One of the strange experiences of being online is that you spend hours putting together a very thoughtful piece and a few people read it. Then you stick up a joke (a few seconds’ effort) and tens of thousands of people read it, like it, and share it. I’ve had over a million views on something that I put up on the facebook liturgy page for just a bit of fun.
One quote this week was a bit different. It was thoughtful, thought-provoking, and it has so far been viewed by 84,000 people. Clearly this touched people. Here is the quote.
John Dominic Crossan said:
My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.Who Is Jesus?: Answers to Your Questions about the Historical Jesus
Most reactions were appreciative, but they included responses like, “Crossan is a heretic who doesn’t even believe the Gospels are literal accounts.” Well, if that is heretical, then the majority of scholars including the most devout, are heretical, because the understanding that the Gospels, and the Bible generally, aren’t some sort of video-like recordings of history is a pretty normal Christian position.
Even videos, just as an aside, are understood now as presenting a perspective. Whatever you think of post-modernism, no one of significance is denying that a point of view influences what we see. Where you stand determines what you see.
We are separated from the biblical texts by 2-3,000 years. There are huge differences in language, culture, and understanding. We need to have some humility to acknowledge that when they heard a story they were much more agile in understanding that this was a joke, or a poem, or a metaphor, or an exaggeration.
We know exactly what we mean when we say
- Jim was flogging a dead horse at the meeting.
- Mary sold her a pup.
- Bob kept going over and over the same old ground.
- I’ve told you a million times – that’s not going to happen.
Some people are clearly disconcerted that some things in the Bible may not be describing literally history as it happened. They seem to fear that if they acknowledge one thing in the Bible may not have happened exactly as described, that the whole Bible will unravel and all that they will have left is a lot of confetti lying around their feet.
But no one is claiming that there are no historical events, no historical anchors holding the Biblical texts to the ground of history. Jesus was a historical person who was baptised by John the Baptist, gathered disciples, preached the Kingdom of God, was executed by crucifixion, and so on.
Yes, we may judge something in the Bible to be metaphorical when it might have literally happened, and we might judge something to be historical when it was actually intended to be a clever metaphor.
Allow the story to impact you – as story. Hear God’s Word in and through through the words of the Bible. An atheist can accept the historicity of a particular Bible story and not be affected by God addressing him or her through the story. It is not the historicity of the Bible that is the essence of it being God’s Word.
And let’s have the humility to accept that we might be wrong.