Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fallacies in Biblical Interpretation

In a forthcoming Newsweek cover article already online, Lisa Miller, religion editor for Newsweek, offers “the religious case for gay marriage.” Not content to argue that the Bible doesn’t condemn same-sex marriage, Miller tries to turn the tables and present a case for gay marriage from biblical principles: “Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.”

It is probably too much to hope that Miller’s article will end, at least for a while, the incessant chirping of those who advocate same-sex marriage that the Bible ought to be left out of the discussion. If it is legitimate for advocates to cite the Bible to support their position, surely it is legitimate for opponents to do the same thing.

A thorough, point-by-point rebuttal to Miller’s article is beyond the scope of this post. I will content myself with documenting some of the common fallacies in biblical interpretation and theological argumentation that crop up constantly in the debate over same-sex unions and that the article exemplifies.

Loophole Exegesis

According to Miller, “while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” That word explicitly gives away the whole game. Somehow contemporary interpreters imagine that if the Bible failed to anticipate their creative interpretations and to deny them explicitly, then the traditional interpretation is not justified. The Bible does not come with a theological lexicon and rarely offers formal definitions of its terms. Then again, neither does Newsweek. But this lack doesn’t mean that we cannot derive clear conclusions from what it does say.

The story is told that a lady once caught W. C. Fields reading a Bible. When she asked him why, Fields replied, “Just looking for loopholes my dear, just looking for loopholes.” I’m afraid this is the way many people read the Bible. Rather than accept what the Bible says in its context, they look for loopholes to justify their alternate opinions. Any possible or conceivable way out supposedly proves that the Bible does not support the traditional view.

Continue reading this excellent article here.

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