The Importance of the Ambiguous 10 Percent

One of the great things about working for a university is that you get access to some pretty big minds. In this case, I was able to attend a lecture by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine on the Bible, politics, and homosexuality.

I won’t summarize everything she said during her talk, but she did make a point that stuck with me. (I’ll be paraphrasing her.) She said she agrees that when Paul wrote of same-sex interactions, he was condemning all homosexual acts. But she also said that difficulties with the original language leave room for questions. And since there’s a 10-percent chance that this text might not say what we think it means, Levine doesn’t want to support legislation that’s going to affect people’s lives.

I thought it was a fantastic point, and after the talk, a friend and I were talking about how people interpret the Bible. I was reminded that every generation of Christians has had an easy time condemning the mistakes of their predecessors while leaving themselves open to making the same mistakes.

So, for example, we condemn slavery and don’t accept the argument that certain parts of the Bible call for it. We think those parts are culturally conditioned and not relevant to us today.

But a lot of us refuse to grant this as at least an option when it comes to same-sex relationships.

We think that’s clear. That’s God’s word. But then, previous generations thought their interpretations were God’s word, too–and they were instead being used to justify all forms of evil.

It’s entirely possible that the chances of Paul condemning all forms of homosexual relationships are 100 percent, not 90. But given that our spiritual siblings haven’t exactly had the best track record in interpreting Scripture and that their mistakes have led to egregious and lasting mistakes, shouldn’t the ambiguous 10 percent feel larger to us than it actually does?

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