Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How Literally Should We Read the Bible?

A few months ago when a Catholic overheard me debating some issues with a few Protestants, upon hearing me use the canon of the Bible and it's selection by the Catholic Church as one of my points, he asked me later "What did they teach you in RCIA? You know that the Catholic Church is not based on the bible. It is more Eucharistic based"

Now, he was right in a sense. The Catholic Church is not based on the Bible... it's too old of a Church to be based on the Bible. Rather, of course, the Bible was selected by councils empowered by the Holy Spirit in accordance with what the Catholic Church had already been teaching.

But there is something very wrong with his statement. Not the literal meaning of it, but its the sentiment I've noticed among many contemporary Catholics that I've met... The bible isn't to be taken literally. If you grew up in Catholic school you would have been taught that humans evolved. Many Catholics probably don't believe in the flood and I'm positive very few believe in a literal global flood. In fact, I get the vibes from some Catholics that maybe God never did any miracles at all.

Well it gets worse. There are some teaching that Christ never literally raised from the dead.

So let's evaluate the situation. The real question here is how literally is the Bible to be taken? Now, I'm not by anymeans implying that the Bible must be taken hyper-literally in every situation, but by in large, damnit... they meant what they said. They were big boys they (the authors) can speak for themselves. In fact, didn't the Holy Spirit speak through them? Isn't that what we believe?

The Holy Spirit foreknew how His word would be understood by the audience. Most Christians & Jews throughout the ages up until very recently have taken the bible quite literally in many of the instances which some contemporaries are rejecting. Why would God intentionally deceive all of them by such obviously misleading stories if they weren't true?

Furthermore, if Joe Bob says to me "You can't take the bible literally, there was no flood" (for example) I find myself in quite a predicament. I have been told two (contradictory) things:

1. There was a global flood

2. There was not a global flood (and #1 cannot be taken literally)

How can I believe both of these? In fact, I can only believe one of them. But if #2 is correct, and #1 must not be taken literally, on what authority can I say that #2 MUST be taken literally? Perhaps #3 will come along:

3. #2 is not to be taken literally. There was a flood.

Bottom line, either #1 is true or #1 is false. If I can be creative in my interpretation of the Scriptures, then I can be creative in my interpretation of what you (or anyone else) say.

Words have to mean something. Thats why we have them. Christians are usually a little .... let's just say creative when it comes to interpretation. Most of us have to be. Protestants have to be creative to get around John 6 & James 2, Catholics have to be creative to get around some of the things Popes have said, but when its all said and done, if the string of words which read "There was a global flood" can mean something other than "there was a global flood" then the string "there was not a global flood" can just as easily mean something other than "there was not a global flood".

I refer once again to Occam's Razor. The simplest answer is usually the best. The Bible teaches we were created by God in His image (no I don't think all of the Genesis story has to be taken hyper literally and of course there are many things that work just as well as metaphors without taking away from the meaning). The bible teaches there was a flood that destroyed humanity (I dont necessarily maintain that it MUST have been a global flood covering literally every inch of dry land but if it only flooded the Mesopotamia region then the rest of the story doesn't make sense).

Now on evolution & creation, the problem is really this... Not only does the Bible clearly teach God creating man in a very personal way (in His image) and that creatures were made to reproduce "after their own kind", the Catechism of the Church teaches that death entered the world through the fall of man. (as if it could be any clearer than what Paul said):

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(1)
Taking too many liberties with the Scriptures ends up with a Bible that doesn't mean anything and later with dogmas that don't mean anything and later with the aimless ambiguity normally enjoyed only by those of the Eastern persuasion.

Of course natural selection is compatable with Church & Biblical teachings but I dont see how evolution is. I have seen some quotes from the last two popes that seem 'leniant' towards evolution. But according to Scripture death entered the world because of sin and sin through one man not many monkeys. There was no one before Adam not even animals. There was no death before the fall. That is such an inheirant truth to Christianity.

Now some may accuse me of being a fundamentalist. I'm not and I dont take the entire bible hyper-literally. I have no problems with an old universe and an old earth for example. But say all you want about fundamentalists: "you will know them by their fruits" and while their have been some hyper-fundamentalists who have done crazy things, those are the exception. Most fundamentalists are very faithful to the original moral doctrines of the apostles. Those 'bible thumpers' still reject abortion and other issues which virtually all of the "the bible isnt to be taken literally" types have completely abandoned. Even in the Catholic Chuch those supposed Catholics who teach such liberties with the Scriptures and with miracles are the same ones advocating women ordination, permissible abortions in most cases, embryonic stem cell research etc... etc... You think thats a coincidence? Think again.

Moral of the post: don't toss out Scripture too easily... and if I don't have to take the Bible literally, I certainly don't have to take YOU literally.


Tiber Jumper said...

interesting post. John Martignoni, an
apologist gives a nice summary of the literal(Catholic way) vs Literalist(fudamentalist) method of scripture interpretation.
If you have time, give a listen to the mp3 link from his site.
God bless

30somethingrrl said...

congratulations on your new marriage... what is up w/you and catholocism, is your new wife catholic? just curious.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yes she is. But I made the decision to convert and started RCIA before I met her in case you were wondering if she had anything to do with it.

Bailey said...

Some interesting points. However, I think your explanation of interpreting the bible is a bit iffy. I am Catholic, and a believer that the Bible must be taken SERIOUSLY, but not necessarily LITERALLY. You assume that when we say not to take the bible literally, we are open to completely FREE interpretation. Not quite. Obviously, the words of the bible tell a story, and it is important to first and foremost understand the immediate literal meaning. Then step back, and think, "okay, what can I take out of this? What is it's significance?" <-That right there, to me, is why the bible is important. Further than that, I personally do not care whether the someone believes the event's of, say, Noah's Ark, actually physically took place. Using Noah's Ark as an example, this is what I got from it: Okay, people on earth were sinful, so God ridded the earth of the evil by causing a great flood. So what did I learn from this story? We must fear God's just punishment, because our sins do not go unaccounted for and we will be punished accordingly. This is what I took from the story. This is all that I CARE to take from the story. Do I think that this story physically took place? Couldn't tell ya. It's possible that this is EXACTLY what happened. It's also possible that God simplified into words an extremely complicated process in order for man to understand it. For example, if you have a three year old, and he asks you where babies come from, are you going to explain that to him? I mean, REALLY explain that to him?? I sure hope not. His mind will not understand the physical and biological information that the concept entails. However, it is important that they get some form of the truth, so you might say something like, "A man and a woman fall in love, and that love creates babies." Is this explanation incorrect? No! Is it the whole truth? HECK no! It's MUCH more complicated, so we simplify it because childrens minds are incapable of fully wrapping their minds around such a concept. In this way, I believe that we are God's children. As complicated as the bible already is, I still believe that God's mind and the way he works is MUCH more complicated. To say that we must read and accept the bible as a whole as a physically literal truth is to say that we are capable of completely understanding an Almighty God; One would be foolish to claim such a thing!

Tim A. Troutman said...

I think you misunderstood a lot of what I was saying and you didn't address my arguments. So I'll try to further illustrate it by not taking your post literally and saying that you and I agree 100%.

When you said, "I think your explanation of interpreting the bible is a bit iffy" I don't think you LITERALLY meant that I'm not right about interpreting the Scriptures. What can I take away from it? Well, I can see that 'iffy' interpretations of Scripture are to be avoided. But that doesn't mean you literally think that _I_ have an iffy interpretation. Glad to see we agree.

In all seriousness, I think we agree more than you realize.