In light of our Prime Minister’s recent words regarding his position on the Bible, many issues that have been in heated debate over the course of this year still continue to be in debate; and it would probably be a good idea to put Rudd’s statements in the context of the bigger picture. His words on the ABC program “Q&A” (or QandA) has shocked both Christians and non-Christians for different reasons and brings forth mixed feelings and reactions. On one hand you would have Christians (such as myself) appalled at the Prime Minister’s poor handling of Scripture, and on the other hand you would have non-Christians give a round of applause in approval of his adaptation of the Bible into modern society.
The PM’s Stance
As most of you (living in Australia) should know by now, Rudd made a short statement affirming his support for same sex marriage (by hinting that the “Biblical” notion of slavery was nonsensical, though that wasn’t his main point of argument) at the cost of refusing to stick the Bible, upon which his “faith” was expected to rest. I (and hopefully other Christians) see this as a form of hypocrisy (for him to say that he is Christian, but to reject the authority of the Bible) and of false teaching (to claim this his view of the Bible is correct, and publicly teaching others so).
We have probably heard before the things Rudd said on Monday night, but what complicates the matter is that Rudd professed his stance from a Christian perspective. The fair question to ask at this point is: “How well informed is Rudd of the Christian perspective?” or “How much of the Bible does Rudd really understand?” With many Christians disagreeing with Rudd and what he said, it comes down to figuring out who is right and who is wrong on their understanding of the Bible. With all due respect to non-Christians in general, they would need to leave the conclusion of whether Rudd is right or wrong to the Christians who understand the Bible better. I say this in the sense that some Christians (not all) will have a better understanding of the Bible than Rudd (and over most non-Christians for that matter) and as such it should give us the credibility to say that his use of the Bible was incorrect, and as such the way he structured his argument was incorrect. From a conservative viewpoint, Rudd may be right in general about legalizing same sex marriage but we can definitely conclude that the way he tried to justify it is completely wrong.
Understanding The Bible
And of course we come back to everybody’s favourite point of dispute which is the Bible, God’s authoritative Word. The underlying issue behind what the Prime Minister said, and also all the discussion about marriage, submission and the like, all come back to how the Bible is understood. What we have seen in the last half a year and so is people throwing verses all over the place and using them to either support or deny same sex marriage, to try and define the word “submission”, amongst other issues that the Bible touches on.
As Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen encouragingly put it on QandA a while back (and I inaccurately quote due to forgetfulness): “It is good that we are finally having this discussion and bringing the topic into the open”. It is nonetheless good that Rudd continued this discussion on Monday and it gives Christians and non-Christians space to air out their perspectives on marriage. Hopefully let me again point out that if anyone (Christian or non-Christian) should wish to make a claim on the Bible, they would do well to make sure they have understood it correctly.
Now how would you judge whether what Rudd said on Monday (or what Jensen said in the past) was right or wrong? It would seem very naïve to simply accept their views on the Bible without actually investigating it yourself. Consider the English essays we do or used to do in high school. It’s not hard to slap together a Quote-Technique-Explanation structure to back up the point which we are trying to argue in an essay, but how easy is it to make sure we avoid our English teachers writing comments in red on our essays such as: “This point is nonsense, you clearly do not understand the text”? For English, we cannot hope to simply take any quote from the text and just slap on any explanation or interpretation to it. The teacher has studied and understood the text enough to be able to teach it and so understands what the set of correct interpretations is; the teacher would therefore have every right to claim a student doesn’t have it right, because the teacher knows it better. And so it is with the Bible. We would need to study the Bible, and to understand it so that we can assess what Rudd (and anyone else) said.
Take-Away Tip: Context
Without making this post too long, and without having to go into great depths at how to read the Bible, one key point that I hope Christians and especially non-Christians take into account is “context”. If you would like to quote a verse from Scripture, have you read what the surrounding verses say? Have you read what the surrounding chapters say? Have you read what other parts of the Bible say on that topic? For all topics, and not just the ones I mentioned in this post, understanding what the Bible says about it requires understanding the context of the passages that we are reading. In particular for Rudd’s statements, a proper understanding of the verses he was quoting or referring to (including the context of those verses) has been prepared by The Briefing: http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2013/09/pm-verbals-the-bible/
When we put the verses we are quoting into context, it’ll begin to help us understand what it really means. As a result, the way to understand the Bible is to first start by reading all of it, and then some more. Yes it sounds like a hard task and believe me, having studied the Bible intensely in my university years (and still currently doing so) it is no easy feat to read and understand the Bible. Christians are called to continually read and study the Bible; it’s a task that takes time and the ongoing consequence of that is that we’ll continue to know and understand our God and His words better. I would like to plea with Christians and non-Christians to read the Bible and try to understand the context first before trying to bash it for it is or isn’t saying. Best of all, it would help to ask a Christian who has a better understanding of the Bible to help, I’m sure they would gladly like to help you understand it too.