Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Challenge to a Literalist View of the Bible

There are two things that must be said in challenge to literalism. One, if you believe every word of the Bible is true, then you are obligated to rethink certain issues in light of biblical evidence. For example, salvation, in light of evidence that reveals the original Greek language of the NT does not teach the doctrine of everlasting damnation but rather teaches what some call "Christian Universalism," and the fact that many if not most of the early church fathers also held this view. This is part of the historical record for anyone to see if they look carefully enough. 

There are of course many other issues as well that demand attention because of misreadings stemming from the literalist community's practice of lazy biblical interpretation that is not true to the original language and culture of the Bible, e.g. the need to rethink the church, homosexuality, the end times, etc. If one believes the whole Bible is true then make it the original words and historical context that you believe, not later traditions, mistranslations, or misinterpretations. Be sure your Bible belief is on a firm foundation.

The second challenge is that a literalist viewpoint is tantamount to worshiping the Bible, not God. The Bible never claims we should view it the way literalists do. It never claims to be inerrant and the early church never used the NT as such. Literalists go beyond the original intent of Jesus, Paul, and the earliest church. If you believe the Bible is all true, you must go beyond the pat answers and proof texts and go straight to the original language and historical setting when addressing contentious issues. If this is not done, it's using the Bible irresponsibly. 

If in the course of this examination it becomes evident that the Bible is not all 100% factually true, the question is, Then what in the Bible can we trust? It must be hit home that there's plenty to trust in a fallible Bible, written by humans who claim to have encountered God, just as there's plenty to trust in any fallible historical manuscript. Just as historians use tools of historical evidence, authenticity, archeology, logic, etc., people of faith can use their minds, spiritual discernment, common sense, and historical & biblical evidence to ascertain what's trustworthy in the Bible. We won't all agree on details and some things will remain a mystery, but there are many things we are bound to agree on. For example, the love ethic of Christ, the new way of relating to God and humankind through the lens of love not the written code, that runs as a powerful theme throughout the NT. A theme that says Love for neighbor, not religious affiliation or believing the exact right doctrines, fulfills what God desires.

What can one trust in the scriptures? We trust the overall themes, the conclusions, the overall message of the Jesus Movement (as portrayed in the NT and other historical commentary), not assigning equal absolute authority and certainty to every individual word, verse, or passage. We draw out a message from the pattern and conclusions the biblical/historical record comes to (the Gospels, Pauls' letters, and historical evidence that reinforces the NT or highlights reasons to suspect parts of it). That kind of trust in holy writings is a more genuine faith. It respects the mystery of God's revelation and calls for a responsible use of a set of historical writings from which we can learn an inspired message, rather than insisting on a strict, adherence to an "infallible" text, or else. The former leads to unity, not uniformity, as readers major on what really counts: love, trust, and hope. The latter leads to division, as readers focus on whose interpretation is the absolute correct and infallible one and judge others who disagree.


Richardinparadise said...

Perfectly articulated. Very well said.

David Diemert said...

God did not only leave His Word for mankind to have, but He has left His Church. His Church put the Bible together in its current form and His Church rightly understands, interprets, and practices His Holy Word through His Holy Spirit: "My Spirit will guide you in all truth", "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against you".

The visible body known as the Catholic Church is the true visible body of God's Church that He founded with the Apostles. They have passed down the true interpretation of His Holy Word since the beginning for 2 whole millenia, and still continuing.

His Church knows the correct way to interpret Scripture because His Holy Spirit abides in it fully and His promises towards His Church are true, as He is true.

But this article seeks to interpret God's Holy Word through the power of self-reliant interpretation methods--this one focusing on original languages and historical context--rather than on submitting to the Church that God founded and has been leading throughout history.

Once one's eyes are opened, one will see that denominations and cults that do not submit to God's Holy Church--known as the Catholic Church--come up with different ways of interpreting God's Holy Word in every age in every place. One can find almost every kind of interpretation in these different cults and denominations: literal, semi-literal, non-literal, symbolic, and everything in between. You will find disagreements on what true baptism is, who Christ really is, what the Holy Spirit does, who will go to Heaven, who will go to Hell, how to pray, how not to pray, what is love, and what is not love. Who is right? All? None? Some? One?

I exhort you that there is One Truth. Just as there is One Spirit, One Church, One Baptism, and One Lord. And that One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church is the Roman Catholic Church herself. And the whole Catholic Church agrees in every doctrine, in every practice, and in all morals. Not everyone within the Body follows the Church's teachings perfectly, but the Body itself embodies the One Truth in full agreeance and with no division whatsoever; all are united and have unity, a truly Biblical principle that you will find no where else other than the Catholic Church.

Yes, certain people in the Catholic Church have done evil, detestable things, even in the name of God. Yet God does not guarantee that everyone in His church is perfect, but rather He has promised that His church would endure forever, and yes, His True Church, the Catholic Church, has endured since the beginning. Even minor disturbances in Protestant churches cause division and within a generation that denomination usually dissipates into nothingness. But not the Roman Catholic Church. Even when the Roman Empire fell it endured--and not only endured but it became the salvation of even the common, secular man for food, shelter, protection, and education.

Study for yourself. I used to hate the Catholic Church and I persecuted it. But once I objectively sought the truth, I found that it was residing in its fullness within the Catholic Church, as it always has been since Jesus founded it. Amen.

Geoff Glenister said...

Great thoughts! I have written my own defense against inerrancy on my own blog.

Vicki Thomason said...

Awesome article and yes very we'll articulated. So many people do "worship the bible" and even worship particular translations as though the men who translated them were somehow infallible.

Michael Camp said...

Richard, Geoff, and Vicki, Thanks for weighing in. I like your thoughts too, Geoff.

David, You are right that denominations come up with myriad interpretations. And that a traditional community linked to the original movement should be part of the equation of interpretation. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church makes the same claim you do for the Catholic Church, but of course, comes to a different conclusion. I'm not sure how one can defend the Catholic Church as the top interpreter of the Bible when you look at its history.

My point is there needs to be a more objective foundation for biblical interpretation, and that would be history and original language and a historical-critical approach to the Bible. It doesn't mean everyone will agree on everything, but when there are differences, people have healthy debate and back up their position with historical/linguistic evidence.