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Ed L. Miller on the Freedom of the Text

"St. Paul on Homosexuality: Applying the 'Freedom of the Text Principle'", Draft copy, by Ed L. Miller (1996).

Certainly for anyone who thinks that Biblical teaching is at least in some ways normative, or that the Bible is in some sense authoritative, or who merely claims to take the Bible seriously, it should be a fundamental principle that the Bible must be allowed to say exactly what it wants to say irrespective of the consequences. We may then freely reject what it says as being foolish, inconvenient, embarrassing, or offensive. But no good is served by acting dishonestly with Biblical texts, that is, turning or twisting or otherwise manipulating and forcing them in the direction of what we want them to say. To be sure, we do not often do this in a deliberate or even conscious way, though this renders the problem even more insidious than it might otherwise be.

The principle of allowing the text to have its say — let’s call it the “Freedom of the Text Principle” — isn’t easy to apply. No one approaches these documents without an already existing framework of dispositions, sensibilities, slants, presuppositions, and, yes, prejudices. This much be frankly acknowledged. It must also be acknowledged that this predisposing framework itself (to some degree accidentally determined by upbringing, experiences, etc.) stands in need of constant judgment and correction. The problem is compounded, of course, if the bible itself is regarded as a basis for the judgment and correction of our perspectives. How much more, in that case, is it crucial to strive for honesty with the Bible — granting it the freedom to say what it wants to say.