Wherein I agree with Rachel Held Evans…sort of.

Rachel Held Evans notes that one could make a Biblical case that gluttony is a “life style sin”. I agree. Gluttony is a life style sin and it’s a resource hog. Paul associates making a God of the belly with the heresies in Philippi. Going backward in the Bible to Proverbs, eating a reasonable amount of food is considered positively wise.

Now that I’ve agreed with her, I must say that where things get sticky is her hermeneutic. She notes a few things which can be read here:

It’s funny. Yesterday, in Sunday Superlatives, I included a quote from Mark Twain in which he referred to a snake oil salesman as an “idiot,” but no one left an angry comment warning me of hell based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:22 that “if you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court; and if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Nor did anyone raise any biblical objections regarding gluttony a few weeks ago when I casually mentioned overdosing on Sweet Frog frozen yogurt (strawberry, with a pile of chocolate chips, Oreo crumbs, and chocolate animal crackers on top, if you must know), or about materialism when I shared pictures of our new car. (Hey, for some people, a brand new Honda Civic is pretty flashy.)

And in spite of the flood of emails I get each week condemning my support of women in ministry, I’ve never received so much as an open letter criticizing my refusal to wear a head covering, even though my Web site is full of photographic evidence of what the apostle Paul calls a “disgrace” in 1 Corinthians 11:6.

We may laugh at these examples or dismiss them silly, but the biblical language employed in these contexts is actually pretty strong: eating shellfish is an abomination, a bare head is a disgrace, gossips will not inherit the kingdom of God, careless words are punishable by hell, guys who leer at women should gouge out their eyes.

She notes that people never get mad at her for certain things she posts vs certain things she does post that make people angry. Now, I’m not sure what to think about people sending angry emails over a blog post, but I’m sure it’s frustrating. My guess is that she’s trying to say that a “literal” interpretation of Scripture is utterly awful and that nobody is literal about anything except their own hot button issues. But she’s run into some serious problems:

  1. She notes that nobody criticizes her for not wearing a head covering or for having a hair cut. But Paul is noting a custom in a fairly text book example of a hypothetical syllogism.  εἰ γὰρ οὐ κατακαλύπτεται γυνή, καὶ κειράσθω· εἰ δὲ αἰσχρὸν γυναικὶ τὸ κείρασθαι ἢ ξυρᾶσθαι, κατακαλυπτέσθω. (1Co 11:6) “For if a woman is not covered, let her cut her hair. But if it is a shame to cut or shave her hair, let her cover her head herself. (Geoff Smith Translation). ” Note the middle nature of the imperative verb as well. Also note the previous context of the verse: “πᾶσα δὲ γυνὴ προσευχομένη ἢ προφητεύουσα ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ καταισχύνει τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῆς· ἓν γάρ ἐστιν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ τῇ ἐξυρημένῃ. (1Co 11:5 BGT)” “Now every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head (Geoff Smith Translation).” Paul says that every woman who preaches or prays aloud in church should dress with a head covering because it is considered a shame not to. Then he gives an if-then statement. I doubt that in any of her pictures she is preaching at a church meeting or praying aloud and if she is it is uncertain whether she lives in a region where such hair styles are shameful. So, the most literal (or literary) interpretation of the verse doesn’t even apply to her.
  2. She wonders why nobody shamed her for materialism when she bought a new car. The Bible never says not to own transportation or to buy new things. It says to be financially wise and to share. Both of those work in the context of buying a new car.
  3. She mentions, casually, that she overdosed on dessert. That is unwise. Nevertheless, the Bible mentions feasts as commendable (so long as some do not eat so much that you fail to feed the poor who are present). Proverbs does mention that too much dessert is unwise (see Proverbs 25:16), though I would imagine that most American Christians do not know that.
  4. She brought up shellfish, I’m not sure why. But if one is a Gentile Christian (which I’m assuming she is), the food restrictions are no longer and never really were applicable. Most literalists would say that those passages, due to the words of Jesus and Mark (read Mark 7:19), simply no longer apply in the same way. Though, I’m sure they do apply in this sense: Christians should avoid participating in habits which imply concession to foreign deities. This takes discernment in this epoch of God’s history with the world.
  5. She mentions that gossips will not inherit the kingdom of God. It would be lame if the New Creation were filled with gossip and the hatred and distrust stirred up by it. I hope gossips repent (especially me). A lot of people teach about gossip, why it is awful, and how to avoid it. So again, I don’t know why her criticism of a “literalist” hermeneutic has any traction here.
  6. She mentions that guys who leer at women should gouge out her eyes. Most of the previous things she said are, by genre, literal statements and therefore to be taken literally. Jesus, in this passage (especially if we take Matthew 18:1-10 and the context of ancient sage literature into account) seems to mean that if your actions or intentions lead you towards relationship infidelity, you should extract those practices and thoughts from your life. The passage is not meant to be literal, but the others she mentions are. But, to interpret a literary device literally, means to take it as a literal advice. Jesus’ parables are “literally parables.”

The point I’m making is that shotgunning a bunch of harsh Biblical sayings that are ignored and peppering in ones that are often misunderstood and claiming that it’s all a matter of selective literalness is either confused or disingenuous. I hope that she is simply trying to make a point about a weird conservative mob-culture she’s noticed. But I get the impression that there is a subtext that it’s okay not to try harder to interpret passages that seem outrageous to us, but more appropriate to ignore those verses.

I understand and appreciate some of her points about choosing certain verses to feel powerful or morally superior. That comes from misapprehending the gospel more than being literally minded though. Maybe there is an element of satire to her method here. I sense it, but it seems overridden by how she talks elsewhere. Her best quote from the whole ordeal has to be this, “It’s hard to “other” the people we know and love the most.”  I hope I’m not “othering” her, but I the approach to the Bible that says, “we cut our hair, eat shellfish, and enjoy English blood pudding therefore literal prohibitions have less mileage today” seems irresponsible.*

*She says that we should try to work this stuff out carefully. But I still don’t think the approach used in the above passage from her blog is rhetorically appropriate. She uses rhetoric when Aristotle would have said dialectic is necessary, or rather she could have perhaps tried harder to make the word a bit more fitly spoken.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *