Interpreting the Bible in Velvet Elvis: binding and loosing

From an Anabaptist perspective, what excites me most about Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis is the way in “Movement two: Yoke” it talks about using ‘binding and loosing’ to interpret the Bible together.

In Jesus’ world, it was assumed you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself. One person could never get too far in a twisted interpretation because the others were right there giving her insight and perspective she didn’t have on her own. Jesus said when he was talking about binding and loosing that ‘where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’

Community, community, community. Together, with others, wrestling and searching and engaging the Bible as a group of people hungry to know God in order to follow God. (52)

What was new to me was Rob Bell’s claim that a ‘yoke’ was a particular rabbi’s way of interpreting scripture (‘binding and loosing’) and that this is the background to Jesus’ claim to have a light yoke.

Different rabbis had different sets of rules, which were really different lists of what they forbade and what they permitted. A rabbi’s set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi’s interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi’s yoke. When you followed a certain rabbi, you were following him because you believed that rabbi’s set of interpretations were closest to what God intended through the Scriptures. And when you followed that rabbi, you were taking up that rabbi’s yoke.

One rabbi even said his yoke was easy. (47)

 This is wonderful stuff. In this chapter Bell:

  1. Uses the postmodern insight that no text interprets itself; instead, it is always interpreted by people.
  2. That we need to recover the Jewish and early Christian practice of interpreting the Bible together – and that this in itself is a safeguard against excesses and false teaching.
  3. That understanding the Bible is completely tied up with understanding what the Bible calls us to do. Ethics are where the Bible gets lived out.
  4. That Jesus told us to carry on this process together – Matthew 18:15-20.

Bell’s explanation of it is much more accessible than Yoder’s treatment, or even my simplification of Yoder’s treatment! I’ll be recommending people start with it to understand binding and loosing.

(He doesn’t cover the disciplining side of binding and loosing, but he doesn’t need to, not in what he is trying to do here.)

For the text of the talk I gave on binding and loosing at the 2007 Anabaptist conference, go back to here: https://perthanabaptists.wordpress.com/2007/02/01/matthew-1815-20-disciplining-and-discerning/

For my simplification of Yoder’s Body Politics – including binding and loosing, the first chapter, go to here:  https://perthanabaptists.wordpress.com/body-politics-simplified/

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6 thoughts on “Interpreting the Bible in Velvet Elvis: binding and loosing

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  2. He put his eye to the hole. He just managed to spy some people sitting in deckchairs chanting, before a finger came out of nowhere and poked him in the eye. As he staggered back, the people started chanting, “Fourteen, fourteen, fourteen…”

  3. Well, to follow 4 spam comments, let me say thank you, Nathan for this awesome post. I truly believe the church must wrestle and reckon with Bell and Yoder on binding and loosing..Your summary of Yoder is amazing; a valuable service.

    How ironic that most have heard that b/l is about binding evil spirits and loosing angels..spiritual warfare, which of course not the context at all..the irony is that in doing this well-meaning spiritual warfare, the devil gets a foothold by getting us offtrack from doing true binding and loosing (much less dramatic but equally crucial, and itself a form of spiritual warfare)

    I think the Antioch church’s “holy hunch” decision
    is the classic case study for binding and loosing..
    but can you imagine most contemporary “binding and loosing” proponents saying something as uncertain as
    “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”..?

    Keep up the great work

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