Nobody Takes the Bible Literally – Even Literal Biblicists

Nobody Takes the Bible Literally – Even Literal Biblicists June 22, 2012
At Redemption Church we’re finishing up a series this Sunday on how we read the bible. It’s been a really fun conversation to have this year, and is something we try to come back to every year at the beginning of the summer. What is the bible? How did it come to be? What is it meant to do to us? How do we read and interpret the bible? How does the bible exercise authority over the church? There are a few of the questions we dig into. Two things have struck me this year: 

First is how sentimental we are about the bible – we love it, we stick up for it, defend it, appeal to it, but for the most part we don’t know it and we don’t read it. A Pew Research study found that fewer than 1/2 of people surveyed knew that the Golden Rule was not one of the Ten Commandments. In 2007 Time Magazine found that only around 1/2 of the U.S. population could correctly identify the four gospels. Another survey I read said that fewer than 1/2 could identify Genesis as the first book of the bible. Over 82% of Americans believe that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is part of the scripture, when it’s not. Another survey of high school seniors showed that 12% of them believe that Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife, 50% thought Sodom & Gomorrah were husband and wife, and a significant number thought Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.

Second is the fact that nobody takes the bible literally – even those who say they do. Everyone picks and chooses. We cannot make the bible into the kind of book it is not. The bible is comprised of lots of different kinds of literature: poetry, history, prayers, songs, prophecy, allegory, apocalyptic literature, wisdom literature, etc. You can’t read apocalyptic literature (say Revelation), as though it were history. You can’t read Wisdom literature (say Proverbs), as literal truisms. You can’t read Poetry like history or history like prophecy… you have to let the bible set the terms for its reading. Most of all it takes a ton of work to try and learn to understand and imagine what it was like to inhabit the world of the bible – the time in which it was written with all of its cultural indiosyncracies – so as to be able to understand, however incompletely, how the first hearers would have understood the text.

So for a little Friday Fun – here’s a video from Lutheran Satire called “Talking with Biblicists”

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