Tuesday 22 March 2016

Deut 4:2 the best way to interpret the Bible

When I was a Mormon missionary, Deuteronomy 4:2 was one of my favourite verses:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
Why? Because it was a perfect answer to those who said "you cannot add to scripture, it says so at the end of Revelation":
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
This illustrates why the Bible can be hard to interpret. A verse can seem plain at first ("don't add to the Bible!") then it doesn't mean what we think it means. Because Moses said the same thing that right at the start, then dozens of others added to the Bible. Well, you say, perhaps Moses was referring to all 66 books? Then how do we know there were not 166 and we still need to add the last ones? Well, you say, the supernatural Holy Spirit said so. But anybody can say this "Holy Spirit" said anything. That proves nothing. We can go round in circles.

So how can we be sure? How can we know which interpretation of the text is the best?

We need to measure what is good

To find the best of anything, be it the best interpretation or the best quality bread, we need some way to measure it. We cannot measure the supernatural, so we need to focus on the not-supernatural. Fortunately the Bible makes many not-supernatural claims. In short, it promises that if we follow its counsel we will have a better life. So how do we measure a better life? What counts as better? Different people like different things.

The science of measuring the good

There is a whole science devoted to the measurement of things we desire: it's called macro-economics. it measures large scale choices. That is, what do people choose to do with their time? How do they choose between alternative uses of their time? 

It's easy to mock economics, but money is the only way to measure these things objectively. If economics is faulty then we need better economics, because it's the only game in town. 

Economics applies to religion just as much as anything else: religions survive because people are fed and have land. The only difference between religion and nationalism is that religious outcomes might take centuries to observe.

Economics makes everything simple

Seeing the Bible in economic terms makes everything simple. When Moses spoke of a kingdom he meant just that, a literal kingdom. And when John said that "God is logic" he meant it. And when we look at the law of Moses the only law that really matters is "who gets the land?"And when Jesus referred to the kingdom of God and gave all those parables involving money, that was no coincidence. There is nothing complicated in the Bible. From the garden of Eden to the promised land to the a parable of the talents, it's all about who gets the land.

Economics is simple because it can be objectively tested. You don't need to take anyone's word for it. The beauty of an economic approach is that anybody can test it: first logically, and if that seems to work, in the real world. 

The Bible has to be logical or it is not real. It has to be is about things you can measure in the here and now, or it is not relevant. 


In this blog I argue that the Bible has a simple economic solution to all our problems (tax land, not work). But even if I am wrong, the economic approach is the only game in town. because only one question matters about the Bible:

Does it work?

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