Ted Grimsrud

09. Wrestling with the Bible and its interpreters

Ted Grimsrud—Purpose vol. 44, no. 5 (May 2011), p. 28.

Every year, I teach a college class, “Biblical Theology of Peace and Justice.” It’s always a bit intense. For many students, the Bible evokes strong emotions; sometimes we openly disagree with each other! Something important is at stake when we try honestly to deal with the contents of the Bible in light of a concern for peace in the world.

I often find myself in between two quite different attitudes. For some, the Bible is the sacred, unassailable, Word of God. “Why do we question the Bible in this way? If the Bible teaches that God is violent sometimes, why don’t we simply accept that?” To question the Bible is to question God; to question God threatens the foundations of life itself.

For other students the Bible is hopelessly problematic. “Why do we mess with the Bible at all? Isn’t it clearly the basis human violence throughout history and still today?” To look to the Bible for guidance is foolishness—to accept the Bible undermines our possibilities of actually being peacemakers.

Most students are between these two poles; they struggle to hold together what Jesus lived and taught with what they read many places in the Old Testament.

And there is another kind of student, maybe getting more common. They don’t know much about the Bible at all—and don’t have strong feelings one way or the other. They are shocked, though, to read about God’s destructiveness with the Flood, about fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, about the death visited on the Egyptians in Exodus, and (probably most of all) about the orders from God for the Hebrews to kill every man, woman, and child in certain Canaanite cities in Joshua.

I have come to believe that these struggles, intense debates, and efforts to discern are crucial for Christian faith and—I would even dare say—for our hopes for peace on earth.

If we are to be Christian peacemakers we must face the world as it is, violence and all. And we must grow in our understanding of Jesus’ message of peace that speaks directly to this world as it is. And, the best source we have to help us in this task is the Bible. Our challenge is to speak peace into a violent reality—which is precisely the message of the entire Bible.

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