Graduation Year

2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Religious Studies

Major Professor

Michael P. DeJonge

Keywords

Bible, differently-able, disability, healing, Pentecostalism

Abstract

Sacred texts authored in antiquity present a challenge for contemporary religious practitioners because there is always a question regarding how to interpret and apply the message today. Prominent Pentecostal theologian and disability theorist Amos Yong faces this challenge concerning the Bible as it relates to disabilities and those who have them. As I argue in this thesis, Yong succeeds in challenging the Pentecostal perceptions of disability without compromising on the over-all Pentecostal view of scripture.

The Hebrew Bible, which, according to Yong, "...serves as the foundation of the Christian scriptures," contains multiple passages that portray disability in a negative light. For example, the Old Testament contains laws and regulations governing the priestly liturgical cult that place very strict guidelines on who is allowed to fulfill what duties based on one's lineage and physical condition. The Old Testament also contains passages in which the God of the Hebrews makes a covenant linking obedience with health and disobedience with sickness.

The second part of the Christian scriptures (the New Testament) also includes multiple narratives that portray disability as (at the very least) an undesirable phenomenon. For example, the healing narrative and miracles attributed to Jesus and his followers are used by Pentecostals to stress the importance of physical healing. Consider also the Pentecostal understanding of the cross event. According to Pentecostal scholar Keith Warrington, the cross is used to emphasize triumph over suffering, sin, and the devil.

The challenge for contemporary religious practitioners, then, is deciding how one is to interpret and apply the message of a given text today. For example, (a) how does a contemporary Pentecostal (that utilizes the Bible as a sacred text) view the phenomenon of disability and passages of scripture that marginalize the differently-able today? Furthermore, (b) how does Yong successfully arrive at non-Pentecostal convictions concerning the differently-able while maintaining his Pentecostal beliefs about scripture?

In order to explain how Yong succeeds in justifying his non-Pentecostal perceptions of the differently-able one must first understand the overall Pentecostal convictions concerning scripture which inform the Pentecostal perception of disability. The authority of, and use for, the Bible as it informs the perception of disability within Pentecostalism (a variant of (a)) will be the focus of Chapter One.

Chapter Two will introduce Yong's theological hermeneutic which articulates his understanding of the purpose of scripture. By examining the hermeneutical approach utilized by Yong in his earlier work Spirit-Word-Community, on biblical interpretation, one can gain a clearer picture of how he relates methods of interpretation to his perception of disability in his later work The Bible, Disability, and the Church (a variant of (b)).

The final task, then, is to demonstrate how Yong successfully solves the problem of exclusion experienced by the differently-able while maintaining his Pentecostal beliefs about scripture. Chapter Three articulates Yong's hermeneutical solution to the problem of exclusion justified within the Pentecostal understanding of scripture. This is done through understanding Yong's `disability hermeneutic. This chapter explicates Yong's assertion that the way Pentecostals have misinterpreted scripture is to blame for exclusive and oppressive perceptions of disability.

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