In a recent Bible Study of Joshua we had to reflect on the fact that in 2:8-14 the spies make pact with Rahab, a Canaanite, despite the direct prohibition given by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 (presumably, the Deuteronomist was not unaware of the tension, but let it stand*). Then of course Joshua makes another pact (covenant) with the Gibeonites (chapter 9), albeit by means of their deception, again breaking Moses’ prohibition. This shows me that even within the canon of scripture itself, the people of God have struggled with the question of what do to with scripture.
This is not a new struggle, rather the struggle seems endemic to “people of the book.” Zillions of examples of this could be brought forward, as we all know: this is well worn ground. It is the most difficult when the bible says a clear, “no” but we now feel free to say “yes” – like the issue of women in ministry. The hermeneutical move is made by everyone, conservatives (who allow women to cut their hair and wear gold) to liberals who think the door is open for homosexuals). The hermeneutical move is the same: all of us find adequate and compelling reasons to put some scripture in a category of “no longer applies.” The only question is what is in and what is out of bounds. Slaves no longer have to submit to masters: actually being a slave-master is out, but all of us feel obligated to “love one another” (even if our performance is faulty). The abortion issue is miserably difficult because there is no unequivocal biblical “no”. But the “no” to divorce from our Lord himself (“let not man put asunder” in the traditional language, Matt 19:5) seems negotiable today – at least it is no longer an automatic deal-breaker for ordination. So, we all sit uncomfortably with the very scripture in which we hear the word of God still speaking. It has always been so. Even the 10 commandments written “by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18 and Deuteronomy 9:10) are not identical in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Literalism is impossible – literally – and yet other alternatives are non-objective.
My wish is that we could start the discussion here, at this fact, acknowledging that what we are at loggerheads about is not hermeneutics but rather application. We read scripture, praying for guidance, open to the Spirit, heavily influenced by the history of interpretation and our tradition(s), and fully within a cultural context of assumptions and perspectives (apart from which no human has yet to exist).
The PCA is a bit more consistent for forbidding women – but I’ve noticed that their women do cut their hair. The EPC cannot tolerate the notion of an ordained gay person, and yet they would never hire a slave owner as pastor. Even fundamentalists (OPC?) have to choose which version of the 10 commandments is “unchanging forever.” We are all stuck with this conundrum; no one has the high ground hermeneutically and no one escapes the difficulty. We are in this together.
*in fact, the tension was purposeful and crucial to the reason Joshua was written down according to L. Daniel Hawk, Joshua in Berit Olam: studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry series, (2000).