post that I've seen a lot of Christians do (which may be a common thing in other religions too, but I'm mostly familiar with Christianity and Christians). You made reference to a famous rule, in this case one of Paul's - that women shouldn't talk in church. You said maybe it could be interpreted his way, or that way. You argue for a different interpretation of a vague idea of what you think you remember someone saying Paul said about women in the church. But you didn't go to the actual text, which is rather less ambiguous than you imply.

NIV, 1 Cor 14:34-35

34 (As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people,) [w]omen should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

(The bracketed text is in a footnote.)

It's pretty unambiguous and I don't feel it leaves that much wiggle room for saying that it only applied to that congregation, or that era, or that region. So I think what people are saying is that if you reject that part, why? and why follow any of the other rules? Why not take whatever criteria you're using to decide which bits of the bible to keep and which bits to throw away, and just… use those criteria for living instead? The internal sense you have of what's right and what's wrong, combined with your societal conditioning, are what you're presumably using to sort through which biblical instructions are right and worth following and which aren't, so why do you have the intermediate step of the Bible? It all seems very confusing to an outsider.

DioneTheDiabolist Sun 13-Oct-13 14:34:52

Techno, where on this thread have I demonstrated that I would not change my mind when presented with evidence to the contrary? We are talking about evidence here aren't we? Because I have not mentioned faith once.

technodad Sun 13-Oct-13 08:26:20


So you have any answer to my post at 1013 yesterday?

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