Our Thursday night Bible study is reading a book by David Lose, a theology and homiletics (preaching) professor at Luther Seminary called, "Making Sense of Scripture". It has been a delightful class for both novice and well-read Bible readers. Eye opening for me is that the people in the class are appreciating and using Lose's insights equally no matter their individual Biblical scholarship. So far my favorite take away is that the Bible is made up of 66 books yes; but more importantly is that they are 66 confessions of faith. Each story, with varying authors who are actually giving their faith story to another group of people, to make sense of who God is.; it is their confession.
This week we had the discussion of the varied ways to read the Bible, all worthy in their own right, but also together make the experience and the understanding, the Bible, a much more complete experience. Reading this series of books historically is to read the Bible looking back. Lose conjectures that there are other ways to understand the message of the Bible. Sometimes we read the Bible and try to understand what it means for us today, laying scripture over the top of current events. This can be both helpful and harmful. It is especially seductive if we are Biblical literalists.
In a semi recent article Lose gives four reasons why not to read the Bible literally. First, nowhere in the Bible does it claim to be inerrant. As a matter of fact, out of 30,000 verse lines there is no claim that the Bible is accurate as far as history, science or geography "and all other matters (technical definition of inerrancy).
Secondly, Lose among other theologians believe that, Reading the Bible Literally distorts its Witness. It can be confusing too! The Gospel writers tell the accounts of Jesus' last hours at the cross differently. On the one hand, Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the suffering Jesus, too weak to carry his cross, and too weak to murmur a few words. John's version at the crucifixion tells of our Lord, still being in command, giving last instructions. Which is true? Who carried the cross? Who was there? Each story is slightly different. Does John's version have more credence because he was there?
Third, Most Christians across history have not read the Bible Literally. Strangely enough,
the doctrine of inerrancy that literalists aim to conserve is only about a century and a half old. Not only did many of the Christian Church's brightest theologians not subscribe to anything like inerrancy, many adamantly opposed such a notion. St. Augustine - rarely described as a liberal - lived for many years at the margins of the church. An impediment to his conversation was precisely the notion that Christians took literally stories like that of Jonah spending three days in the belly of a whale. It was not until Ambrose, bishop of Milan, introduced Augustine to allegorical interpretation - that is, that stories can point metaphorically to spiritual realities rather than historical facts - that Augustine could contemplate taking the Bible (and those who read it) seriously.
Fourth, is Loses' supposition that Reading the Bible literally undermines a chief confession of the Bible about God. Most of the people who God engages with are ordinary people, "less than ideal." We have all heard the stories about David being murders, Father Abraham passing his wife off as his sister to save his own hide, those disciples that betrayed him and denied him. These, and many more ordinary people are the hero's of faith, who accomplish the extraordinary. The Bible was written by these people who in their very example were fallible, why would we think that their very own words were infallible? People think that Jesus being fully God and Fully human was only reserved for Jesus. But I wonder don't we have the God spark within us? Part of Lutheran theology is that we are both sinners and saints. We cannot help but sin, and we are saints because we believe in the crucified and risen Christ, and that we too will live into eternity.
Noblesville's Teri Ditslear is a pastor whose column appears Saturdays in The Times. Contact her at email@example.com, on Facebook or at www.rolcommunity.com