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Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Madeleine Playing in the Sandpit

There is a great exchange on KiwiBlog in the comments section here where Madeleine takes to task some of the other commenters on biblical interpretation. Her ability to render the arguments to stupidity with ease and a nice dose of dry humour thrown in is very amusing and worth a look. She has a gift.

I particularly liked her "Bill killed Jane" analogy and intend to use it in a talk or article sometime though she says I have to footnote her. Madeleine writes:
Just as, if you picked up a murder mystery, randomly flicked it open and read the line “Bob killed Jane” it would be wrong to conclude bob did in fact kill Jane without reading the whole book and seeing the context the statement occurred in. The statement could have been made in the context of a question: “did Bob kill Jane?” It could have been “I had a nightmare last night that bob killed Jane”, it could have been gossip “I head Mary say that Bob killed Jane.” Of course, it could have in fact been the case that Bob killed Jane or it could be a false conclusion the author wants you to think because in fact Peter killed Jane as revealed in chapter 10 - you don’t know and you shouldn’t assume without looking at the context. You cannot just say “what’s your problem, 'Bob killed Jane' is plane English."

The context that words in a text occur in is not a fall-back position, it is a legitimate point and a key component of interpreting any language including an English translation of an Aramaic sermon written using Semitic idioms thousands of years ago.
This one was also good:

..your ability to exegete scripture is about as strong as my ability as a non-surgeon to tell you how to conduct a coronary bypass (without googling).

I could give you a rough idea based on my lay-person’s knowledge of anatomy and of course the number of episodes of Gray’s Anatomy, ER and other medical dramas I watch on TV but I would look like a complete dickhead if I asserted my theory to a cardiothoracic surgeon.

You have no idea how many times I have felt this way, it is an occupational hazard of being a theologian though I am sure many professionals have similar frustrations when lay people tell them what's what in their specialty.


  1. You might as well be shooting fish in a barrel.

    Nicely showcased.

  2. yes, a very good contribution

    although I wonder if "arguing apologetics in public is as fruitful as explaining the emotional depth of parental love to the childless, they don't get it" (as per tweet)

  3. Put in my own 2c worth.

    Perls to swine unfortunately. I share your frustration - you simply can't explain anything like the information needed to put passages in context in a comment.


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