Recently an associate of mine forwarded to me an interview with 'legendary' and 'iconic' theologian Harvey Cox. I think the context in which I received this is important. This article was forwarded to my associate by his pastor as a sort of gentle intellectual rebuke, since his position on the issue of marriage does not line up with the official position of his denomination . My associate had taken the comparatively hard-nosed stance that things forbidden in scripture shouldn't be allowed or encouraged by people who claim to believe the scriptures. Crazy, huh?
It's worth mentioning that Mr Cox taught at the Harvard School of Divinity for longer than I have been alive. I'm sure he's a nice guy and if I saw him broken down the side of the road, I would probably do my best to stop and help him. However, Mr Cox is a perfect example of the mess in which modern biblical scholarship finds itself . Mr. Cox teaches the Bible, but doesn't produce Bible believers, he produces Bible critics. The critics he has trained have gone on to pastor churches or write books and lead whole denominations astray. Only at the judgement seat of Christ will the full extent of the soul-wrecking damage done by Mr. Cox and his ilk be revealed.
I say this without reservation, even though I am significantly younger than Mr. Cox and have less academic accomplishments. In this interview, Mr. Cox makes some statements with shattering implications, those statements must be examined in light of the scriptures.
The interviewer asks him ;You talk about reading the Bible as narrative. What does this mean and how is this different from the way most people read it?. Mr. Cox responds:
Most people do read the Bible as a collection of narratives – legends, stories, history, parables – but some read it as a compilation of moral exhortations and doctrines. Some enjoy its poetry. There is no single “correct” way to read the Bible. This is, in part, because it contains such a variety of literary genres. Many believe, as I do, that God speaks through the Bible, but the message comes to us through many different voices.I for one would be interested to know what parts of the Bible Mr. Cox considers 'legends' and 'stories'. I enjoy the book Huckleberry Finn. I consider it probably the greatest America novel ever written. I , however wouldn't bother spending 40 years or 4 years or 4 minutes 'teaching' people about Huck Finn because it's just a story.. The Bible says, in regards to itself, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables..." and "Thy word is true from the beginning". Having a man teaching theology who disbelieves his subject is akin to taking medical school lessons from a man who doesn't believe there is an appendix. His disbelief naturally taints the subject.
Later on in the interview, Dr. Cox is asked what advice he would give to 'lay people' who have never been trained how to read the Bible in a 'historical context'. His reply is as follows:
The mindset that the poor unwashed 'lay people' are simply too stupid to understand the Bible without scholars ( like himself) coming to the rescue is an old ,tired argument. It displaces the Bible as the authority and replaces it with lexicons and dusty tomes written by even dustier men who don't believe the thing they are studying. By contrast, the Bible says "..ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:" and that "..the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." Furthermore, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments:"If a man lives right, God will give him insight into the scriptures without any bible-rejecting scholar being involved.
Knowing something about where a given biblical text was first written, and by whom, and to whom it was originally addressed immensely deepens our appreciation of it. For many centuries this information was just not available. During the past century, textual analysis, archaeology, the comparative study of original documents, and knowledge of the secular history that surrounds and suffuses the biblical texts is now readily available in standard encyclopedias and through search engines.
After giving some trite (and scholar-exalting) homilies on feminism and the Bible, the interviewer finally gets to the question that, as they say , is on everyone's mind; is the Bible a reliable opinion source on sodomy?
The term “homosexuality” was also unknown to any of the biblical writers. In the current debate, certain verses are often cited without reference to their original social setting or to what the words used meant at the time. In the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, given the hardship of living and high infant mortality, any sexual activity that was not reproductive was viewed with suspicion. The Apostle Paul is mainly concerned with the misuse of sex by the powerful (mainly men) as an expression of domination and inequality. As for Jesus, he says nothing whatever on the subject. Here again careful historical study helps clarify what was at issue when a text was originally written and to what extent that context differs with or overlaps with our own. This kind of careful examination, even if it does not produce an unequivocal solution to current arguments, might cool some of the overheated rhetoric often deployed.As far as I can tell, Mr. Cox's position is that books like Leviticus or Deuteronomy aren't commandments given by God that are eternal in nature, but rather a collection of superstitions held by ignorant folks fearful of a shortage of babies. Presumably there was no shortage of babies in Jesus' day (despite the murder of most of his generation), so he neglected to mention it ,yet Paul felt the need to bring it up again in Romans 1 (which has nothing to do with 'powerful men') and Peter felt obligated to address it in his writings. I personally have to wonder if Mr Cox has ever even read the verses he dismisses. By 'iconic theologian' standards we, with a world population in the billions, should now be free to commit all manner of abominations. Mr Cox, why should we pay any heed to Biblical warnings against bestiality, incest or murder?
You see, that's the real business Harvey Cox is in; providing a scholarly alibi for the sins of Bible-rejecting church members. Here's how the game is played; apostate church members find that the Bible goes against their sin. Unwilling to turn from their sin, they search around until they find someone of scholarly authority willing to tell them that the Bible means this when it clearly says that. These reprobates congratulate themselves on having shed themselves of old-fashioned ideas and praise each other for how open-minded and scholarly they are in their rebellion. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" is the Holy Spirits take on it. Now unfortunately one day they will stand before God who, as it turns out, is way more old-fashioned and closed-minded than the idol they have constructed in his name. As a great man once said, "Some people's minds are so open their brains have fallen out. Their mind needs to be closed for repairs."
Mr. Cox doesn't teach the Bible, he teaches idolatry, with the idol being smart guys like himself who stand in judgment of God's word, adjusting it to the political climate of apostate churches in exchange for a paycheck. Mr. Cox is 85, and I hope for his sake that he really has trusted Jesus for the pardon of his sin. I also hope that he realizes the horrible injustice he is doing to the body of Christ and repents. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.