Grandma stated, “I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read and if freedom every came, I would not read that part of the Bible.” There’s a larger issue for grandma than the infallibility of the Bible. While the issue of infallibility might be one of the largest issues for us evangelicals who have labored to build up buttresses against supposed attacks from liberalism, we must remember that infallibility was our fight and not grandma’s fight.
Her struggle was against the white oppressors that tore families apart by selling black husbands and fathers to new slavemaster. Her struggle was against the stronghold that she was worth less than her white slave master. Her struggle was seeing her people beaten, mistreated and abused by men who claimed to be followers of Jesus.
And against those struggles, she made a promise to God that she would not use the verses that perpetuated the oppression and immorality of the slave trade. Just as she made such a promise to God to stand for truth, so evangelicals – in the face of liberalism – made a promise to God to stand for truth. And just as many evangelicals have seen their support for infallibility as a token of their faithfulness, so Grandma, in not reading Pauline epistles saw her actions as a token to her faithfulness to God.
James Cone (to listen to his perspective, click here) makes a relevant statement. He writes that the Black community
“have not been preoccupied with definitions of inspiration and infallibility … it is as if blacks have intuitively drawn the all-important distinction between infallibility and reliability … how it is the true and basic source for discovering the truth of Jesus Christ. For this reason there has been no crisis of biblical authority in the black community” (102).
Cone’s distinction is helpful for those who find themselves wanting to talk back to grandma, as it helps us remember that she wasn’t reading the Bible to find all of its infallible truths so that she could arrange them in a systematic array of scholastical beauty; no, she was reading the Bible so that she could be lead closer to the One the Bible speaks of: Jesus.
What are your thoughts? Why do you read the Bible?
During much of my boyhood I (Howard Thurman) was cared for by my grandmother, who was born a slave and lived until the Civil War on a plantation near Madison, Florida. My regular chore was to do all of the reading for my grandmother — she could neither read nor write. Two or three times a week I would read the Bible aloud to her. I was deeply impressed by the fact that she was most particular about the choice of Scripture. For instance, I might read many of the more devotional Psalms, some of Isaiah, the Gospels again and again. But the Pauline epistles, never — except, at long intervals, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. My curiosity knew no bounds, but we did not question her about anything.
When I was older and was half through college, I chanced to be spending a few days at home near the end of summer vacation. With a feeling of great temerity I asked her one day why it was that she would not let me read any of the Pauline letters. What she told me I shall never forget. ”During the days of slavery,” she said, “the master’s minister would occasionally hold services for the slaves. Old man McGhee was so mean that he would not let a Negro minister preach to his slaves. Always the white minister used as his text something from Paul. At least three or four times a year he used as a text: ‘Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters …, as unto Christ.’ Then he would bless us. I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read and if freedom ever came, I would not read that part of the Bible.’”
How would you respond to Grandma?