5 suggestions on the Bible and disability

United Theological Seminary’s David Watson offers 5 suggestions on reading the Bible and reflecting on disability. He explains why he thinks his suggestions are important.

Our regard for people with disabilities is perhaps the most pressing issue in the life of the church today. One in five people worldwide is disabled, and many such people feel unwelcome in our churches, must less participating in the ministries of the church. This has to change. It is a matter of faithfulness for us as we seek the renewal of the Church for the transformation of the world.

Watson is academic dean at United and teaches New Testament courses. He also has a son with Down syndrome. My son’s autism has stirred my interest in theological understandings of disability as well.

United invited Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong, who has written extensively about these issues, to campus last year to teach and lecture. I could not attend, but watched online. I submitted a question to Yong about the resources the church can find in the Bible in responding to disability. A member of the audience argued that the Bible can’t help us with these matters. My recollection now is that he found the Bible too culturally removed from our concerns to be of use.

Watson’s blog has a different take on that question:

It is only in the modern period that the concept of “disability” has come into being. In the biblical eras, people worked with concepts of inability, purity and pollution, strength and weakness, honor and shame, and a number of other issues that we would not consider appropriate for thinking about people with disabilities today. Therefore, some ways of reading the Bible have the potential to do harm to, rather than help, the disabled population.

This is in no way to suggest that we should reject the Bible as a resource for thinking about issues related to disability. In fact, the Bible does provide incredible resources for thinking through issues of disability, but in appropriating the Bible we have to do so with great thoughtfulness and care. We have to use the best theological and exegetical resources available to us so that the Bible is the life-giving resource that God intends for it to be.

I’m grateful to Watson for his continued serious engagement with these issues and questions.

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One thought on “5 suggestions on the Bible and disability

  1. This makes me think of a little book by Nora Groce called “Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language” (about Martha’s Vineyard). On Martha’s Vineyard (which was colonized by a group of people who had a strain of deafness, thus the island had a lot higher percentage of deaf folks than – for example, the Massachusetts mainland) – they didn’t treat people differently as a result of being deaf or hearing (“everyone here spoke sign language” – it was just a thing that was true of their community). On the Massachusetts mainland people were put in a School for the Deaf – but not on the island. On the island the difference (economy, marriage, children, etc…) – between deaf and hearing is statistically insignificant. On the mainland – a huge disparity – with the hearing coming off much better. I think the Bible has some wonderful stories and insights on the realities revealed by Ms. Groce’s studies.

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