(The following comprises Part Nine of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture.)
Over the next three blogs, I’ll give you three instances I’ve run across recently where our secondary illuminations of Scripture have gone awry.
Sometimes secondary illuminations gone awry are not even acknowledged to be secondary but are treated as or believed to be the primary, literal read of a passage. Such is the case when passages like Proverbs 5:8-10 and 31:3-4 which refer to losing one’s strength or riches as a result of adultery and similar lifestyle choices are not acknowledged to refer to the eventual ramifications and vulnerability inherent in prodigal living. Instead they are thought to refer to abdicating a particular male role and deferring it to women.
In the teaching of some people, a husband or father is literally defined by his giving direction and guidance to a family in contrast to a mother’s reception and nurture, and these verses are interpreted to mean that he has given his strength to women in the sense of vacating his guiding role so that a woman must guide. This interpretation is in contrast both to the immediate carnal contexts (and thus the necessary primary interpretation) and the context of the book of Proverbs overall wherein a mother’s teaching and guidance is exalted alongside a father’s (e.g., 1:8; 6:20; 31:1) and Wisdom personified as a woman.
To further confute the error, one of the texts in question (Proverbs 31) is the oracle of a mother and goes on to praise the woman with chayil (strength, wealth, and power with militaristic connotations).
Both the gender bias driving the interpretation and the isolated interpretive mistake are negated by the text, yet this secondary misreading came, somewhere along the line, to be viewed as a primary literal reading by some teachers.
Although this may not be as serious a misinterpretation for our faith as some, it represents a very serious and real danger in method. We can take a Scripture’s primary intent and say, “Oh, this must be about ___ [here men and women in general] in some sense as well.” Then whether or not this secondary supposition is a correct one, we can remove the “as well” and just make the scripture about this supposed secondary illumination. Especially where the secondary illumination contradicts the primary interpretation or the overall gist of the book or the gospel, this poses one of the greatest potential dangers to our theology on any matter, tainting it with “the spirit of the age.”