Facebook Hermeneutics: A Biblical Ethics Experiment

A facebook friend of mine, a former classmate from my high school in North Carolina, recently undertook an interesting experiment. Frustrated by his Christian friends who post Bible verses to their FB statuses, he decided he would do the same for a week, posting a few of his “favorites.” In he end, he only posted four verses, two verses from each testament from the Christian Bible. They were 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Ephesians 6:5, Exodus 21:26, and Numbers 31:17. In the comment thread of one of his posts, he explained that he wanted to highlight certain moral problems promoted by the Bible, describing these verses as belonging to a “blatantly outdated, simian philosophy.”

He had only one major conversation partner, someone who seemed rather disinterested but somewhat skeptical of my friend’s criticism. He observed in the comment thread to the Ephesians passage that “Neither of us know enough about the bible or its context to fully support or criticize it.” This was undoubtedly true. For example, my friend has no concept what the word “slave” would have signified to the audience(s) of the Ephesian letter, merely criticizing Paul’s complicity with something that my friend associates with American Slavery. Now I am not proposing that slavery in the Hellenistic culture of the first century was completely unobjectionable, merely that such objections should be informed as to the substance of that which is being objected. (Moreover, I would prod my friend to explain how such a verse suggests Paul approves of the slavery of his day, particularly in light of Paul’s sentiments elsewhere [Gal 3:28].)

I have been reading two books lately on the subject of biblical ethics: Christopher Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God and Richard Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament.  Hays makes a statement aimed at enthusiastic Christians, probably not unlike those that irked my facebook friend, who invest too much into simply quoting the Bible: “Those who can naively affirm the bumper-sticker slogan ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it,’ are oblivious to the question-begging inherent in the formulation: there is no escape from the imperative of interpreting the Word. Bumper-sticker hermeneutics will not do” (3). Bumper-sticker hermeneutics is not unlike Facebook or Twitter Hermeneutics. The 420 and 140 characters available to those who use Facebook or Twitter as their pulpit are incredibly restrictive, leading to a highly constricted message not likely to suitably address the interpretive imperative.

My friend’s frustrations were probably understandable, given what I have seen some of my own Christian friends post on FB. But in the end, he demonstrated that his understanding of the Bible was nearly identical to those from whom he had intended to distance himself. Rather than “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” his hermeneutic was “God said it, I find it morally reprehensible, that settles it.” Both approaches are reductionistic and demonstrate a very naive understanding of the Bible. Those who want to seriously challenge the moral uprightness of biblical ethics should recognize that the Bible is not the book that popular culture or enthusiastic Christians often make it out to be.

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One thought on “Facebook Hermeneutics: A Biblical Ethics Experiment

  1. What an interesting experiment! Personally, I love Hays’ Moral Vision and I’m also going through it right now.

    Ironically, the captcha words for posting this to facebook was “worlds snobbery.” I kid you not.

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