A few days ago I suggested that based on the history of its composition and its contents the Bible is a rebel book. This means it is more faithful to read the Bible against privilege and power than in support of them. It is more faithful to scripture to be an abolitionist than an apologist for slavery.
Toward the end of that post I pointed out that this is the case despite the fact that the Bible was written by men in a heavily patriarchal society. Moreover these men were priests, lawyers, scribes, and royal court functionaries, in other words, men of power and privilege. This should be surprising – that people of power and privilege produced a book that is profoundly subversive. Not only would we normally expect authors to write in a way that reflects their own bias, but even if someone sets out to write something against their own bias it is incredibly difficult to do so.
Consider the behavior of persons of privilege in conversations about race or sexuality or gender. Even when that person self-identifies as progressive and tries hard every day to speak and act justly there are all kinds of false starts and unintentional injuries. Privilege, being largely invisible, is incredibly hard to avoid throwing around in hurtful ways. If I set out, as a white male, to write a manifesto of some kind calling for justice for women of color… lets just say it would be a terrible idea. I couldn’t possibly do it justice.
So how did a bunch of privileged men end up writing such a subversive Bible? Inspiration.
When people refer to the Doctrine of Inspiration they too often mean that God dictated phrases in Moses’ ear which he put to parchment. This is an absurd ahistorical idea.
A much better formulation of Inspiration is that the Holy Spirit speaks through the community of believers, including particularly through the words of Scripture as they were written, and have been transmitted, and received by followers of Jesus Christ. The problem with this second formulation is that it leaves it open precisely how the Holy Spirit speaks to the community.
Whereas in the first version the voice of the Holy Spirit is the text itself, in the second version the voice of the Holy Spirit has to be discerned by the community. This requires the community to decide how they will discern the voice and to make judgments about what is and is not the voice of the Holy Spirit. I would like to suggest that the surprise we have outlined that men of privilege could write something so subversive serves as a clue to one way of doing this discernment.
Nothing would be surprising at all about priests and lawyers writing a book which builds up their power. Plenty of such books exists and no inspiration from God was necessary for them to be written. Writing a subversive book from a position of privilege is more surprising and opens up the possibility that this is an authentic revelation of the character of God: God is seriously subversive.
If God is seriously subversive then the subversive qualities of the Bible, and subversive interpretations of the Bible are more likely to be inspired than the other kind. I call this the Doctrine of Rebel Inspiration.