'Out Of Context!
Out Of Context!'
Amy Anderson

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "amy anderson"
Subject: Re: Positive Ignorance
Date: December 19, 2001 12:42 AM

It is very easy to jump up and down, shouting, "Out of context! Out of context!" This downhill effort takes no intelligence and very little nerve. Most of all, to do as you have done here requires not a lick of honesty. Many have done this over the years, but nobody has had the integrity to accept our challenge of showing us precisely where and how we have attempted to lead our readers astray in this matter.

Thus, if you would kindly show us which documents take Bible verses out of context by showing us what is their proper context, you will have the distinction of being the very first reader who has ever done this for us. As it stands, nobody who has written shouting, "Out of context! Out of context!" has even tried to show us what she or he means in accusing us of having shamelessly committed this most dishonorable subterfuge.

If you do not show us precisely how we have erred, here, we will be forced to include you among the almost countless dishonest Christians who have pointed their fingers at us, shouting the accusation that we commit the outrageous transgression of attempting to deceive our readers.

So, get out your lexicon and Church history books and make sure you have access to the ways in which these passages have traditionally been interpreted throughout the centuries, because this is what it will take to show that I have done what you accuse me of doing: I will not accept some oddball modern interpretation as the One True Interpretation for all time, but will ask for the ways in which the Roman Catholics, the Reformers, and at least one other major denomination interprets these passages that you insist I have taken out of context.

Since Bible interpretation is subjective and personal (to the point where personal, individual interpretation of Scripture is written into the body of doctrine for the Baptist denomination), we will need to use the historical understanding of these passages as our arbitrator. Also, if none of the three sources I mention can agree as to the meaning of a particular passage, then we will agree that this passage has no clear meaning that can even be "taken out of context," but, rather, that the Bible has passages in it that defy understanding.

A classic example of Bible ambiguity is Job 21:24 "His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow." a comparison of this passage in all the different translations will reveal quite a variety of possibilities for what the Authorized Version (the King James) translates as "His breasts are full of milk."

Thus, when I say, for example, that the passage in Numbers 31, which has Moses commanding, "kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man" means that Moses commanded his soldiers to keep virgin women as war booty, you will need to show that the historical consensus regarding this passage is quite different from what I say it is.

Similarly, when I say that Deuteronomy 21:18-21, "And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die," requires that the parents of a rebellious boy are to demand that the city elders execute the lad, you will need to show us that the historical consensus disagrees with my understanding (that is, that I have taken the passage out of context).

(This is God's Law!? You want your kids to read this stuff!? Well, go ahead, because in my opinion the United States Constitution's guaranted of Religious Liberty is the only thing coming between your right to teach this to children and child abuse charges!)

Good luck with this one, because Jesus himself not only mentions this passage in the first part of Matthew 15, but he backs up its message! Jesus here accuses the Pharisees of nullifying Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (which is, in fact, one of the most famous humanitarian feats that this party of reformers, the Pharisees, accomplished when they set out to reduce the barbarism contained in the Law of Moses without compromising the authority and nobility of the rest of the law. Were it not for the slander leveled against this laudable group of men and placed into the mouth of Jesus long after he died, we would still be familiar with them today as the prototype of humanitarian religious reformer who has been lauded throughout history. Since Jesus grabbed, as disciples, mostly members of the Zealot party, and since the Zealots were a subset of the Pharisee party, what does this say about Jesus's real relationship to the Pharisees?

Specifically, if you wish to show me as having been dishonest (as you say I have been), you will definitely want to demonstrate to us that the passage in I Timothy 6:1-5 does not pronounce as "puffed up with conceit," etc., anybody who disagrees with Paul's teaching specifically about human slavery. To make this case solid, you will need to come up with historical teaching from the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation-Era Protestantism that agrees with the modern translations, such as the New International Version, which has this passage switching gears in midstream. Siding with the traditional (pre-Abraham Lincoln) interpretation, I have Paul's pronouncement of wrath referring to the antecedent, those who disagree with Paul's slavery teaching; the NIV and other twentieth-century translations have the pronouncement refer to some generic "sound doctrine" -- pulled out of a vacuum or somewhere -- even though the sentence begins with Paul giving instructions on the "Christian" approach to human slavery. If you can show that the preponderance of pre-Abolitionist commentators side with the NIV on this one, I will retract the "National Bible Week" poster and apologize to both to our readers and to Christians the World over.

Until you (or someone) is willing to do this, however, I will continue to say it as I see it: The passages are as they read, and there are no "hidden meanings" which make them say something other than their natural reading. The only exception in all of this would be Song of Solomon 4:5: "My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him." I included this one because of the quirky way in which the Authorized Version (the King James) renders this one, in that it seems pornographic when the phraseology is applied the way these phrases are interpreted in the modern vernacular. Somebody with forethought couldn't have done a more comedic job at botching the translation of a Bible passage than the completely accidental way in which this one came out!

And as for Song of Solomon 2:3, "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste," you tell me what this is supposed to mean in the context of the sexually explicit work which is the Song of Solomon!

So, we eagerly await your attempt to show us where we have taken these Bible passages "out of context" in our"National Bible Week" poster, which has been online for over two years and has withstood numerous charges of "Out of context! Out of context!"

In addition, since you mention the "National Bible Week" poster as just one of many places where we do this, I'll want you to back up this separate accusation by showing at least five other occurrences in our body of editorial writing (Cliff's Monthly Column, the FAQ Section, and Cliff's Replies to the Letters) where we have done this -- apart from the instances from "National Bible Week" poster that you will be showcasing for us. Since you point your finger specifically at us (and not Joseph Lewis or Bertrand Russell or Mark Twain), you will need to do this with our writings and nobody else's in order to make your case.

Finally, because you are so bold as to charge the following:

I will ask that you back up this charge by taking any two words at random from this response and entering them into the Search Engine on our Front Page. Since it is true, then, that I "display an ignorance in everything" that I say -- everything -- you should have no problem at all taking the first five "hits" from that search that are either from our FAQ, from Cliff's Monthly Column, or from Cliff's responses to the Letters (or any writing that contains a "Cliff Walker" byline, for that matter). These constitute our body of editorial opinion, and thus constitute writings by the "you" that you here describe.

Since you, being a faithful Christian, are a truth-telling person and not a liar or a slanderer, you will have no problem showing blatant ignorance in each of these five documents -- seeing as how you said that I "display an ignorance" in everything that I say. You should be able to dispute at least one statement per paragraph on each of the pages that come up in your search, but please keep it down to five botches per page, and please also keep it down to the first five pages that have a Cliff Walker byline. I can only handle so much criticism, and I wouldn't want you to cream me!

If you can demonstrate to us that you are a truth-teller and not a liar in this respect, I will renounce my work in the Positive Atheism project and find something else to do. (If I'm that dishonest, I should be able to make quite a killing as a preacher!) But being a man of truth, I could not live with myself if I discovered that I had been, as you here accuse, misleading the public and misleading my readers -- who trust me to have sat down (as I do) and worked these things out (like I do) and present to them the highest quality scholarship and the strictest thinking that I can muster when I put items such as the "National Bible Week" poster and the "Which Ten Commandments?" flyer together.

I eagerly await your reply, Amy.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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