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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Rev. Dr. Angela N. Parker joins Pete and Jared to talk about the impact of white supremacy in the field of biblical interpretation, whether we can truly read the Bible objectively, and how a womanist interpretation of the Bible can lead to liberation for all. Join them as they ask the following questions:

  • How is biblical inerrancy or infallibility tied to white supremacy?
  • Where did the doctrine of inerrancy and infallibility come from? How has it been weaponized?
  • What does “objective” really mean in biblical interpretation, and how has it been used to perpetuate a certain cultural norm?
  • Can we really be objective when we read the Bible?
  • What is a microaggression and how does it affect people of color?
  • How does Angela maintain hope in the midst of all she’s experienced as a Black woman in a field that has historically been dominated by white masculinity?
  • Is every method of biblical interpretation a “neutral” tool?
  • How can a womanist interpretation of the Bible help us live more hope-filled lives?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Rev. Dr. Angela N. Parker you can share.

  • I was not asking the same questions that my white colleagues were asking when I was thinking theologically, or when I was thinking biblically. I was actually asking questions that matter to my embodied existence as an African American woman in these United States of America. — @anp22fab
  • The questions that I would bring to classes, to biblical readings, to conversations in the classroom, were often brushed aside as, “That’s not the right question.” That was my first realization that I was being trained in white theology, or being trained to be a white male biblical scholar. — @anp22fab
  • The idea of inerrancy and the idea of infallibility is not necessarily tied to the text—it became a tool placed in the Bible that meant the Bible became a way to stop arguments about same-sex relationships, or the ability of all people to thrive and flourish in the world, or to stop an argument about women preaching or teaching in a church context. — @anp22fab
  • This idea of power and control is the way that the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility are used in order to stop arguments about the flourishing of people beyond what some someone says from a text taken out of context. — @anp22fab
  • We have to pay attention to culture, and we have to pay attention to power dynamics, even as we pay attention to language and how language is used. — @anp22fab
  • The idea of objectivity, that usually comes from scholars thinking that they can find the one true meaning of a particular text, is steeped in what we call historical criticism. That idea of finding that one true, that one perfect, that one thing, is actually a fallacy in itself. — @anp22fab
  • I often argue that is “objectivity” is code for white male. How do you actually read objectively without bringing any aspect of yourself to the text? — @anp22fab
  • I make this connection between objectivity as the idea of stripping away everything about yourself to read texts from any kind of a “pure view.” And that is what we identify as the norm for a lot of people. And that norm becomes code for a particular body.  — @anp22fab
  • I can read commentaries that just quote white man after white man after white man, without even thinking about how their interpretations actually affect an African woman in southern Sudan.  — @anp22fab
  • There’s a belief that you can strip yourself of any kind of identifying qualities and read [the Bible] objectively, and that [perspective] becomes the norm. But I think that norm is code for white masculinity. — @anp22fab
  • I live and walk by the faith and in the faith of Jesus the Christ—but that doesn’t mean that I’m certain about every aspect of the biblical texts. Because I argue that faith is not certainty—faith is the opposite of certainty. — @anp22fab
  • Our Bible shows us the ways that different people interact with God in order to live a hope-filled life. — @anp22fab
  • Part of my own womanist commitment is for liberation for all people. I’m not doing this just to liberate Black women, but I do this to also liberate my white male colleagues who have not had to think about what a privilege it is to walk into a room and automatically expect to be accepted. Not everybody lives in that privilege. — @anp22fab

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete  

You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared  

And I’m Jared Byas.

Pete  

[Jaunty intro music] Before we get started, folks, we wanted to take a minute to thank everybody who signed up for our 2022 summer school classes taught by Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, by moi, and Miguel De La Torres. Now while the live classes have ended, at B4NP we’re advocates of lifelong learning. And in this case, that means you can still enroll in summer school and watch the classes anytime. You’re welcome, procrastinators. You know who you are.

Jared  

Although the Pay What You Can window has closed, all this means is that you can still get each class, $25 bucks, you can watch it at your convenience. And thanks to those of you who showed up live. For those of you who still want to learn from our amazing summer school professors, just head to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/summerschool.

Jared  

You might notice over the next few weeks that our podcast now has ads on it. We hope this doesn’t offend too many people, but we are excited to take a step toward having the podcast be more sustainable. Given how amazing everything is that we do at the Bible for Normal People, you might think from the outside that we’re a giant corporation. But, we are in fact but a humble few who have been doing this part-time as a side hustle to our other occupations for the past six or more years. So hopefully this will help us hustle a little less. But also, we’re excited about new ways we can bring the best in biblical scholarship to everyday people, but those ways unfortunately cost money. So in addition to our campaigns, and the courses and classes we offer, and the wonderful folks at Patreon, we’re giving ads a try. It might feel clunky for a few weeks as we get our feet wet with it, so we’d appreciate your grace. Also, stay tuned for ways you can continue to get the podcast ad-free. We should be announcing that in the next couple of weeks as well. Thanks everyone for your support, let’s get back to the show. [Jaunty intro music ends]

Pete  

Welcome everyone, to this episode of the podcast! Our topic today is the white supremacy of inerrancy.

Jared  

And we are talking with the Reverend Dr. Angela N. Parker, who is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek at McAfee School of Theology, and the author of a fairly fantastic—can you say that? “Fairly fantastic”?

Pete  

No, no, that’s no, you can’t say that. It’s either, “it’s fairly good” or “it’s fantastic.”

Jared  

Fantastic. Okay. Well, then we’ll go with fantastic—book, “If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I?: Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority.” And yeah, I found this—I mean, we often try, because I think we, you know, we’re curious people, we try to find something in every episode that we learn. But there are just some that help me to think new thoughts in ways that I hadn’t before. 

Pete  

Yeah, a lot of nuggets here. A lot of nuggets here to not just satisfy curiosities, but I think just to make you think of the whole thing of—race doesn’t go away in any discu—that’s one of many factors. It doesn’t go away. And it’s part of the history of how many of us were taught to read the Bible, and the questions we ask and the answers that we give.

Jared  

Well, unless, sometimes we can think of this as a—it should be seen certainly as a critique of how whiteness has impacted biblical scholarship. But for me, there was this constructive piece of it, that it was a vision for how to lean into Bible reading in new, refreshing, and engaging ways. So that it’s not just a repudiation, maybe, of the tradition I grew up in, but actually gave me a lot of food for thought for how to move forward with how I read my Bible.

Pete  

Yeah, and hope giving.

Jared  

Alright, well let’s get to it. 

[Jaunty music plays behind clip of Angela speaking] “I always tell students, hear me well: I’m not throwing out historical criticism, it’s just one tool. And so what does it look like to merge historical criticism with your own particular identity, and use that tool and yourself in order to excavate a little bit further from biblical text?” [jaunty music ends]

Well, welcome to the podcast, Angela, it’s great to have you.

Angela  

Thank you for having me. I am so looking forward to this conversation!

Jared  

Excellent. I think in this instance, in particular with the conversation, the topic that we want to talk about, I think it would be good to start with how you got interested in biblical interpretation professionally.

Angela  

Sure. I actually got interested in biblical interpretation professionally, because one of my professors told me I would not be able to do it. I had already been doing biblical interpretation on a ministerial basis in my local church, because I was ordained Missionary Baptist, oh, so many years ago, if I put a timeframe on it, that will just be sitting up here counting the years. But I was ordained before going into seminary. So I’m an ordained minister in the Missionary Baptist Association of North Carolina, and went into seminary after preaching and preaching and teaching in the local church for a number of years. So as a seminarian student getting my masters of theological studies, I decided that I knew I was not adept in preaching and teaching or serving as a pastor. I served as a pastor for four hot months, and I knew that I would never want to do that again. But I knew God called me to preach and teach but in a different capacity, which was how I got interested in biblical interpretation professionally, because I knew that I could go on, get a PhD, and actually serve as a professor in various seminarian contexts. But it was the push from one professor who told me I would never be able to do it, that actually made me do it.

Pete  

Well, why—okay, if you don’t mind me asking—why would someone say that?

Angela  

People say that normally because Black folks in Bible are not a large number. And so my professors in seminary would say, and usually they would whisper it, they’d say, “Black folks don’t do Bible.” And I’d say, “Why not?” And then I would get some kind of microaggression around, “Well, you all can’t hardly understand English. How do you think you can learn Greek and Hebrew and Latin and German and French?” And so I took that as a personal challenge, actually, and excelled in Greek, excelled in Hebrew, excelled in German and French, and actually feel very much vindicated on this side. So that idea that Black folks can’t do Bible professionally is still being said to students in seminary contexts today.

Jared  

Basically, the book that you wrote, “If God Still Breathes, Why Can’t I? Black Lives Matter and Biblical Authority” gives you a unique perspective, right? I mean, I think your experience gives you this unique perspective, but at the Bible for Normal People, we talk about—we have this phrase, “all theology has an adjective.” We, you know, when you look at the course catalog, it’s “systematic” theology, it’s, there’s no adjective for “normal” theology, and then there is “liberation” theology, and then there is, you know, “African American” theology…

Pete  

Womanist theology.

Jared  

“Womanist” theology. But whenever it’s “normal” there’s no adjective. And it takes time to realize that that stands for white, European-centric theology. So what was your experience like in coming to that realization as you started seminary, because I would assume you had a similar experience?

Angela  

I thought that I was supposed to be a white male biblical scholar as I was approaching seminary. And it took a realization that I was not asking the same questions that my white colleagues were asking when I was thinking theologically, or when I was thinking biblically. That I was actually asking questions that matter to my embodied existence as an African American woman in these United States of America. And I realized that I was being trained to think white theologically, or even as a white biblical interpreter, when the questions that I would bring to classes, to biblical readings, to conversations in the classroom, were often brushed aside as “that’s not the right question.” And because my questions were normally related to Black Baptist experience at that time, by me asking questions that were particular to a Black Baptist context, I was told that I was asking the wrong questions. And that was my first realization that I was being trained in white theology, or being trained to be a white male biblical scholar.

Pete  

Right. Because you were ordained before seminary and doctoral work.

Angela  

Yes.

Pete  

And you were ordained, I imagine, because the community saw in you gifts.

Angela  

Exactly.

Pete  

Right. So when you then transitioned to seminary, and I don’t know if your experiences were the same in seminary as they were in your doctoral work, but when you transitioned to that, did you have—was there a bit of a culture shock for you personally? Or were you prepared for what you were getting yourself into?

Angela  

Well, I think my experience is similar to a lot of seminarians’ experiences, where you get into the classroom in a seminary context, and you’re now given permission to ask questions that you were not allowed to ask in a faith-based context. So when we’re reading Bible in church, everything in Bible is taken as a given. But then I get into seminary, and we’re asking questions about the Bible that I was, I would dare not ask in my home church context. And so I think that was one of the major shocks for me, but also realizing that my colleagues in seminary had different views about Bible and about theology that I grew up with in my Black Baptist church context. So I felt as though a lot of that information was actually bumping together, but for me it was bumping together in a good way. And I know that we talk about deconstruction a lot in our many of our post-evangelical contexts, but it did serve as a moment of deconstruction, so that I could reconstruct something that I find more life-giving on this side, after feeling the experiences of kind of being out of joint in seminary and feeling even more out-of-jointedness when I get into a PhD context. But I think that was part of the learning and the goodness of being on this side now. And for me, the pastoral role now is to help seminarian students come through that kind of bumping and jolting and disjointedness, so that they can get to the other side of something freeing and liberative, and a way of living in Christ that we can actually live and walk in.

Jared  

Okay, I want to talk about that more in terms of that turn. But before we get there, I’m very curious to hear how you would articulate this idea that biblical inerrancy or infallibility is tied to white supremacy. Because I think that might be a new notion for our listeners. It was for me, which I think your book was very enlightening about. Can you just say more of what you mean by that?

Angela  

Sure. A lot of us grew up with these ideas of doctrine, these doctrines of inerrancy, or infallibility. Inerrancy being the idea that the Bible is completely without error, and infallibility being the idea that the Bible is going to do what it needs to do in order to get people to salvation—whatever you define salvation to be. And what I began to discover was that the idea of inerrancy and the idea of infallibility, in my Baptist context and then even in evangelical contexts that I was beginning to become a part of, was that it was not necessarily tied to the text. It often became tied, these doctrines, to the people who were preaching the texts—the people who had authority over large groups of people. And when I began to do a little bit of study into how these doctrines came about, especially during the Protestant Reformation, I began to see that the actual beginning of inerrancy and infallibility came with the manuscripts that—and we’re talking about original manuscripts, so you have to realize your Bible has been copied over and over again, and we don’t have full manuscripts of biblical texts from the time of the apostles, that whole thing—but the idea of inerrancy and infallibility became a tool placed in the Bible, I would argue, in a lot of evangelical culture, that meant the Bible became a way to stop an argument. So what I was, what I’m beginning to argue is that in white evangelical culture, people would say, “Well, the Bible says…” and then quote one verse out of context in order to stop any arguments about same-sex relationships, or the ability of all people to thrive and flourish in the world, or to stop an argument about women preaching or teaching in a church context. So I was arguing, and am arguing, that this idea of power and control is the way that the doctrine of inerrancy and infallibility are used in order to stop arguments from the flourishing of people beyond what some someone says from a text taken out of context.

Pete  

It’s interesting, because you’re mentioning, like the 16th century and the Protestant Reformation. And I guess what I’m hearing partly is that this is tied to, I guess, two related things—is the fact that the Bible came to be translated into languages that people could understand, not Latin, you know, and then actually printed, and literacy was increasing. So, you know, through much—I just find that fascinating, because through much of the history of Christianity, you don’t have a highly literate people in the church. You have like it was for, you know, many, many, you know, centuries and centuries before that, but things shifted there. And so that made possible perhaps this, this move to a particular kind of inerrancy and authority in let’s say, the 16th century and later. Yeah, it’s not just like, “the Bible is inerrant because it says so.” It doesn’t say anything, right?

Angela  

Exactly.

Pete  

But people made it say things and, even you know, you go back to like Agustin and others who talk about “the Bible doesn’t have errors.” What they meant by that was not what it came to mean in the wake of the 16th century. I think that’s a great point you’re making.

Angela  

There’s always a morphing of these terms, and what they come to mean today. Especially in the context of what I’m saying in white evangelical culture. 

Jared  

Well and I think that’s actually a really important thing that you’re bringing out that I actually hadn’t thought about before—is that when we say inerrancy, and people are arguing, “well, that’s how it’s always been.” They’re using the same words but they’re meaning something different. And what I’m hearing you say is the function of that has become more about power and control, especially in white evangelical culture, than it would have historically been. Even if the words “without error” were the same, the function it played in communities and in cultures is vastly different.

Angela  

Exactly. And that’s why we have to pay attention to culture. And we have to pay attention to power dynamics, even as we pay attention to language and how language is used.

Jared  

Yeah, I think that does spill over into this other issue of when you start talking about the power dynamics of how these phrases are utilized to sustain power and control—me growing up in a white evangelical context, I can almost hear what the response would be, which is, “That stuff doesn’t matter.” We are talking about, you know, does the Bible—we’re talking objectively, there’s a scientific air about it that says, “it doesn’t really matter about feelings and society and community. It’s about historical accuracy. So does the Bible have error or not? And that’s the most important thing.” And I think what I hear maybe you saying is even that response is, is covering over this power and control dynamic.

Angela  

Yes! I’m shaking my head vigorously right now, because that idea of objectivity—that usually comes from scholars thinking that they can find the one true meaning of a particular text—is steeped in what we call historical criticism in biblical studies. And so that idea of finding that one true, that one perfect, that one thing, is actually a fallacy in itself. And it’s interesting, because when I talk about objectivity and how to read Bible as objective, I often argue that that is code for white male. So how do you actually read objectively without bringing any aspect of yourself to the text? Which is why I try to steer away from objective readings of Bible and actually say alright, how can we allow people in all of their different subjectivities, read and engage Bible, and then read and engage one another as we think about how we engage God? That’s actually a more fruitful way of beginning to think about our various ways of biblical interpretation that allows conversations with Bible, conversations with one another, and conversations with God—as opposed to someone else putting their “objective meaning and interpretation” of Bible onto everybody’s lives. And that’s where the problems come in.

Angela  

Yeah. Well, can we flush that out a little bit? Because, you know, objectivity is, I think you said, “code for white male perspective,” right?

Angela  

Yes.

Pete  

So it’s not just a matter, let’s say, of, hey, we have a printing press, and the Bible got printed. And now, you know, people can claim, you know, getting into God’s head, so to speak, when you read the Bible, and it’s inerrant and it’s perfect and it tells us what to do, gives us a sense of authority. But you’re tying that specifically to I guess what you call in the book, “white supremacist authoritarianism.” Right? So just unpack that a little bit too, maybe it’s obvious, but unpack that a little bit for us about how that gets tied to male whiteness specifically?

Angela  

Yeah, that’s a great question. When we think about objectivity, we think about keeping one’s thoughts and feelings away from any inquiry into the biblical text. So you don’t have to—when you’re reading Bible, and you’re trying to think objectively, you are trying not to read in such a way that any part of you comes to the text, and I’ll give you an example. I was in a conversation with a colleague, and they asked a question about bodily authority, because we were reading some writings of another colleague. And that person said, “I don’t understand what they mean by bodily authority.” And I said, “Well, let me paint a picture for you.” This is a white male colleague, good friend. I said, “You walk into a room and you don’t expect people to ignore what you say, because you walk in with a certain authority. But when this person, or myself as a Black woman, walks into a room, oftentimes we are viewed as the help, or we couldn’t possibly be the professor because we don’t have the bodily authority of what a person or a professor is supposed to look like.” So oftentimes, I make this connection between objectivity as the idea of stripping away everything about yourself to read texts from any kind of, from a “pure view” or a “pure sense.” And that is what we identify as the norm for a lot of people. And that norm, or normative, again becomes code for a particular body that has actually been reading scripture since, you know, the beginning. Think about our German scholars, our German idealistic scholars, who are reading Bible and are reading from a white male perspective and don’t have any engagement with other bodies as they’re reading biblical texts. I can read commentaries that just quote white man after white man after white man, without even thinking about how their interpretations actually affect maybe an African woman in southern Sudan, who knows? But there’s that belief almost that you can strip yourself of any kind of identifying qualities and read objectively, and that becomes the norm. But I think that norm is code for white masculinity.

Pete  

And I guess that’s easy to do if you’re in a position of power, because you just don’t realize.

Angela  

Right.

Jared  

Well, you don’t have any resistance to it.

Pete  

And I guess, you know, not to throw terms around here. But that’s, you know, I guess white privilege, right? We don’t—we live in a world where we don’t have to think about our whiteness or in our case, or maleness, or cisgenderness, or, or all that, you know, we don’t have to think of that. So it’s, it’s bordering on heretical to say what you’re saying, or that’s how it’s perceived. You know, just if I can, just 15 seconds, if you’ll allow me just a quick story. 

Angela  

Yeah.

Pete  

When I started teaching seminary, I think I was lecturing on the Genesis story, like the Abraham story or something. And after the class period, students from Africa and Asia came up to me and they wanted to ask, they did ask me about what this story of Abraham has to do with ancestor worship. And I’m a nice guy, you know, I really am. I just said, “oh that’s interesting, blah blah blah…” you know, but inside I’m saying to myself, What are you people, crazy? The text doesn’t say anything like that. And I felt it was my duty to get them to read the text the “right way.” 

Angela  

Right, right.

Pete  

This is I was, you know, a year out of graduate school. And I didn’t think anything of it until literally years later, when it’s like—oh, that was really stupid. [Laughs] I was not, I was blinded, you know, actually. So I think it takes time for people to get to that place of seeing it. But you know, maybe books like yours can help people keep seeing it.

Jared  

Well, and I think too, there’s this sense, which I want to ask you about that—I wonder if part of the problem here too, is going back to comparisons with again, in my tradition, it’s a categorical mistake to put reading texts or interpreting texts in the same category as scientific inquiry. And so I think there’s a sense of, we need interpreting the Bible to be a science because we need to be certain about it. And there’s a sense of certainty, which again, is really just the flip side of control. And for us to feel in control and to feel safe and to feel certain, it has to be as objective as I can be. And so we’ve turned a blind eye to the reality that it just isn’t the same thing. There isn’t a way to strip ourselves from our humanity when we’re reading texts. It’s a very human endeavor. And so what we’ve done is just silenced all the other voices, instead of like in true scientific inquiry, we’re coming to the same conclusions in a large sense regardless of whether you’re Asian or African, because the process has done that for us. And then we, with biblical studies, in the history of biblical studies, it hasn’t been that Africans and Asians and Europeans have all come around the same table and “Look at that! we’ve all come to the same conclusions.” That actually hasn’t been the case. They’ve just been excluded from the table so that we can keep up the ruse that it’s certain and it’s objective.

Angela  

Yes. And it’s interesting, this conversation, because one thing that I often teach in my own classes is a fight against what I call hermeneutical arrogance. And as I’m fighting against hermeneutical arrogance, meaning that “just me myself alone can read the text and find out the one true meaning of the text or have the objective meaning of the text.” It’s interesting and I’m very much aware that I’m talking the author also of “The Sin of Certainty.” But I often tell students that I have not had the luxury of living in certainty, meaning that in my own growing up and in my own upbringing, yes, I live and walk by the faith and in the faith of Jesus the Christ. But that doesn’t mean that I’m certain about every aspect of the biblical texts, because I argue that faith is not certainty. Faith is the opposite of certainty. And so just allowing ourselves to be a little less hermeneutically arrogant is part of the process of engaging with readings of other people, readings with other people who have questions about ancestral worship, who have questions about what the text may mean for contemporary conversations on reproductive justice today, and to be able to sit with people and actually disavow ourselves of the hermeneutical arrogance of knowing the right answer to everything.

Pete  

So in your experience, can you relate to us some examples, perhaps—and again, because this can be very educational, I mean, I don’t mean that sound like pandering, but it can sound really educational. I know I’ve learned a lot from hearing people talk about this. So like, microaggressions, can you give examples of just, just riff on that a little bit for us?

Angela  

Sure. Microaggressions—like the first example that I talked about with regard to my professors telling me, you know, Black people don’t do well in Bible, so you wouldn’t be able to do Bible. That’s the first one that propelled me into biblical interpretation. But microaggressions are what people consider relatively minor insults that actually harm folks in a particularly high way. Even though it may seem minor, it does pose the world, the larger system of oppression that we live in. And so when a, an example would be, I may ask a colleague to not use an offensive term. And that colleague says, (this actually seems very macro now that I’m thinking about it, but this has happened to me)—I asked a colleague not to use the N word, the colleague thinks that they can use the N word because they are a Canadian, and “it’s not the same meaning in the Canadian context.”

Pete  

Okay, I never heard this one. That’s interesting.

Angela  

This actually happened to me. And so I actually had to go into that colleague’s office and say, “You’re not in Canada, we are here in the United States of America. And when you use the word, it’s very much offensive to me. So I’m asking you not to use the word.” But the colleagues like, “Well, I have a right of free speech. So I should be able to say whatever I want to say.” And I’m saying, “Well, actually, it’s an insult to me. So I’m asking you to please not use the word.” Now, this is, that was an extreme microaggression, actually. But it was still a microaggression, where someone does not think that what they’re saying is harmful or impactful to the person that they’re, you know, saying it in front of, but it actually is. And so there are instances where oftentimes people are microaggressed against, and folks don’t realize it. You know, a lot of times as a Black woman who happens to be a biblical scholar, I’m in rooms where I’m the only Black person in the room. Someone could say something like, “Oh, well, I’m glad you’re here. But how can we get others of you here? So help me figure out how to get other people in the room, other Black and Brown people in the room. Can I pick your brain about getting other people in the room like you?” And I’m sitting there thinking, well, first of all, I’m in the room because I need to get, I need to access something in the room just like you are. But also, now I have to go to extra work to help you figure out how to get more people in the room, where you may not have realized that you’ve actually microaggressed against other people during the process of even setting up some kind of event function panel, or whatever. And so it’s just all of these little things that amount to extra work for Black and Brown people. And again, it goes back to that idea of privilege—that a lot of our colleagues walk into a room and expect to be listened to. I don’t necessarily walk into a room and expect people to listen to me. I walk into a room and oftentimes expect I have to prove myself first before they listen to me. And so it’s really a psychological matter that comes with the way that we microaggress against one another. That it’s a difficult and nuanced conversation about how not to do that. And so I just riffed on microaggression.

Jared  

Oh, no, that’s great! That’s great. 

Pete  

That’s wonderful, yeah.

Jared  

But before we, before we wrap up here, because I think we’re coming close to the end of our time, I wanted to not get through this without going back to this idea of inspiration and authority. Because your book plays on this idea of being God-breathed. And for again, my tradition growing up, as you know, kind of white evangelical, the idea of authority and inerrancy and God-breathed were all wrapped up together. So if inerrancy is steeped in this white supremacist sort of faux objectivist way of interpreting the Bible, can we still talk about the Bible being inspired or God-breathed in some way? Like, what does it look like for you to use that term? Or do you not use that term?

Angela  

Oh, no, I do use the term of biblical authority. And I use the term of inspired, inspiration. And for me, the idea—and so the Greek term is theopneustos, and it’s this, this wonderful word that occurs only one time in 2 Timothy. And I love to translate it as God-breathed, rather than inspired. But I do, of course, hold to inspiration as well. But God-breathed allows me to play with the idea of God’s breath coming in and out of all of us, meaning, I’m talking about how God and Holy Spirit breathe into all of us as humanity who wants to espouse some kind of walk with Jesus as the Christ. And how we actually don’t hold our breaths all the time because a microaggression is coming at us. Or we’re not holding our breaths all the time because someone says we can’t, we don’t have the authority or the ability to read or interpret Bible. Or we are holding our breath because we’re waiting for the next shooting to occur. Or we’re holding our breath because we’re waiting for the next Black or Brown person to die at the knee of a police officer. But we’re working in a world where God inspires us to move and to breathe and to do something in the world that brings about flourishing relationship, and a new way of being in Jesus Christ. So I think the biblical text allows us to read it, and to gain breath from it, but I think that the arbiters of of white supremacist society think that they are the only ones who have the ability to read text, and then spread that breath into other people in the way that they see fit.

Pete  

You’re talking about giving hope, really.

Angela  

Oh, I hope so. I’m definitely a woman of hope.

Pete  

And not just like what Jared was saying before, not just, you know, the more analytical side, philosophical abstracting of the text, but where the text actually gives hope, and the model of biblical interpretation that you’re critiquing may, and I never really put this together quite like this, Jared. It’s not always, it’s not the most hopeful thing, you know? It’s interesting, isn’t it interesting to find out like, what a Pharisee actually is, right? Or, you know, how, you know, how this phrase that Paul uses over and over again, what that might actually mean or, or, you know, in my field, the nature of mythology in the Hebrew Bible and how that helps us understand. All that stuff’s great, but the question at the end of the day for people, why do they read the Bible? Is for some hope. So I guess that’s really what you’re talking about. 

Angela  

And I would say that our Bible shows us the ways that different people interact with God in order to live a hope filled life. And so I think that the continued the continued movement for people who espouse hope in Jesus, is you continue to read the Bible to reimagine new ways of having your relationship with God that is hopeful, that is flourishing, that is fulfilling for larger groups of people, not just for particular groups of people. And that’s why being a womanist is so important for me, womanist being a Black woman who reads the New Testament and takes seriously the lived experiences of Black women in these United States of America (quick definition). But because part of my own womanist commitment is for liberation for all people. So I’m not doing this just to liberate Black women, but I do this to also liberate my white male colleagues who don’t understand what bodily authority may be or have not had to think about what a privilege it is to walk into a room and automatically expect to be accepted. Not everybody lives in that privilege.

Jared  

The very goal of biblical interpretation is different from different perspectives. So we might say the kind of white male European tradition is reading the Bible to kind of “get it right” or to “be accurate about the facts” or something, some abstraction.

Pete  

Well Jared, in our seminary, I mean, this sounds like a cheap slam and I don’t mean it that way. But we were taught, “you’re here to master the Bible.” That phrase was actually used.

Jared  

Yeah, and so even—

Pete  

We thought nothing of it.

Jared  

The goal of that versus what I, you know, I really appreciate this, Angela, even the language you’re using as you keep pushing us back toward life and community, flourishing, hope. It’s very embodied, concrete, lived-experience language…

Pete  

Incarnational. 

Jared  

—as the goal of Bible reading. And so even from the outset, if our goals are different, then our methodologies from the beginning will be different.

Angela  

Yes. And it’s funny, I was actually in a conversation the other day with someone saying, well, “methodologies don’t have ideologies.” And I said, “yes, they do!” Methodologies definitely have particular ideological commitments attached to that. And I think you’ve just brought that to the forefront, Jared, thank you.

Pete  

I mean, I’ve heard, you know, my whole graduate school life—which by the way, I love graduate school. Mainly because I was twisted out of shape as a result of it. I did not leave the same way that I came. But the common thing was the methods of biblical interpretation, the modern methods, “they’re just neutral tools.” And that never really sat well with me, because I don’t really believe anything’s that neutral. But oh well, let’s just go on with it, you know? But then after a while you see that those things offer a valuable perspective, but it’s one seat among many around the table.

Angela  

Yes.

Pete  

And I’d venture to guess if we had another two hours, we could talk about how, you know, you were affected, and maybe expanding your vision and horizon from studying the Bible in a structured setting, while also being in conversation with who you are as a human being. Right? That’s a whole other episode I think, Jared.

Jared  

Mhmmm.

Angela  

Well, one thing I have to say is this: I always tell students, “Hear me well—I’m not throwing out historical criticism, it’s just one tool.” And so what does it look like to merge historical criticism with your own particular identity, and use that tool and yourself in order to excavate a little bit further from biblical text, and then to have conversations with other people about your excavation and what it could mean? That’s what I hope for as well, because I’ve, I’ve cut my teeth on historical criticism, but then had to wrestle with what my identity means in the midst of cutting my teeth on historical criticism. So I appreciated that beginning but it wasn’t the be all end all.

Jared  

Mhmm. Right. Well, I think that’s a great way to end is just that vision of this integration. Again, I just imagine actual a large table with all these voices, and I think kind of coming back around to that vision you started with at the beginning of how do we have all of us at the table in interaction with our various interpretations. And again, thinking of that as being maybe a way to talk about being God-breathed. So thank you so much for all the vision and the energy behind this embodied faith. I really appreciate it.

Pete  

Now go write another book!

Angela  

[Laughs] Don’t worry, I am!

Angela  

Don’t worry. Coming up soon! Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it.

Pete  

Okay, good! [Laughs]

Outro  

You just made it through another entire episode of The Bible for Normal People. Well done to you, and well done to everyone who supports us by rating the podcast, leaving us a review, or telling others about our show! We are especially grateful for our producers group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. So a big thanks to Lucas Gibbs, Eric Haug, Darin Hanson, Russ Moore, Phillip Gibson, Dorsey Marshall, Michele Casey, Ted Cole, Marilyn Johnson, and Denise Howard. This episode was brought to you by The Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Prescott, Savannah Locke, Stephanie Speight, Tessa Stultz, Nick Striegel, Haley Warren, Jessica Shao, and Natalie Weyand.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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