When I talk to my old Fundagelical High School friends and family members, it can be a frustrating experience. If I discuss a passage such as Leviticus 18:22 and attempt to contextualize it to the holiness code, limited scientific knowledge, patriarchal society, and cultural preservation, I get accused of twisting scripture and not understanding the “Plain reading” of the Bible.
There it is, the “plain reading” of the Bible, which is shorthand code for the Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it. Here’s an example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak but must be in submission, as the law says.” therefore, according to the “plain reading”, no women pastors. Any attempt to contextualize this is scripture twisting.
The “plain reading” of the Bible can be problematic. Consider the following passage,
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 KJV)
When I point this out, I’m informed that times have changed and that God doesn’t want us to enforce that. As my Fundagelical friends explain to me, they took holiness really serious back then, but now we live in a period of grace, so it doesn’t count anymore.
So when asked why Leviticus 18:22 still counts, more context is added: “it’s a moral issue” I’m told. Suddenly, the “plain reading” of Scripture isn’t so plain.
The Bible is full of strange stuff. There are lots of passages Fundagelicals tend to skip over. The reason they aren’t mentioned is that a “plain reading” would have us following “Biblical principles” that we know are no-nos according to modern Fundagelicals.
Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that plainly speaks against female pastors; it also plainly speaks the following:
“Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29 NIV)
Paul, in building his case for the resurrection, mentions that if there is no resurrection, then being baptized for the dead is in vain. The “plain reading” of the text indicates that Christians did get baptized for their dead relatives and since Paul didn’t condemn the practice, so he must have accepted it. Therefore, modern-day Christians should get baptized for our dead relatives. If it was good enough for Paul and first century Christians, it’s good enough for us.
All of chapter 15 is used to build an argument for the resurrection of the dead. However, go to any Fundagelical church, and I bet they stop the reading of chapter 15 at verse 22. It’s less confusing that way.
The “plain reading” isn’t always so plain. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, in their notes on the baptism of the dead passage, has this to say,
Verse 29 is a notoriously difficult crux: the most “hotly disputed” in the epistle (Conzelmann); “it is not clear precisely what this practice was” (Dale Martin); “everything must be understood as tentative” (Fee); a variety of understandings emerge “given the enigmatic nature of the practice” (Collins). By 1887 Godet had counted “about thirty explanations” for baptized for the dead,”
The Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “Up to 200 explanations have been given of this verse!” if the Bible is to be read with a “plain reading” why do we need 200 explanations?
We need 200 explanations because Fundagelicals don’t believe in baptism for the dead. That’s a Mormon thing. Rather than admit the Bible is full of verses that need to be contextualized, they tend to skip over this verse or hide an explanation in the footnotes.
In general, for Fundagelicals, a “plain reading” is to be used when you do something they don’t like. The plain reading indicates that you are sinning or violating some Biblical principle. If a Fundagelical does something questionable, there is always nuance and context to be considered. If there is a tricky verse, just skip a bit brother. So much for the “plain reading” of Matthew 7:3-5
For a group of people that have such high regard for scripture, they skip quite a bit of it. Let’s not even get into Song of Songs it needs too much contextualizing.
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 Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to theCorinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek TestamentCommentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1240.
David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: AnExposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2(Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 544.