Reading the Bible with empathy

In his book set for release later this month, T. Vail Palmer, Jr., writes that "through most of our history, Friends have taken the Bible seriously and have looked to it for guidance. Friends have been leaders in testifying against war and working for peace, in recognizing the equality of women and men in Christian ministry, in working against slavery and advocating for social justice."

Yet he notes that we find in the Bible, passages that instruct women to be silent in the churches (1 Corinthians 14:34), that call for the destruction of entire people groups (1 Samuel 15:2-3), that suggest poverty is intractable (Matthew 26:11), that require the submission of slaves (Titus 2:9).

"The earliest Friends constantly quoted the Bible," Palmer writes, "and it is clear that their pioneering positions on matters such as war, women’s ministry, and justice derive from their understanding of the Bible."

"How can this be?" he asks.

This question is vital. It's why I'm convinced that Palmer's book, Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters with the Bible, is important. It sometimes seems—in the presence of cultural change—that the Bible is more hindrance than help. But Palmer's study of how early Quakers used scripture offers some old approaches to the Bible that just might breathe new life into our contemporary contexts.

Here's one of Palmer's noticings: "The writings of George Fox, Edward Burrough, and Margaret Fell demonstrate that at least these three, first-generation Friends, were reading the Bible with empathy. For them the heart of the Bible lay in its personal narratives. Out of this empathetic reading emerged not only some of their strange behaviors . . . but also their innovative understanding of the Christian way of life."

And there is more.

Here at Barclay Press, we're working to have the first run done by Monday, July 25. I hope you'll get a copy. I think you'll find Palmer's work as helpful as I have.  

Eric Muhr