Episode 13: Tony Minear Talks About Reading the Bible in Context

by | Aug 9, 2020

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In This Episode

Tony Minear joins the podcast to talk about how reading the Bible in context helps us see how our understanding of God has evolved over time.




Reading the Bible in Context

Robert Payne: [00:00:00] All right. Welcome to the social thread podcast. Social Thread is a nonprofit where you can be in community. Where you can belong, you can thrive and you can explore your faith on your own terms. And I am Robert Payne. I am the community development director here at social threat. And with me always is

Rob Rynders: [00:00:30] Rob Rynders, founder of Social Thread.

Robert Payne: [00:00:33] Awesome. We have a special guest with us today, special guest, will you introduce yourself. Who you are and what you do?

Tony Minear: [00:00:41] My name is Tony Minear and I am the pastor at church of the beatitudes here in Phoenix, Arizona.

Robert Payne: [00:00:49] Awesome. And we are so excited that you are here with us, our very first guest in the podcast.

Rob Rynders: [00:00:56] Number one.

Tony Minear: [00:00:57] I'm lucky.

Rob Rynders: [00:00:58] Yeah.

Robert Payne: [00:00:59] Yeah, and I'm real excited. Tony really means a lot to me, and has been a large part of my faith journey over this last several years. It's only fitting to have him here. Rob, why don't you kind of kick us off about, why we brought Tony on, and what is our very first question.

Rob Rynders: [00:01:15] We just finished this introductory podcast series, Tony, for this Explore Your Faith Podcast where we went through, oh I can't count, I want to say it was 12 guideposts based around three - we're gonna use a lot of imagery here. ..three, what we call three pillars of love god love, neighbor, love yourself.

And, one of those guideposts under the love God pillar, we call explore sacred texts. So what we basically are doing is sort of laying a roadmap that, it's still a choose your own adventure in our heads, but what does it mean to explore faith and explore it on my own terms?

One of the things people have used in practicing their faith forever, whether, I guess they weren't always texts, but maybe sometimes there were oral traditions or, or oral stories, but, most of the major world religions and practices of spirituality have some sort of book or text or scriptures that they follow.

For Christians, that's the Bible made up of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. We've been doing these, explore your faith meetups for last five, six weeks now. And, you know, the Bible keeps coming up, for people who. most of them are maybe, they're Christians kind of on the edge Christians or what we might call recovering Christians.

They've had some rough experiences with religion in the past and still want to explore their faith, but are struggling with, well, how does this Bible thing apply? It seems so outdated. It seems a little archaic, especially, the Hebrew Bible or what we call the old Testament. Does it even apply anymore?

I'm down with Jesus and Jesus' teachings, but, what's the Bible all about and is it even worth it in the 21st century?

Tony Minear: [00:03:05] I think for me, I grew up in a very, very, fundamental Christian denomination. And the biggest thing that changed me was I started reading the Bible and, I should've stopped because the more I read it, the more I realized it was messing me up. I'm talking about just literally reading it, not reading books about it, but actually reading it.

The more I read it, the more I began to realize that a lot of the things that I've been told, a lot of things that I've been taught didn't necessarily fly with what I was seeing. And to this day, I have continued to be surprised. Every time I opened the Bible, literally every time I open it and read it, I'm seeing something that I I've never seen before.

I went and pursued a doctorate. I have a PhD in biblical studies with an emphasis in old Testament. So I love the Old Testament and I think to me, the, the issues that you guys are talking about really boils down to, I think how you look at the Bible and how you perceive the Bible will have a dramatic effect upon your view of God and then in turn your view of humanity. I think those three, you know, those really inform each other all the time. For me, once my view of the Bible began to shift, then my view of God began to shift, and I actually ended up with a picture of God that I never envisioned. Therefore that dichotomy between the old Testament and the New Testament went away. Instead of seeing it as contrast, I saw one of evolving.

Rob Rynders: [00:04:38] Can you say more about that picture that developed? I know when I talk to folks who want to skip over the imagery of any violence, or judgment, or if you've just read it on the surface, God does look like a very, vengeful, violent god that's punishing people, enslaving them, wiping them out through battles and genocide and, you know, all that not fun to talk about stuff. So how do you look at that imagery and come up with the picture of God you do?

Tony Minear: [00:05:09] Well, I think for me, it goes back to two things. Number one, is the Bible a revealed word of God in the sense that God does a direct revelation to humanity? If you see it that way, then you're probably going to see God as being something that is very static, and very set. However, if you see revelation as more of a process that takes over time, then I think you have the idea that God is evolving just as human beings are evolving.

Maybe God, God's self is not evolving, but our understanding of God is evolving. And so I think those two come into play. The other one is how you begin to read it. Literally the first two chapters of the Bible, you know, Genesis one and two, if you take it literal, then you're going to believe in a creation and you're going to believe in a very young earth. Versus if you believe in evolution, then you're going to read Genesis one and two a little bit differently. That then affects how human beings evolved into religious people and how over time their idea of a God evolved. And so it really is, is a static, an image of God, or is it an evolving picture of God?

For me, I tend to go with the evolving, which then explains some of these images that we find in the Old Testament. And it really makes sense why they believe the way they did because it worked for them at that point.

Rob Rynders: [00:06:40] Yeah. Talk a little bit more about like the context of maybe like Genesis was written in, because that really does frame the rest of the story. To me, once you kind of understand that context, it's like, oh, to us, that looks archaic. But to people back then, that was pretty radical, I think.

Tony Minear: [00:06:59] I think there's a difference between when Genesis, looking at it from the time when the author actually wrote, versus the setting in which the author is telling the story.

So if I go back into the setting that the writer's telling the story, you basically have a picture very early on of a nomadic, instead of being hunters gatherers, human beings are now becoming more agrarian. They are raising livestock and we find this, especially where the main character of Genesis comes in is going to be Abraham and everything up to him as kind of a prequel.

And then once Abraham comes on the scene, then we really get into Israel and the movement starts, but Abraham is seen as this nomadic individual who's traveling all over. And one of the things I recently discovered was that even in the land of Palestine at that time, different ideas of God, were being developed depending upon where you lived.

So if you lived more along the coast, then you saw God in the sense of, the God of the sea. If you lived more up in the rainy area, more up in the mountains, then you would tend to see a God of thunder, a God of, of rain. If you live in the arid areas, then you would have a different idea of God.

Which I find fascinating because Abraham is really, he's traveling all over the place and he's always like he's taking not only his picture of God from Mesopotamia, but he's now taking all these other ideas of God and he's molding them and shaping them all together and over hundreds of years, they slowly develop an idea of God and they move from a polytheistic, idea of many, many gods, to one of the things that Israel was unique for, was a monotheistic God. So again, it's, for me, this is evolving picture of God as they were having these different experiences and trying to make sense. I mean, today we'd look out, we're supposed to get monsoons right by the end of the week. Well, how do we know that?

Well, science, right? How do you, if you need a bunch of rain and you need your crops to have rain, you have no idea where it comes from. Well, you turn to the gods because the gods at least are in control of nature. And if you can make the gods happy or appease the gods through sacrifices and obedience, then voila, you might get your rain.

Robert Payne: [00:09:22] If someone said to you, you know, the God that I see in the old Testament, is not the same God, that seems like it's in the new Testament.

if you really read the gospels, you know, Jesus does pronounce curses upon certain, you know, certain cities and, you know, and so there are, like notions of this, like wrathful a vengeance

Tony Minear: [00:09:45] Revelation, read Revelation. That'll scare you.

Robert Payne: [00:09:48] What would you say though, to somebody who said, well, I just don't see the two connected.

Tony Minear: [00:09:55] Well, again, I think it goes back to, if you see a static God versus an evolving God. If you have an evolving God, then to me, one of the greatest stories is the, the story that takes place in the battle between Moses and Pharaoh, which is really a battle between the gods also, because early on it talks about that Moses , you know, he basically, when he gets his call, he says, ah, I'm not very good at talking, so can you bring someone in to help? And then you get Aaron, which ends up being the line of the priest. And so he comes in and he says, okay, I'll be your spokesman.

And it's interesting. The writer says that Moses will be as God to Aaron. And we know that the pharaohs we're seen as a representative of God. So this was not only a battle between Moses and Pharaoh, but they were representatives of God and who needs a loving, forgiving, God in that story. I mean, you would have wussy God. Who wants a wussy God, when you're talking about getting freedom and, and coming out of being enslaved. So I think their imagery of God. And if, you know, when you read about in Joshua and Judges where again, what would happen if you know, you're going to, you need to take over the land. So you'll go in and say, "Hey, do you mind if we live here with you guys and just kind of hang out together?" and they would say, no, but instead if you believe that your God commanded you to do that.

Then man, what fervor you have to go in and fight, you know, in the name of your God and which again is called Holy Wars, you would go in and you would do, which wasn't unique to Israel. So Israel was a product of their culture. I mean, other nations believe their God was telling them to go to battle.

So it wasn't just Israel that was doing this. So very early on, you do get this picture of a very ferocious God. Again, to me, it makes sense. But later on once they're settled, once they have a monarchy, then all of a sudden their view of God begins to change. And instead of seeing God is this God of nature and this God of unpredictability what's fascinating to me is God actually begins to no longer be entied to nature.

God begins to be tied to humanity. And then they began to talk about God as a human being and God begins to have the traits like they have. So they begin to understand about forgiveness. They begin to expand about how it is that people really get along, along with each other. And if you keep beating each other up, you're probably not going to be productive, but if you can get along, if you can forgive.

If you see again, if you see God is static, I think you're going to have problems with the new Testament and Old Testament. But if you see God is evolving, which by the time you move into the gospels is right there. I mean, Jesus said, "you've heard it say, but I say unto you," so you get this, again, Jesus as a great Jewish teacher. He takes what was said, and he gives new application for the time and context in which you're alive.

Rob Rynders: [00:12:59] I love how Jesus, he's never throwing out the Old Testament. He's I think cutting through the noise of, because that's thousands of years of people trying to understand why they're suffering.

Tony Minear: [00:13:13] I think, and I think that's why I called Jesus a good Jewish rabbi because yeah. I mean, look at Isaiah. More than likely Isaiah was written in three different sections with editors involved somehow in all that process. And what's amazing is, is just one, take one old Testament book, Isaiah and the writer writes down and then the next one comes along and disagrees with the first writer.

But like you just said, he doesn't throw it out. He keeps it and he quotes it again. But then he gives it new meaning. And I think in today's day and age, we have this tendency that if we disagree with someone, we will want to, you know, throw that all out rather than saying, look, this is the way it used to be.

This is the way we see it now. So yeah, I think you're dead on. As far as, Jesus, he was in a tradition that the old Testament had and then Jesus continues it.

Rob Rynders: [00:14:09] I was having a conversation with someone the other day on this topic and I explained a lot of what we're talking about here to them.

Like, this is why I don't think we can throw it out. And he said, yeah, but that is so hard for people understand, like, you have to explain the context to them. You have to. Jesus's words seems so plain that we can just take those literally: love your neighbor as yourself, love God with all your heart and your soul and your mind.

Can't we just take that? And we can get rid of the old Testament because it takes too much effort to understand. Now, I don't want to be judgmental towards my friend, who said that, but, I don't know. Should we, should we just throw things out because they're hard?

Tony Minear: [00:14:54] Oh, no, I, I think, well, If you want to disagree with something and because you disagree with it, you throw it out then yeah, throw it out. But if you can learn to disagree with it and keep it and respect it and value it, then it's like, yeah, keep it. And I think the biggest one would be the picture that you have in the old Testament very early on. Is this, this idea, if you remember before the flood that you, you have this dome that covers the earth and the, the windows of heaven are broken open, and that's where the rain comes from.

And then they believe that the core of the earth was water. And so the water comes gushing up. That's an image that we don't have of the Old Testament, I mean, of our world anymore., our cosmology. So does that mean we throw out Genesis? No, it's just that was their worldview. And if we can respect that, then that tells us a lot about how they saw God and how they saw each other.

So again, I think if you have this idea that if it's wrong, or if you don't agree with it, then you throw it out, then yeah. Throw it out. But if you can value the differences and learn from the differences then to me, that makes it even that much more exciting to read the Bible.

Rob Rynders: [00:16:16] How do we use the Bible in our daily lives? You say you read it often and it wows you every time you open it. What are some practical, applications in this day and age?

Tony Minear: [00:16:26] Well, I think one of them that I find is, especially growing up in a more fundamental denomination, it was more of this spiritual, kind of this emotional feeling I was trying to get from it.

And I think that was safe because once I brought my mind into it, then all of a sudden I began to realize that, oops, I shouldn't be really thinking too hard about what I'm reading, because I think once you really begin to think about it, then it, you bring your mind in, and then your spirit almost has to realign with that.

And so is there is always this shifting. I used to be a professor and I would tell my students, so I taught introduction to the old Testament. I would tell them if you're happy with what you believe. Don't read the Bible, but if you're going to read it, don't read it very often. I mean, just, I read it very superficially.

Don't really read it because it'll mess you up. And I think that's what for me, so I try to read it every day and every time I read it, I'm coming and I'm engaging both my mind and my spirit. So I'm trying to not just say, okay, what emotional thing can I, what little nugget can I get to apply today?

But all of a sudden, I tend to use my mind. And then all of a sudden I'll get these wild moments. Like for example, I was reading, Genesis 12 this morning and talking about how, Abraham and went down to Egypt during the drought and basically says to his wife, "Hey, say, you're my sister" which she probably may have been his half sister say, you're my sister, so that Pharaoh won't kill me and he'll take you. Well, if you read it carefully, basically, she became Pharaoh's wife and we don't know how long he said he lived in the land. So I used to think it was like a day or two and then Pharaoh got wise and it's not. So then all of a sudden you begin to think about this element of trust.

And what is really important in life? Is it, so those were the, kind of the questions that begin to ponder in my mind. But I got those questions because I was really looking at what the text was trying to say.

Rob Rynders: [00:18:29] What's popping out from the Bible for you during, you know, this time we're going through, the COVID-19 pandemic and also, the, the racial injustice continuing to happen in our country and the response to it, the fight for justice?

Tony Minear: [00:18:47] I think. I read occasionally about some pastors, some theologians, they try to find those parallels. Like for example, when the immigration thing was really going big, back in 2016, 17, you know, people are talking about Israel coming out of the land of Egypt and they were prisoners.

I think if you want to find those direct connections, if that works for you, then great. I think what I tried to look for is the overall tone and tenor of the text. And I think as I read it, the Old Testament and then into the New Testament, to me, there's some underlying things. There are some of them, for example, is this sense of, of trust.

Basically when you come to a point in your life where you don't know what the answers are, you just kind of have to sit still and go, okay, I got to have to trust. And I think this is a perfect example of, you know, Israel coming out of Egypt. They come to the sea again, I don't take this story literally, but I think it's a great analogy of they come to the sea, this foreboding barrier in their lives.

What see with the racial injustice, COVID, you know, it's a huge barrier in your life. And the text basically says, "tell the people to stand still and be quiet and you kind of wait for what's going to happen next." And I think that's, sometimes we want to see God, like, you know, if we pray to God, God, somehow we're going to intervene and we might be able to see that.

I think there are some times when maybe we just need to stand still be quiet and just wait for the mystery and see what happens and just trust that something's going to happen. And when it happens, we'll have to take the first step and then the next step, and then we'll get our way through it.

Rob Rynders: [00:20:33] Yeah, I love that because especially in today's day and age, it feels like we always have to fill that space with, with our own, our own thoughts, our own opinions and, and especially when we've been drowning out a lot of voices that don't get heard. I love that idea of, hey, maybe, and especially for, for some folks, it's, it's time to zip it and listen to that... where's that still small voice of God, right.

Tony Minear: [00:21:01] Or even listen to the silence. I mean, I don't know about you, but a lot of times what I hear people saying is God said this, God said that it's like, well, why was it that really God? Or did you just not eat something that didn't agree with you last night. I don't know. So sometimes I do think it's better to step back and go , it's easier to look back and come to conclusions than it is to look forward. And so to me, I really relish the mystery of God. And there's a fabulous book. It's written by a man named Jack Miles. It's called God a Biography. And, I saw Rob, you nodding your head. the thing that's amazing is God starts out according to Jack Miles as this young rookie God, and he's, he's overly engaged with creation and humanity. And by the end of the book, you have this wise mature God and he's quiet. He doesn't say anymore. He just doesn't do anything he's learned his... and I think that's, again, this is an idea, but that maybe as we evolve in our spiritual lives, It's not maybe so much God, that is changing as it is our perception of God and what we make, to be. So yeah, it's fascinating. I would agree with you.

Rob Rynders: [00:22:20] Yeah, Robert, last, last question. If you got it.

Robert Payne: [00:22:25] Yeah, sure. I really loved how you started to talk about, the idea of context. And I think for me, maybe just a quick, quick contextual, like where, when we start talking about Genesis and we start talking about the Hebrew Bible, it, where did, where we're just, just quickly, where did that all start to formulate?

So, you know, when that started to become written down and collected and, and started to kind of be followed and put together.

Tony Minear: [00:22:55] Yeah, I wish I could just tell you a simple answer on that one, but there's so many different theories out there and, and hypothesis, and to be honest, scholars are continuing to guess.

I mean, you have a very conservative view that Moses wrote the first five books, and then apparently they hauled them around wherever they went and they were able to preserve them. And that's one view. And the other one is, a very liberal view would be that none of it was written down until the time of the exile or after exile.

So literally you have these different ideas out there. I think that to me, what I would encourage people to do is two things. Number one, realize that the Bible, you can read it as a book, literally, just like you would any other book, start at the beginning, go to the end. And I think that is a way of reading that you're going to get a story that is different and you don't need any historical information. You just read it. The other one is you begin to see the the Bible as more of a library. Each one of these individually in each one has their context, and when it was written, what it was addressing, those situations. I think there's so many different ways to read the Bible well, and that's why, again, I find it so fascinating.

Because every time I come back to it, I'm at a different place and I'm seeing it from a different place. So yeah, I wish I could give you, Robert, an easy answer on that one, but again, it would depend on upon what position on that spectrum, where you want to land and how you see it.

Rob Rynders: [00:24:30] Yeah. I love that. I think my takeaway from this whole interview was it was read it as a library. You can read the, read the Bible as a library. Yeah, that's great.

Tony Minear: [00:24:41] I think one of the things with liberal or progressive type Christians or the marginalized Christian is I think we've almost like we we've given the Bible up.

And we've let conservatives, evangelicals kind of, they own the Bible more. And I think we've, we're missing out on something that's beautiful. And I would encourage everyone to read, it doesn't mean you have to understand it cause there's other books, I read, I don't understand, but I would read it, read it, read it. And it just, it, it slowly begins to give you insights and it's just an awesome experience that I have found.

Robert Payne: [00:25:26] Well, that's awesome, Tony, thank you so much for taking your time with us today. I cannot tell you how enjoyable this time has been.

Tony Minear: [00:25:36] Well, thank you. I, I mean, this is what I love to talk about. it's just my passion. I find it so fascinating.

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