The Bible and the environment
From Gordon Wenham, British Old Testament scholar: The Bible and the Environment.
(I’ve read one book by Wenham — Christ and the Bible — which unfortunately is out of print. His approach to Biblical authority is the most Christ-centered that I have read. It is worth a re-read sometime soon.)
Here are some quotes:
It was over 30 years ago that I visited Israel for the first time, and I remember how it transformed my reading of the Bible. Up to then I had never paid much attention to the place names in the text: I just focused on the characters and their actions. But after visiting many of the sites mentioned in the text my reading of the stories changed: I picture them taking place in the specific places mentioned in the Bible.
Something similar happened to me some fifteen months ago, when I was asked to read a paper to a conference of environmentalists on The Old Testament and the Environment. Though I was quite familiar with many of the texts in the Bible relating to environmental issues, I had not asked myself how the biblical writers regarded the environment. But once ask the question and you will soon realise it has a lot to say on this topic. Mind you I could find little help from modern biblical scholarship. They tend to share the blind spots of modern city dwellers and not address these issues either.
Ancient literature…simply takes for granted that human life is embedded in the rest of nature and inextricable from it. But modern biblical interpretation has persistently ignored what the texts assume and say about the human relationship to nature. [quote from Richard Bauckham]
Modern urban readers of the Bible assume references to nature are just picturesque illustrations of human life.
I shall be content, if I can persuade you that if you take the Bible seriously you ought also be concerned for the environment.
I want to sketch the life-style of the typical Israelite farmer in Old or New Testament times. As I have already mentioned it is remarkable how little books on Old Testament theology and ethics say hardly say about environmental issues. Yet it has been observed that animals are mentioned on nearly every one of the thousand pages of the Old Testament. This is not surprising, for OT man was intimately involved in the environment throughout life. The weather determined whether his crops would flourish or fail. He drew his water from the local well. He depended on animals to plough his fields, transport his goods, for clothing, for food and for sacrifice. Often some of them lived in the courtyard of his house. Yet though much closer to nature than us, nature was also perceived as potentially more hostile. He could be killed by lions or bears. If drought did not cause famine, locusts or disease could be equally fatal.
By contrast modern urban dwellers are largely cocooned from the environment.
Genesis 1 thus suggests that man’s relationship to the rest of creation should be characterised by solidarity, benevolence and control.
I do not know how far these disasters can be put down to global warming. But if we think the scientific analysis may be right, we do not need a sophisticated theology to tell us what to do. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ surely demands that we are as concerned as much with the effects of our actions on our neighbours in Africa as on our neighbours in Cheltenham. That is why we ought to take the environmental crisis seriously.
Grace and Peace
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