In Word and Deed | Sojourners

In Word and Deed

Is this not the reason why you err, because you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God? - Mark 12:24

Interpretation, literary critic Frederic Jameson once observed, "is not an isolated act, but takes place within a Homeric battlefield, on which a host of interpretive options are either openly or implicitly in conflict." Above all this is the case with biblical interpretation. Today in the church a crucial "battle for the Bible" is under way. It is not. however, the one defined by the old liberal vs. fundamentalist debate. It concerns how scripture will be used in the church in its struggle to decide where and how to stand in a world of epidemic violence and oppression.

It is nor enough simply to appeal to the Bible's "authority." There are self-proclaimed "Bible believing" Christians who are convinced that the president's military and foreign policies reflect divine imperatives. And there are other Christians who invoke the biblical mandates to provide sanctuary to fleeing refugees or beat swords into plowshares in their protest actions against the very same policies. Authority is nothing more or less than how we read the Bible, and then what we do with what we read. Authority is about interpretation and practice.

It is said that Karl Barth consulted two things each morning: the Bible and the newspaper. Interpretation of the Word must preserve a fundamental accountability to this world. This series of six studies on the gospel of Mark will endeavor to attend to this double responsibility. It acknowledges some of the difficult issues involved in interpreting this ancient story and gives priority to understanding the text first in its own literary and socio-cultural context.

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