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I understand that my question pokes at a sensitive area, but being a nonreligious person in a largely Christian region, I find it extremely dissatisfying to leave such a core aspect of my neighbor's lifestyles to mystery.

My question is this: With the abundance of Biblical passages, in both the Old and New Testament, how do Christians rationalize the specific stress and emphasis on only certain sections of the Bible?

The Bible contains loads of information, some of it pleasant, some of it frightening, some of it seeming to be downright silly. For instance, people often quote Leviticus on denouncing homosexuality, and yet Leviticus also writes against eating shellfish and wearing cotton/polyester blend clothing. I'm also fairly certain the Judeo-Christian stance on women and slavery has changed over the past few millennia. Beyond that, the Bible has been translated by hand between multiple languages, and been reviewed, revised, cut, and supplemented by several religious authorities. If the entire Bible is the infallible word of God, how can his followers assert their own judgement over his by themselves choosing which parts of the Bible are true or applicable? The aforementioned followers being of course, the Pope, translators (Monks, probably), Priests, but mostly everyday, normal Christians.

Thanks.

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I have seen theologians refer to some sections as major or prominent and some as minor when arguing about the relevance of something. I never understood what that was based on. Try searching for a topic that is being argued about in Christianity (like homosexuality) and maybe you will find some examples of this. –  Jenny Thomson Sep 1 '11 at 22:26
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I love this question! Thanks. One little nitpick: To say that Leviticus condemns a polyester / cotton blend of clothing is obviously anachronistic. –  user116 Sep 2 '11 at 0:36
    
Great question! I'm in the UK, where Christianity is essentially "be basically decent to each-other", and it pretty tolerant of (to pick the obvious examples) homosexuality, atheism (myself included), etc. I've always known there were stronger rifts internationally, but actually christianity.SE has really helped show me how deep this rift still is in some places; and equally, how this is not endemic (i.e. there are plenty of less right-wing Christians) –  Marc Gravell Sep 3 '11 at 21:05
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@Ollie Actually, Leviticus 19:19 bans any cloth made from two different types of thread. While it does not specify poly/cotton per say, a poly/cotton blend is still proscribed by it. –  J.T. Hurley Sep 4 '11 at 4:22

4 Answers 4

There are OT (old testament) laws that were ceremonial/ritual in nature. These were fulfilled in Christ. There are many proof texts for this. As to the moral laws, these are still binding. In fact, Christ amplified these, as in Matthew 5:

Mat 5:27, 28 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

If you are not sure whether or not some rule in the OT is ceremonial vs moral, see the NT (new testament). Such as with homosexuality, which is confirmed as sin in the NT (see 1 Corintians 6: 9-11 and Romans 1)

Any misunderstanding on this usually owes to a superficial study of the Scriptures.

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That does clear up a small area of the matter in debate, but the bulk still remains. If (emphasis on if) you are to say that all the moral laws of Biblical text are binding, then I would ask you: A. If all the scripture is as binding as the word of the Lord, how and for what purpose are religious officials allowed to edit its content? B. Wouldn't most Christians consider it a sin then (a rather blatant and outright sin at that), that so much of this divinely binding is entirely ignored by modern followers, even religious officials? –  Marshellows Sep 1 '11 at 22:50
    
Absolutely. Nobody is supposed to do any editing, else they face the curse: Rev 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: Rev 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. –  The Preacher Sep 1 '11 at 22:58
    
Cont... Yet, it does happen, but this was predicted: 2Pe 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2Pe 2:2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. –  The Preacher Sep 1 '11 at 22:59
    
As to B, Jesus predicted most would stray: Mat 7:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Mat 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Mat 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Mat 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. –  The Preacher Sep 1 '11 at 23:02
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@The Preacher: The referenced Rev verse only applies to that book; Revelation (and indeed, all of the books in what we now consider "The Bible") were written well before the assembly of these books occurred. It was only after said assembly did people start interpreting that passage to mean the entire Bible. –  RCIX Sep 1 '11 at 23:22

I'd like to break down your questions into parts

My question is this: With the abundance of Biblical passages, in both the Old and New Testament, how do Christians rationalize the specific stress and emphasis on only certain sections of the Bible?

It is understood that the laws laid out in the old testament were part of the 'old covenant' or the old promise and that God through Jesus has made a 'new covenant' with mankind.

Peter, in the book of Acts, see a vision of many of the foods that it is forbidden for a Jewish person to eat, and hears God telling him to eat it. Afterwards he is invited into the home of a Roman general, which pious Jewish person would never enter. Peter understand that this is God lifting many of the restrictions on Jewish law. This is later formalized in Acts.

For instance, people often quote Leviticus on denouncing homosexuality, and yet Leviticus also writes against eating shellfish and wearing cotton/polyester blend clothing

This is one of the sins that Paul mentioned explicitly in the new testament in a couple of places (see The Preacher's answer). I am not sure why people quote the O.T. as much as the N.T.

Judeo-Christian stance on women and slavery has changed over the past few millennial.

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This is a RADICAL shift in thinking about the nature of people's place in society, in particular the treatment of women and slaves. I believe that it has taken us this long to even get our heads around this concept and accept is as a larger concept (in the west). We still have a long way to go, if we really get this notion ingrained in us the world would be unimaginably better, closer to what God intended for us.

Beyond that, the Bible has been translated by hand between multiple languages, and been reviewed, revised, cut, and supplemented by several religious authorities. If the entire Bible is the infallible word of God, how can his followers assert their own judgement over his by themselves choosing which parts of the Bible are true or applicable?

It should be noted that their are many Christians who do not believe that the Bible is infallible. The infallibility doctrine is a very prominent belief among evangelicals in the United States, but please do not think this is necessarily the same among ALL Christians, especially those that would consider themselves 'Liberal'.

I think it is dangerous to rest your entire faith on something like the infallibility doctrine. Because many, when they go to college or investigate themselves learn things like, for instance the story of the adulterous woman in John, is probably a later addition to the text, and this shakes their faith.

how can his followers assert their own judgement over his by themselves choosing which parts of the Bible are true or applicable?

Jesus said in Matthew 7:7

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

If you read the text as it was intended you will find a consistent message of a loving God, who is asking us to seek after him in righteousness. I believe that if you earnestly seek after him, as Jesus said you will find what you are looking for.

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One thing to remember is that a large part of any religion is cultural. And some of that is a response to outside culture. For example, no one reasonably could read the Bible and say that "God hates gay people" is the fundamental message of the text. Plenty of people have found that message in the text (and many others haven't), but no one could call it the most important message there.

And yet social surveys have shown that the most defining characteristic of American Evangelical Christianity is an "excessive contempt" of homosexuality. We could speculate as to why, but that's somewhat off topic for this question. It does show, though, that the culture of the time plays a large factor in which portions of the Bible are prioritised (see linked article (by an Evangelical Christian) for more details).

For another example, the Bible strongly supported the institution slavery until the abolitionists got going, and nowadays the Bible is strongly against slavery. And yet the Bible text hasn't changed. People read it differently according to their cultural background and the other assumptions they bring to the text.

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Catholic teaching holds that private interpretation is not a good thing.

As a Catholic, I have no idea what this means. Which is unfortunate, because I teach Religious Ed to kids who want to know what the bible is talking about. So, I tell them what I think it's talking about based on what the Church tells me it's talking about and pray that I'm not leading them into error.

The problem you're seeing is largely what Catholics have been fighting against since the reformation. That is, people taking the bible out of context and using it for their own ends; Not seeing it as a whole. Not interpreting it based on the assumption that everything in it points to Christ and not their own ideology.

The bible does condone Slavery, but Christianity, is better than slavery so once Christendom really took hold, the ancient slavery was a thing of the past. It came up again when corporatists (merchants, etc..) took hold in the 15th century. For instance, no one ever uses Philemon to justify slavery, even though St. Paul is clearly telling the person he's writing to to accept his slave back into his house, as a slave, not a freedman. People use Old Testament laws mentioning slavery to justify slavery.

The problem is too many people looking to further their own agenda through religion and not enough folks actively seeking the kingdom and the will of God. However, I don't think a majority of Christians are those people seeking to further their own agenda, but you never can tell for sure when you're following one until they make it blisteringly obvious.

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