An Old Testament Theology Of Disability
This dissertation has the intention of furthering the discussion of disability issues in our present context. It is my conviction that the Old Testament can provide us with elements for a fruitful discussion that can benefit people with disabilities in their struggles in our society.
The task I will undertake in order to construct this theology of disability is, however, limited to the following areas: Understanding bodily differences in the Old Testament; Causes of disability in the Old Testament; Disability and daily living; and Expectations of hope for people with disabilities.
I analyze how the writers of the Old Testament present bodily differences and how these differences relate to issues of disability. This analysis helps us to answer to what extent, if any, these bodily differences limited people from participating in the society’s activities and whether these differences resulted in marginalization and/or exclusion. I also explore the writers’ presentation of YHWH’s reaction to such differences. I argue that the text of the Old Testament offers positive presentations of bodily differences.
In the Old Testament YHWH is only one of the causes of disability and that there are at least two others: (1) Natural causes of disability such as: growing old and accidents; and (2) People or angelic beings causing disability. By interpreting every text individually we can achieve a more nuanced understanding of general categories such as “sovereignty” and/or “providence.” I avoid using particular texts as a hermeneutical key to understand other texts. By interpreting each text individually, we can appreciate the theological diversity in the Old Testament regarding the causes of disability. By diversity I mean the fact that, in regards to disability, the Old Testament presents positive aspects but also highlights the limiting aspects of disability. Thus, the Old Testament does not present a single, uniform message about disability.
Different passages in the Old Testament present people with disabilities and how they functioned in their society. My particular interest is to explore what activities these persons performed and whether or not, and/or to what extent, their disabilities excluded them from participating in their society. Were people with disabilities marginalized and discriminated against by other members of society? The evidence suggests that most people with disabilities in the Old Testament were actively engaged in their communities. There are a few passages in which people with disabilities seem to be marginalized in certain activities, but a closer analysis shows us that the exclusion was limited and temporary.
Finally, the Old Testament contains expectations of hope for people with disabilities. First, the Old Testament presents laws protecting people with disabilities (Leviticus 19:14, Deuteronomy 27:18). In these texts, the people of God are required to avoid certain behaviors against people with disabilities. Also, in other passages (such as 2 Samuel 9, Job 29:15 and Psalm 146:8), we have examples of people caring for those with disabilities. Finally, the prophets announce a message of hope for people with disabilities in two contrasting but complementary ways. The first message is one about a time when people who have acquired a disability will be physically restored (Isaiah 29:18 and 35:5-6). The other message does not talk about physical restoration but of a time when people with disabilities will return to their land and be given a place of honor regardless of their physical condition (Jeremiah 31:8; Zephaniah 3:19; and Micah 4:6-8). These two perspectives can be understood as good news for people with disabilities.
Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)
Old Testament, Criticism, Disabilities, Biblical teaching, Sociology of disability, People with disabilities
Missions and World Christianity