Let’s continue wrapping up this series on problem Bible texts. I apologize for the length of this post, but I didn’t see a good way to split it up into mini-posts. This is the hazard of writing about theology – it seems to lend itself to long discussions!
In my last post I introduced the theology of Krister Stendahl, commonly summed up by the slogan “what it meant and what it means”. What it meant is Stendahl’s way of referring to the meaning of a Bible text to its original author and in its original context. When it comes to translating the original meaning of a Bible text into contemporary words, this is (in Stendahl terminology) what it means.
But as I pointed out last time, what makes Stendahl’s theology truly interesting (and of course, controversial) is the strict separation Stendahl proposed between what it meant and what it means. For Stendahl, what it meant and what it means need to be “kept apart long enough for the descriptive task [what it meant] to be considered in its own right.” This separation is particularly important when we consider problem Bible texts. As Eric Seibert put it on Peter Enns’ blog site, “if we are going to keep the Bible from harming others, we need to learn to have problems with it.” But we’ll never appreciate the problem with problem Bible texts unless we consider what the texts meant in their own time and place, without first resorting to apologetics to make the text “relevant”, or “meaningful”, or “speak to us today”.