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Biblical Literalism Leads To Biblical Illiteracy

Biblical Literalism Leads To Biblical Illiteracy September 8, 2021

It happened again. Someone on social media accused me of denying “biblical teaching.” This particular biblical teaching is the one about “women preachers.” I once was against women being employed full-time service as a leader in the churches because 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 and 1 Timothy 2:12-15 said so. Obviously, the teaching was absolute because 2 Timothy 3:16 said all scripture was “god-breathed” or inspired. Women could not serve as pastors because the Bible (not me) said so. If I tried denying this truth, then obviously I could not believe consistently anything the Bible said. I claimed it was not my idea. I said I was under biblical authority. Unfortunately, biblical authority did not solve every problem.

Biblical Ignorance

American Christians are often ignorant of the Bible. Remember when Howard Dean said his favorite New Testament book was Job? Many evangelicals argue folks like Dean are biblically ignorant due to a lack of respect for the Bible. True believers cherish the Bible. Godly people honor the authority of the Bible. Devout Christians can quote the Bible. Very few, however, know much about it.

I live in an area of the country that worships American football. High school games are important for local pride. Southeastern Conference college football defines most of us. I like watching a football game. When I was younger, I joined in back yard pick-up games. They are fun! But I have a secret. I cannot tell you what most of the positions of the offensive or defensive lines are. I barely know what positions make up “the back field.” Do not ask me what the differences between the Referee, Umpire, and Line Judges are. I only possess a cursory knowledge of the game. The hand signals are often a mystery to me. What’s more is I do not care to learn. I am pigskin ignorant due to willful illiteracy.

People do not read the Bible for the same reason. Therefore, they do not know what is in the Bible. But it does not keep them from thinking they do. Just like how I can get upset with a coach whose team keeps losing.

General Illiteracy

Visitors sometimes think it is funny to see the title How To Read A Book on my bookshelf. One person asked, “Does it begin ‘start on page one?'” It’s interesting that a college graduate asked that question. We are not and never have been a nation of readers. America has a literacy rate that reflects economic progress. But we are an illiterate citizenry when it comes to reading what matters. The fact that very few “educated” people understand the premise of How To Read A Book bears this out. Reading is doing. It is an active task. A lot of people read to learn. Few read to think.

Revealing Biblical Illiteracy

Reading the Bible is not meant to be easy. The writers of the Scriptures meant to challenge their readers and hearers. They intended to give meaning to living. Still, living life is not easy. People often feel life is so difficult that they grasp for some things that provide apparent stability. I grew up hearing many things about the Bible from people who knew very little about it. Yet, they never doubted what they knew.

A reason for this certainty is they could turn right to a verse and read it. The verse/paragraph structure of the King James Bible continues in the mindset of many. The biblical text was flattened in a way. Genesis looks like Proverbs which looks like Matthew. Fundamentalists were frightened by the lack of leveling those newer translations gave. Narrative and Instructional parts of scripture that were not meant to be in verse form were rendered as paragraphs and sentences instead. The tools people use to read stories and discussions are different than those used to read verse. Modern translations do not lend themselves as easily to proof texting.

Demonstrating Biblical Illiteracy

Proof texting is the first indication of Biblical illiteracy. People quote texts for a variety of reasons. Using biblical quotation is often done to assert authority. It works until someone else points out the context of the quote. The pithy statement a writer makes is the product of a development of thought. The writers of scripture never meant for it to be mined for proof texts.

Biblical illiteracy is demonstrated when someone claims the Bible supports a prejudice of some kind.  Prejudging – prejudice- involves assumptions that may not be warranted. The only means of establishing those assumptions is to claim a special authority for them. My opposition to women being employed as full-time church leaders involved such assumptions. The texts previously referred to provide the authority needed. But employing anyone to full-time church leadership is not a consideration of the New Testament. A leader gives full-time service in the New Testament. Employment is based on a culture with certain economic ideas that did not exist in “biblical times.”


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